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The 90s are alive, with a free, modern clone of FastTracker II

It ran natively in MS-DOS, then died by the end of the 90s. But now it’s back: one of the greatest chip music trackers of all time has been cloned to run on modern machines.

FastTracker II will now run on Windows and Mac (and should run on Linux). The clone project started last year, but it seems to have picked up pace – a new set of binaries are out this week, and MIDI input support was added this month.

FastTracker II is a singular piece of software that helped define trackers, demoscene, and the music produced with it. If you’ve used it, I don’t really have to say more. If you haven’t, but you’ve used other trackers – even up to modern takes on the genre like Renoise – you’ve used software influenced by its design.

Like all trackers, the fundamental use of the tool is as a sequencer. But unlike other sequencer concepts – piano rolls which represent time visually like pianolas and music boxes do, multitrack recorders and DAWs modeled on mixers and tape, or notation views – the tracker is a natively computer-oriented tool. Its paradigm is simply about a vertical grid, with shortcuts for entry (represented as numerals) via the computer interface.

That makes trackers uncommonly quick via the computer interface. In the case of FastTracker II, you program every note and timbral change via mouse or keyboard shortcut, and it’s represented compactly in characters onscreen. FT2’s doubling up of mouse and keyboard shortcuts also makes it quick to learn and still quicker to use once you’ve mastered it.

In fact, firing up this build (in 64-bit on Windows 10, no less), I’m struck by how friendly and immediate it is. It’s not a bad introduction to the genre.

MIDI in is great, too, though MIDI out will “never” happen (in a message from the 13th of April).

But it’s kind of amazing this thing even exists. The clone is built in SDL, a cross-platform media library, the work of one Olav “8bitbubsy” Sørensen, who apparently got permission to do this. And it was never supposed to even happen. Heck, the thing was even buried with this note:

“FT2 has been put on hold indefinitely. […] If this was an ideal world, where there was infinite time and no need to make a living, there would definitely be a multiplatform Fasttracker3. Unfortunately this world is nothing like that.”

So, we may not live in an ideal world. But we live in a world where FT2 again runs on our machines. (Amiga fans, there’s also a ProTracker clone.)

Download it:

https://16-bits.org/ft2.php

In the other corner…

If you prefer ImpulseTracker, the principle rival to FastTracker II on MS-DOS, you’ve got a modern alternative, too. It’s also available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, among others – someone got it running on Nintendo Wii – and runs solidly on those systems:

http://schismtracker.org/

On Windows (and since it’s SDL-based, should run without a hitch on Linux/WINE), there’s also zTracker. That has some appeal as it’s MIDI-based, so could be a nice tool with hardware.

http://ztracker.sourceforge.net/

Thanks to Nicolas Bougaïeff for this one, fresh off his Berghain debut. I want some new chip music from you, man.

And it’s … like the 90s are alive.

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Mod Max: One free download fixes Live 10’s new kick

Ableton Live 10 has some great new drum synth devices, as part of Max for Live. But that kick could be better. Max modifications, to the rescue!

The Max for Live kick sounds great – especially if you combine it with a Drum Buss or even some distortion via the Pedal, also both new in Live 10. But it makes some peculiar decisions. The biggest problem is, it ignores the pitch of incoming MIDI.

Green Kick fixes that, by mapping MIDI note to Pitch of the Kick, so you can tap different pads or keyboard keys to pitch the kick where you want it. (You can still trigger a C0 by pressing the Kick button in the interface.)

Also: “It seemed strange to have Attack as a numbox and the Decay as a dial.”

Yes, that does seem strange. So you also get knobs for both Attack and Decay, which makes more sense.

Now, all of this is possible thanks to the fact that this is a Max for Live device, not a closed-box internal device. While it’s a pain to have to pony up for the full cost of Live Suite to get Max for Live, the upside is, everything is editable and modifiable. And it’d be great to see that kind of openness in other tools, for reasons just like this.

Likewise, if this green color bothers you, you can edit this mod and … so on.

Go grab it:

http://maxforlive.com/library/device/4680/green-kick

Thanks to Sonic Bloom for this one. They’ve got tons more tips like this, so go check them out:

https://twitter.com/sonicbloomtuts

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BBC gives away 16k WAV sound effects, but disallows some uses

Maybe it’s time for the idea of a “commons” to get a new boost. Whatever the reason, BBC’s 16,000 sound effects are available to download – but with strings attached.

The BBC Sound Effects site offering has gotten plenty of online sharing. This is a sound effects library culled from the archives of the BBC and its Radiophonic Workshop, a selection of sounds dug up from broadcast sound work. There’s both synthetic sound design and field recording work – sometimes not really identified as such. I know this, because I used what I believe is the edition of this that was once released on a big series of CDs.

If you just want to listen to some interesting sounds, you can stream or download WAV files of sounds ranging from “‘Pystyll Rhadn’ falls, North Wales, with birdsong” to lorries, and, this being England, lots of exotic sounds from the far reaches of the former British Empire and a bunch of business to do with ships. (There’s a reason English is dotted with obscure boat-related idioms like saying someone is “two sheets to the wind” when they’re drunk.)

And it’s good fun. Right now the sound of a parrot is trending:

http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk/

The catch is, you’re probably thinking of downloading those files and making a Deep House track with the parrot. But you can’t – not legally. If you want, you can wade through the murky terms, which seem to be written for schoolchildren in terms of language level, but oddly evasive about what it is you’re actually allowed to do:

https://github.com/bbcarchdev/Remarc/blob/master/doc/2016.09.27_RemArc_Content%20licence_Terms%20of%20Use_final.pdf

I can save you the trouble, though. There’s no explicit allowance for derivative works, which rules out even “non-commercial” sampling. That is, your parrot track is out, even if you plan to give it away. Non-commercial use itself suggests you need to have a site that not only has no ads (like this one does), but may even explicitly have some educational purpose. “Personal” use implies you can sample the sounds, so long as no one else hears your remix, which rather defeats the point. So you almost certainly can’t sample the parrot and even upload the result to SoundCloud.

Correction: Jake Berger from the BBC writes to clarify that derivative works are allowed if they comply with the non-commercial requirement (and attribution). Non-commercial definitions have been challenging to define in the past, however; I’ve written him for additional clarification and will share it here.

The easy way to look at this is, you can build an educational app around these sounds or listen to them on your own, but you can’t really use them the way you’d tend to use royalty-free sound samples.

For that, you need to buy a licensed product. Sound Ideas has the full library for around four hundred bucks. And then you can use, they advertise:

1936 Raleigh Sports Bike
Euston Railway Station
St. Paul’s Cathedral
1986 Silver Sprite Rolls Royce
Audience Reactions at the Royal Albert Hall
County Cricket Match
Big Ben
Markets in Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Zaire, Ethiopia, Kenya…

I’m sure the CDs themselves also had a lot of license restrictions attached, though owning a physical object might make you feel as though you had purchased rights for use.

British taxpayer license fees fund this sort of work, just as taxpayer money funds media in many countries of the world. That raises the question of what a government funded archive should be, and how it should be made available.

For background, this project came out of a now-ended four-year project to make UK archives publicly available:
https://bbcarchdev.github.io/res/

I’m not arguing the BBC have made the wrong choice. But it’s clear that there are two divergent views on public archives and content in the public sphere. One looks like this: the government retains copyright, and you can’t really use them beyond “research” purposes. The other is more permissive. For instance, the US space program actually does allow commercial use of a lot of its materials, provided an endorsement is implied. So even while releasing content into the public domain, the US government is able to avoid implications of endorsement or people posing as their space agency, which the BBC agreement above does, while allowing people to get creative with their materials.

And that ability to be creative is precisely what’s lacking in the BBC offering. Restricting content to “research” and “noncommercial” uses sounds like a lofty goal, but it often rules out the activities of artists – the very impulses that generated all those BBC sound effects in the first place. The reason is, unless you explicitly allow derivative and (often) even commercial use, it’s too easy for those creative uses to technical qualify as a violation.

It seems like this idea of commons could use a fresh boost, around the world. (The British taxpayer-funded sounds should have been an easy one; it gets much harder as you go to other parts of the world.)

The US government’s notions of public access content date back to the 1960s. But there are signs governments can begin fresh, digital-friendly initiatives. For one example, look to the European Space Agency, who last year managed an open access programs across a variety of different governments and private contractors (no small task):

http://open.esa.int/

Anyway, for now, it is still fun listening to that parrot.

http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk/

By the way, speaking of Creative Commons: the feature image for this story comes from Paul Hudson, taken at Rough Trade East (of a tape machine from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop collection), under the attribution-only CC-BY license. It was released on Flickr, from a time when this sort of license metadata was deemed important.

Clarifications – what you can and can’t do

Correction: I originally wrote that derivative works weren’t allowed, they in fact are. This was based on misreading the license; I regret the error. You do still need to keep that use non-commercial however.

I spoke to Jake Berger, Executive Product Manager, BBC Archive Development, who reached out to us with that correction/clarification. The most important requirement here is that free use of the online archive not make you any money. Now, not making money while making music is (ahem) fairly easy, but you should note that definition can include things like having your music on a site that contains ads – but if you want to, say, charge a couple bucks for your track, see below.

Jake gave some examples of uses that would be allowed:

Student film competitions
A ‘Sound Garden’ at a hospice
Research in to sound therapy for people with PTSD
School music lessons – using SFX in composition lessons
Use in history lessons (playing recording of WW2 air raids in lessons about the blitz)
Use in free-to-access artistic installations
Use in musical compositions that are not commercialised
Using sounds to trigger memories in people with dementia

Basically, the logic here is that this public project also needs to generate revenue from private use. The BBC also has commercial activities that sell the full subset of sounds here, plus about another 15,000, says Berger.

You can also buy all 30,000 sound effects royalty free for around US$5000, but you can also get individual files for around five bucks.

So there’s your answer. Audition sounds via the free site. Use them to finish your semester project in sound design for that installation for which no one gets paid. Then sample the parrot in a deep house track, pay the $5, and make untold cash when it tops Beatport and you get booked to Ibiza.

https://download.prosoundeffects.com/#!explorer?custom_17%5B%5D=BBC%20Complete

Actually, wait, I am totally going to make a parrot deep house track now. If you do, get in touch, we can be on a compilation. Heck, if four of you are up to it, I can get the fee down to US$1 each.

Thanks, Jake!

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LayR 1.2 packs a huge punch of new features to this massively polyphonic synth

LayR describes itself as ‘massively polyphonic’, and according to the developer it is capable of delivering up to 256 voices of rich, multi-layered and textured sounds. That’s impressive, but what’s even more impressive is its latest update 1.2, which delivers a huge punch of new features and functionality.

Here’s all that’s new:

GENERAL:

  • Audio Unit v3.
  • New App Icon.
  • New look for User Interface.
  • PDF Manual ( please read it! ).
  • An optional “Light” colour scheme.
  • More new presets!

AUDIO UNIT:

  • Zoomable, scrollable editor.
  • Shortcut buttons to quickly zoom to locations in the Layer Editor.
  • Presets shared between instances and with stand-alone app.

NEW MIDI CC MIXER:

  • A slider strip for each chanel groups Instrument levels while maintaining relative volumes.
  • A slider for every MIDI controller assigned in the current Performance.
  • Slider strips can renamed or hidden from the mixer panel.
  • Query which instrument/layer/dial any MIDI controllers have been assigned to in the current Performance.
  • Optionally transmit CCs to the MIDI output port.

LAYER EDITOR:

  • Clearly labelled controls.
  • Double tap or pinch on the background to zoom the UI.
  • New Mod Matrix for routing modulation sources to any destination.
  • New Oscillator mode providing coarse/fine tuning and improved FM with a much greater range.
  • New “Fixed” oscillator mode to decouple the oscillator from MIDI notes.
  • New “Sync” mode for LFOs keeps LFOs in all playing voices synced to the same phase.
  • Dials: Increased accuracy and threshold between vertical and horizontal tracking (coarse/fine).

ARPEGGIO SEQUENCER:

  • Every track can now have it’s own mode, length and speed.
  • New Playback Types.
  • New Event Types.
  • Copy/Paste/Clear tracks (long press on track).
  • New “Hold” button, the sustain pedal is no longer used to hold arpeggiator notes.

DRAG & DROP IN INSTRUMENT MIXER PANEL (iOS 11 only):

  • Drag and drop Instrument Strips to rearrange order.
  • Drag and drop Instrument Strips to copy into or merge with another Instrument.
  • Drag and drop Layer Strips to rearrange order within an instrument
  • Drag and drop Layer Strips to the mixer background to create a new instrument with that Layer
  • Drag and drop Layer Strips to other Instruments to make a copy in the destination Instrument.

PRESET FILING:

  • Easier Import/Export for presets.
  • Bank Files: A new file type for importing and exporting entire banks of presets to Files etc.
  • Banks and programs can now be deleted/cleared.

MIDI: ( See manual )

  • A new MIDI input port for live “Performance” bank/program select using any channel. (optional)
  • Option to use either MSB or MSB for bank select.

MISC:

  • Optional “expert level” swipe shortcuts to open or close various panels.
  • Performance “Append…” has been fixed, you can now append multiple performance programs to the currently loaded performance.
  • Reverb is now silenced when changing presets.
  • “Fold” amount in Filter 2 is now adjusted downwards as key notes go up, reducing aliasing artefacts as notes get higher.
  • An Optional “Legacy Mode” to maintain compatibility with older devices

LayR is available on the app store and costs $19.99

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Yes, Avicii’s death should be a wake-up call – and not just for EDM

The death of 28-year-old star producer/DJ Avicii comes as a shock to many. It’s also easy to reduce to another example of party world excess, or to say it’s just about big-money EDM and pop. But it should be a bigger wake up call than that.

To me, the most alarming reaction I’ve heard from the electronic music world is, “oh, who’s that?” – not from people who genuinely don’t know, but from those who are making a show of pretending not to know. And the reason that should be unsettling is, it allows people in the larger industry of electronic music to try to separate themselves from their own connections to this story.

Some of the warning signs that we got from Avicii are relevant to all dance music – including the bits that like to style themselves as underground. Some relate to the dangers of the industry around music, and its priorities. Some are personal ones, for anyone working in music and creative arts. And some of those speak on a pretty basic human level to asking ourselves what we’re doing with our lives. These are not questions any of us should be somehow “above.”

They’re also relevant to music technology, because our business is fueled by the music industry, because we’re personally often involved in this other world, and because we have self-care challenges of our own.

But, okay, let’s back up. If you genuinely don’t know who Avicii is – which in today’s heavily fragmented musical world is very possible – here’s a quick review. (Yeah, Wikipedia is your friend, too.) His real name was Tim Bergling, hailing from Stockholm. While he wound up with a long string of blockbuster hit singles, he started out making music with more of the profile of a lot of typical readers of, like, this site. He was posting remixes in forums at age 16.

You either know his music, or you’ve heard his music without knowing it – even the most disconnected from popular culture can do a quick YouTube search now and go, “oh, that song” with a few of them. He’s one of a handful of people who made dance music as big as it is at the moment, especially in the US market. And he had that sort of magical talent with both sound and hooks that I personally think is tough to argue with (even if people do out of some reflexive snobbishness). It’s immediate; it reaches people.

But whether this is your music or not, watching this kid play around with a Game Boy and smiling in front of a DAW arrangement – of course, this is us. You might not be a guy or white or Swedish or Grammy-nominated or played in front of huge crowds in Vegas or even know how to operate a CDJ. But I know if you read this site, you know that feeling of being excited about some new music well enough to start to tear up even for the passing of a perfect stranger.

About health

You can bet that a lot of discussion this week will center on Bergling’s health.

Mental and physical health are about more than just party culture. One of my personal heroes growing up was Jim Henson of The Muppets fame, who’s about as far from Ibiza as you can imagine. I even met him as a kid in Indianapolis and took a photo with him. And part of what I loved about Henson was his endless devotion to his work. And as a kid as well as in adulthood, I’ve always been able relate to this desire to be consumed by creating things.

I was just twelve when Jim Henson died, but part of what I understood at the time was that this drive also took his life. (He was in production at the time, and even delaying seeking treatment seems likely to have advanced the course of the bacteria that killed him.)

So, when processing the news about Avicii, the first question we ask I think shouldn’t be “is this the sort of music I like?” or “is party culture too much about excess?”

I think we should ask, “are we taking care of ourselves and other people, in terms of their health and their happiness? Who and what are we working for, first?”

About signs

As I write this, there hasn’t yet been a discussion of an immediate cause of death, but Avicii’s health problems have been public for several years now. Billboard has an overview:

Avicii’s Health Struggles: A Timeline

Heavy drinking at least appears to have been a factor early on. That is itself significant, because both in his native Sweden and in my native United States where his career took off, prohibitions in the music scene have focused on the drug MDMA (or even, perversely, marijuana) but largely ignored alcohol. That’s something that has been criticized by many health advocates. (Without stepping into the ecstasy debate, it’s worth checking out the cannabis debate – as its history in the USA is beyond bizarre.)

But that’s just one factor, if an important one. Touring itself seems to have been a culprit. And there are many more signs something was wrong with Avicii and deeply troubling about the world around him that advanced his decline.

If you want to get fairly depressed, you can watch the documentary True Stories that came out last year for a vivid picture:

This was a message that Avicii the artist wanted to get out. He was even brave enough to actively promote segments from the film that put him and his promotional team in a pretty bad light. From DJ Mag in November, you can watch some utterly chilling moments with his doctors and with his publicist:

Avicii shares distressing new footage from True Stories documentary: Watch

This isn’t just about whether someone was drinking too much at one point. In this segment, it’s clear that Avicii and his team sometimes chose keeping up appearances and continuing work at the expense of getting complete medical treatment or recovery.

That is an important, important point. Lots of people can abuse alcohol or drugs or engage in self-destructive or suicidal behaviors. But – coming back to my Jim Henson example – it’s also possible for any of us to get sick and then fail to get treatment. Sometimes a few hours’ delay getting to a doctor can be fatal, even for a health adult with no history of substance abuse.

So, what does it mean if we’re part of an industry, or talking to professionals, who actively encourage us to do something that harms us? What does that mean about musicians – or fans? That motivation can be as much about money as it is about something like substances. It’s not to ignore the substance question (someone’s making money on that, too, ahem), but to try to understand a deeper sense of what this is about.

Deeper calls

As I write this, Avicii’s site hauntingly still shows the text posted as he announced his retirement from live shows and touring:

WE ALL REACH A POINT IN OUR LIVES AND CAREERS WHERE WE UNDERSTAND WHAT MATTERS THE MOST TO US.

For me it’s creating music. That is what I live for, what I feel I was born to do.

Last year I quit performing live, and many of you thought that was it. But the end of live never meant the end of Avicii or my music. Instead, I went back to the place where it all made sense – the studio.

The next stage will be all about my love of making music to you guys. It is the beginning of something new.

Hope you´ll enjoy it as much as I do.

But it’s what he said in an interview in the Rolling Stone that I find most telling. And it’s actually not so much about his physical health per se as you might expect.

First, about partying, what he describes is more about personal relationships than about substances (even though the magazine’s question related to ecstasy, the pill):

“Parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.”

Reading through this, it’s clear how traumatized he was by the experience. He also talks in the interview about not standing up to the people who told him to keep going, as seen in the documentary clip above in DJ Mag. But the part that really gets to the point in my mind is this one:

“I needed to figure out my life. The whole thing was about success for the sake of success. I wasn’t getting any happiness anymore.”

Avicii Talks Quitting Touring, Disappointing Madonna, New Music

Bob Dylan has the song Gotta Serve Somebody. This whole story can speak to that: we all have some questions about who and what we serve. That’s relevant to who we serve in our music, and for those of us making part or all of our living in music (including music technology), who and what we serve in those jobs.

The press and social media present an image of touring that is, oddly, devoid of both its real pleasures and perils. (And there are pleasures, too. I know people who really do love touring, and people who can be miserable stuck in their studio.)

Just don’t think for an instant that this doesn’t have anything to do with your corner of music.

In supposedly “underground” techno (check William Morris), in experimental electronic music and art-y festivals, there are now plenty of big agencies. Five figure fees are standard stuff on even that “adventurous” or “experimental” side of things. Do the math, and you have enough of an industry around touring artists – at the same time that recorded music is collapsing – that a lot of people serve that financial stream more than they do any particular feelings about music or the humans making it. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it only becomes one if you aren’t aware of the potential conflict of priorities. What makes money in a tour is not always what takes care of the artist – as Avicii says, “success for the sake of success.”

It’s also easy for those of us in music technology and musical instruments to pass the buck over to the music industry at large. But we feed off those same economics and desires; we sell a lot of our tech to the people who dream of being Avicii. And we have our own demons and burnout to consider, too – obviously.

I also find myself constantly in conversations about making ends meet, about staying happy and motivated, and indeed about this question of touring and keeping up with it – or just keeping up physically with demands in general. There’s a natural human tendency to ignore our own limits and mortality and even our own moods and emotional needs. Now we have social media presenting a continuous image that’s always young, always happy – a world without sadness or death. The bizarre thing is, attempting to live in that world will actually make you utterly miserable.

You may ask yourself a series of questions

It’s so easy to turn this into prohibitions instead of self-reflection. And America is great at prohibition. So it’s great at cracking down on the “rave” scene or whatever it may be. It’s even just as easy to ignore what Avicii loved about his music career, while focusing on its tragic end. He did say that touring had ups as well as downs.

I think it’s better to ask some questions.

What does it mean for those of us who encourage music making that we make stardom its ultimate goal?

What does this stardom do to how we value music? To what extent are we weighing that music’s financial possibility rather than how it makes us feel?

Do we insist on presenting artists only in the positive sense, without talking about their struggles?

Are we purposely leaving out real discussions of health? Of mental well being? Of aging, even?

Are we placing all our emphasis on touring and not on other activities that can support artists?

Are we taking health and happiness as part of the goal of tours, of music careers?

Do we actively promote ideas that discourage mental health?

Are we stigmatizing mental health issues in music, even when music is often initially an outlet for people to find healing?

Can we reflect on the role of alcohol as the main revenue stream in so much of live music? What about other substances (including the impact of policies around both legal and illegal substances)?

Do we have accurate information for music-goers and event organizers of what health impacts of consuming substances or other behaviors actually are? (In the age of fake news and fake science spread via online communication and hearsay, accurate risk assessment seems essential, from infectious disease to alcohol to drugs.)

I’m certainly not claiming any kind of innocence either in behavior or intention, but – this is about asking questions, not just having answers.

And fundamentally:

Are we doing what we want to be doing? Is it making us happy? (Insert Underground Resistance here.)

Are we caring for ourselves and the people around us?

And how do we make music and musical instruments something that add to that care and that don’t just take it away?

Struggling with those questions need not be burdensome. I think it can be rewarding.

Remembering Avicii should be something all of us do. He’s been one of the biggest artists in 21st century electronic music, and what he chose to do was to make his personal struggles public. That isn’t easy, and we should be grateful he’s done that. And we should make sure that the questions he asked remain part of our conversation. Because just like last year’s chart-topping pop hit, the natural tendency of the music industry will be to simply move on – and we shouldn’t let them.

My deep condolences to Tim Bergling’s family, friends, and everyone who worked with him. I hope we can elevate the cause of health, happiness, and care that he worked to raise in the midst of his struggles.

I welcome any and all comments on those topics for music, creativity, and tech – this can absolutely be an ongoing conversation.

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Volt 1.1 brings even more goodness to this fully featured MPE enabled synth app

Volt is a pretty amazing app. We haven’t had many MPE enabled apps, but what we have had is pretty good. Even though Volt is pretty new it’s already gathering a great deal of respect. In version 1.1 the developer, Kai Aras has added the usual array of fixes, updates and functionality. Here’s everything that’s new:

– Fixed crash when loading the AU into Auria Pro
– UI: Main UI can now be scrolled left and right
– UI: improved 12.9 inch layout
– UI: fixed an issue where double tapping some controls would cause them to center rather than default to their init value
– UI: tapping on the tempo section now brings up a text input
– ARP: fixed an issue where presets using up/down mode would not work
– Presets: added support for managing favourites
– Presets: tapping the active preset display now brings up a quick select popover
– Presets: moved preset manager into the AU part
– Keyboard: added option to configure MPE glide sensitivity
– Keyboard: added option to switch between a range of 1, 2 or 3 octaves
– Keyboard: settings will now be restored when restarting the app
– Keyboard: fixed an issue where glide would not be sent on initial key down resulting in a noticable bend once glide was engadged.
– Keyboard: fixed an issue with the onscreen keyboard where latched keys would not persist changing octaves
– Keyboard: onscreen keyboard now supports quantized glide in regular mode
– Keyboard: onscreen keyboard now supports polyphonic vertical slide in regular mode
– DSP: fixed an issue where using the lightning to mini jack adapter would cause glitches in standalone mode
– MIDI: fixed an issue where pitchbend could generate audible stepping
– MIDI: fixed an issue where VOLT’s virtual input port would no longer work if a MIDI input device was selected

Volt is on the app store and costs $14.99

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Ranging from Neurology to Prince, Susan Rogers’ talk is must-watch

The music world is overloaded with people who talk about music – how it works, what has happened, what is happening. Few people can really delve articulately into questions of why. Susan Rogers is one of those few.

Her talk at Ableton Loop this fall was, in all three years of attending Ableton’s bespoke event, the one that has stood out for me the most. I instantly nagged friends at Ableton to release the video, not only because I wanted people to see it, but because I wanted to watch it again just to process everything she said.

She talks about trying to understand Prince’s genius and how he worked. (She was sound engineer on Purple Rain and Sign o’ the Times.) She talks about how the brain works (she’s a professor of choking and works with cognition and perception) and why sometimes great music doesn’t find an audience. She talks in personal terms, and about how sometimes great people don’t find a partner. She does what I think great teachers do: she has something to say, and she gets to it directly. But there’s empathy in every insight, and each thought makes you feel a desire to go learn more – to do the homework.

I think whether we’re talking about machines or music or people, the further we go, the more we may realize understanding the mind is the key to all we want to investigate – of course.

For more, there’s a terrific two-parter in depth on Gear Club:

From Prince to PhD: Susan Rogers

I’ve got a lot more I’d want to talk to her about; I imagine you do, too. So – I’ll be rewatching as you rewatch, making notes.

The post Ranging from Neurology to Prince, Susan Rogers’ talk is must-watch appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The amazing touch-controlled synth made in secret in 1978 China

At the tail end of China’s Cultural Revolution, one inventor secretly created a futuristic take on traditional instruments – and it easily still inspires today.

I don’t know much about this instrument, but given CDM’s readership, I expect our collective knowledge should say something (not to mention some of you speak the language). But according to the video, it’s the work of Tian Jin Qin, a ribbon-controlled analog synthesizer first prototyped in 1978 and featured here in a documentary movie entitled “Dian Zi Qin / ???” (1980).

There’s some irony to the fact that a simple touch instrument was something driven underground in China just one generation ago. Now, of course, China leads the world in manufacturing touch interfaces, has been the center of a global revolution in touch-powered smartphones (based loosely on the same principle, even), and even drives a significant portion of today’s technological innovation.

But… even without getting into that, this design is freaking great. It’ll make you immediately wonder why a single ribbon design is so popular, when the ability to finger multiple ribbons, fretless style, both relates to traditional instrument designs and allows more sophisticated melodic playing and expression.

Like… you’ll watch this video and want to go build one right now.

The synth is essentially two connected designs. An main synth console features organ-like push-button timbre controls and rotaries, plus four touch plates that respond both to being depressed and to continuous control vertically along the surface. (That arrangement, in turn, closely resembles the ROLI Seaboard keys, as well as having some lineage to the Buchla modular’s touch plates. In fact, a couple elements of the design suggest that the creator may have seen something like the Buchla 112 keyboard.)

The Chinese twist, though, is really the upright, fretless touch interface. This instrument is as subtle and sophisticated as Keith Emerson’s ribbon controller for the Moog wasn’t. Zithers are among the most ancient of instruments across a range of cultures, as antecedents what we’d now consider both southeast Asian and European musics. Someone following the narration here or with background in Chinese instruments (which I largely lack) could say more, but it seems inspired by instruments like the guqin. That family of instrument can be plucked or fingered with glissandi (or played with a slide). The electronic rendition here simplifies a bit by using 4 metal strips whereas Chinese classical instruments can feature more strings.

So I will indeed put this out to CDM readers. Anyone out there who’s done research on this creator or knows about this instrument?

Anyone built something like this?

(Apologies, I’d normally do the research first and then write but … as Ted Pallas who tipped me off to this promised, I indeed wanted to share it right away.)

For all the turbulence of our modern time, one thing I believe can keep us out of a Dark Ages is the fact that we are more connected globally than ever, or at least potentially so. From the walls around China and the east to the former Iron Curtain, we’re discovering that a lot of the people kept unknown to those of us in the West were pretty ingenious. And maybe we get a second chance to learn from them and share.

The post The amazing touch-controlled synth made in secret in 1978 China appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Mix Ableton and Maschine, Komplete Kontrol, in new updates

There’s a big push among software makers to deliver integrated solutions – and that’s great. But if you’re a big user of both, say, MASCHINE MK3 and Ableton Live, here’s some good news.

NI made available two software updates yesterday, for their Maschine groove workstation software and for Komplete Kontrol, their software layer for hosting instruments and effects and interfacing with their keyboards. So, the hardware proposition there is the 4×4 pad grid of the MP3, and the Komplete Kontrol keyboards.

For Maschine users, the ability to use Ableton Live and Maschine seamlessly could make a lot of producers and live performers happy. Now, unlike working with Ableton Push, the setup isn’t entirely seamless, and there’s not total integration of hardware and software. But it’s still a big step forward. For instance, I often find myself starting a project with Maschine, because I’ve got a kit I like (including my own samples), or I’m using some of its internal drum synths or bass synth, or just want to wail on four pads and use its workflow for sampling and groove creation. But then, once I’ve built up some materials, I may shift back to playing with Ableton’s workflow in Session or Arrange view to compose an idea. And I know lots of users work the same way. It makes sense, given the whole idea of Maschine is to have the feeling of a piece of hardware.

So, you’ve got this big square piece of gear plugged in. Then sometimes literally you’re unplugging the USB port and connecting Push or something else… or it just sits there, useless.

Having these templates means you switch from one tool to the other, without changing workflow. You could already do this with Maschine Jam, which has a bunch of shortcuts for different tasks and a big grid of triggers (which fits Session View). But the appeal of Maschine for a lot of us is those big, expressive pads on the MK3, so this is what we were waiting for.

On the Komplete Kontrol side, there’s a related set of use cases. Whether you’re the sort to just pull up some presets from Komplete, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, you’re using Komplete Kontrol to manipulate custom Reaktor ensembles, it’s nice to have a set of encoders and transport controls at the ready. The MK2 keyboards brought that to the party – so, for instance, now it’s really easy in Apple’s Logic Pro to play some stuff on the keys, then do another take, without, like – ugh – moving over to the table your computer is on, fumbling for the mouse or keyboard shortcut … you get the idea.

And again, a lot of us are using Ableton Live. I love Logic, but there have been times where I find myself comically missing the Session View as a way of storing ideas.

The notion here is, of course, to get you to buy into Native Instruments’ keyboards. But there is an awfully big ecosystem now of third-party instruments (like those from Output, among some of my favorites) that take advantage of compatibility via the NKS format. (NI likes to call that a “standard,” which I think is a bit of a stretch, given for now there’s no SDK for other hardware and host software makers. But it’s a useful step for now, anyway.)

So, here’s how to get going and what else is new.

Maschine 2.7.4

The big deal with 2.7.4 is new controller workflows (JAM, MK3) and Live integration (MK3). Live users, you’ll want to begin here:

How to Set Up the MASCHINE MK3 Integration for Ableton Live [Native Instruments Support]

There are actually two big improvements here workflow-wise. One is Live support, but the other is easier creation of Loop recordings. With the “Target” parameter, you can drop recordings into:

1. Takes
2. “Sounds” (the Audio plug-in, where you can layer up sounds)
3. Pattern (creates both an Audio plug-in recording and a pattern with the playback)

I think the two together could be a godsend, actually, for composing ideas in a more improvisatory flow. The Target workflow also works on MASCHINE JAM (via different controllers).

There’s also footswitch-triggered recording.

So, Native Instruments are finally listening to feedback from people for whom live sampling is at the heart of their music making process. It’s about time, given that Maschine was modeled on hardware samplers.

The Live integration includes just the basics, but important basics – and it might still be useful even with Push and Maschine side-by-side. The MK3 can access the mixer (Volume, Pan, Mute / Solo / Arm states), clip navigation and launching, recording and quantize, undo/redo, automation toggle, tap tempo, and loop tempo.

As always, you also get various other fixes.

Komplete Kontrol 2.0

Again, you’ll start with the (slightly annoying) installation process, and then you’ll get to playing. NI support has a set of instructions with that, plus some useful detailed links on how the integration works (scroll to the botto, read the whole thing!):

Setting Up Ableton Live for KOMPLETE KONTROL

The other big update here is all about supporting more plug-ins, so your NI keyboard becomes the command center for lots of other instruments and effects you own. NI now boasts hundreds of supporting plug-ins for its NKS format, which maps hardware controls to instrument parameters.

Now that includes effects, too. And that’s cool, since sometimes playing is about loading an instrument on the keys, but manipulating the parameters of an effect that processes that instrument. Those plug-ins show up in the browser, now, if they’ve added support, and they also map to the controls.

Scoff if you like, but I know these keyboards have been big sellers. If nothing else, the lesson here is that making your software sounds and effects accessible with a keyboard for tangible control is something people like.

By the way, NI also quietly pushed out a Kontakt sampler update with a whole bunch of power-user improvements to KSP, their custom language for extending/scripting sound patches. That’s of immediate interest only to Kontakt sound content developers, but you can bet some of those little things will mean more improvements to Kontakt-based content you use, if you’re on NI’s ecosystem.

All three updates are available from NI’s Service Center.

If you’ve found a useful workflow with any of this, if you’ve got any tips or hacks, as always – shout out; we’re curious to hear! (I assume you might even be making some music with all this, so that, too.)

The post Mix Ableton and Maschine, Komplete Kontrol, in new updates appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

How to try GPU-accelerated live visuals in a few steps, for free

The growing power of gaming architectures for visuals has a side benefit: it can produce elaborate visuals without touching the CPU, which is busy on musicians’ machines dealing with sound.

But how do you go about exploring some of that power? The code language spoken natively by the GPU is a little frightening at first. Fortunately, you can actually have a play in a few minutes. It’s easy enough that I prepared this lightning tutorial:

I shared this with the #RazerMusic program as it’s in fact a good artistic application for laptops with gaming architectures – and it’s terrific having that NVIDIA GTX 1060 with 6 GB of memory. (This example can’t even begin to show that off, in fact.) These steps will work on the Mac, too, though.

I’m stealing a demo here. Isadora creator Mark Coniglio showed off his team’s GLSL support more or less like this when they unveiled the feature at the Isadora Werkstatt a couple of summers ago. But Isadora, while known among a handful of live visualists and people working with dance and theater tech, itself I think is underrated. And sure enough, this support makes the powers of GLSL friendly to non-programmers. You can grab some shader code and then modify parameters or combine with other effects, modular style, without delving into the code itself. Or if you are learning (or experienced, even) with GLSL, Isadora provides an uncommonly convenient environment to work with graphics-accelerated generative visuals and effects.

If you’re not quite ready to commit to the tool, Isadora has a full-functioning demo version so you can get this far – and look around and decide if buying a license is right for you. What I do like about it is, apart from some easy-to-use patching powers, Isadora’s scene-based architecture works well in live music, theater, dance, and other performance arts. (I still happily use it alongside stuff like Processing, Open Frameworks, and Touch Designer.)

There is a lot of possibility here. And if you dig around, you’ll see pretty radically different aesthetics are possible, too.

Here’s an experiment also using mods to the GLSL facility in Isadora, by Czech artist Gabriela Prochazka (as I jam on one of my tunes live).

Resources:

https://troikatronix.com/

https://www.shadertoy.com/

Planning to do more like this, so open to requests!

The post How to try GPU-accelerated live visuals in a few steps, for free appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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