Producer Loops has released Sunny Lax: Modern Trance Vol 2, a new collection of construction kits by Sunny Lax. ‘Sunny Lax: Modern Trance Vol 2′ raises the bar yet again with another 10 Construction Kits of epic proportions. Expert production, radio-ready melodies and hooks, and a professional feature set make this an essential addition to [...]
Celemony has introduced Melodyne and Remix, a new tutorial series for the Melodyne audio editing software. In a new tutorial feature devoted to the creative use of Melodyne, Celemony is focussing on remixing. Melodyne is known as a great tool for the correction of intonation errors and the optimization of vocal tracks, but is capable [...]
Celemony has introduced Melodyne and Remix, a new tutorial series for the Melodyne audio editing software. In a new tutorial feature devoted to the creative use of Melodyne, Celemony is focussing on remixing. Melodyne is known as a great tool for the correction of intonation errors and the optimization of vocal tracks, but is capable [...]
Mystery Islands has announced the release of the JP-80×0 Hardware Editor Plug-in for Mac. You ever wanted to control, automate & work with your JP-8000 / JP-8080 the way this modern world requires? Now it’s possible with our AU / VST plugin that allows you to get your Hardware into your modern DAW. We developed [...]
Soundtrack Loops has announced the release of Deep Chill and Melodic EDM MIDI, two new sound libraries. Soundtrack Loops and producer Adrian Walther paired up to bring you Deep Chill, a set of royalty free loops contains 10 construction kits for producing Chillout, Ambient, Deep House, Trip Hop, Cinematic, and Downtempo. Sounds include basses, synths, [...]
BangBox has released EDM Step Styles Producer Kits, a collection of 18 groove inducing drum and instrument kits for experimental Dubstep, Drumstep and DNB production. The kits have been crafted to each provide a particular unique production element and can be combined in any order to create full tracks or themed sections to add to [...]
Keith McMillen Instruments has announced the shipping of its QuNexus Smart Sensor Keyboard Controller to customers around the world. The QuNexus is a playable, portable, and powerful keyboard controller. Featuring huge performance capabilities in a tiny footprint, QuNexus gives unprecedented expressive control with KMI’s patented Smart Sensor technology that transmits pressure, tilt, polyphonic aftertouch, and [...]
Sounds To Sample has released Mainroom Melodics Vol. 1, a collection of 125 Mainroom melodic mini kits. The peak-hour powerhouse professionals at Sounds To Sample bring you the next necessity to build your next festival anthem with installment numero uno of their Mainroom MIDI Melodics series! Just in time for the 2013 festival season, Mainroom [...]
Loopmasters has released Electro House Massive Presets, a new Patchworx series soundset by Dom Kane for the Massive software synthesizer by Native Instruments. Electro House comes in the form of .NSMV Files for Native Instruments soft synth, Massive, containing 64 incredible club ready sounds for producers looking for the Ultimate sound bank to accompany their [...]
Toontrack has announced the release of Basic Rock Fills MIDI, a follow-up to the popular Basic Rock MIDI that was released earlier in the year. The Basic Fills pack focuses entirely on the one thing you can never get enough of: fills. The little twists and turns that accentuate, ornate or make for smooth transitions [...]
The Loop Loft has announced the availability of the Master Collection, a bundle of all Loop Loft sound libraries in all formats. Introducing The Master Collection. Every loop. Every format. Instant access to everything The Loop Loft has ever released. Plus, save 60% FOR LIFE on all future releases! The Master Collection includes over 100 [...]
Sample Magic has released Nu Disco, a new MIDI Elements series pack. 101 all-original chord progressions, neo-retro riffs, funky basslines, solo toplines and backing pads merging the best of classic disco, driving Italo and dirty indie-dance to distill the nu disco sound of now. MIDI Elements: Nu Disco is designed to inject groove, funk and [...]
Once the stuff of noise art oddity — isolated electronic experiments staying mostly on the test table — the DIY instrument is starting to find friends and form ensembles. And so it is that Czech instrument design mad scientists Standuino have assembled a clever little suite of open boards, happily chirping and glitching and droning together in musical harmony.
So, before we start delving into the esoteric number theory of the new “π” drone synth, behold as their three creations play together in the video at top. There’s even sync. And a groove. An exceptionally odd groove, but a groove nonetheless. This is what KORG’s Volcas are like in a really strange alternate universe. (In that universe, KORG doesn’t worry about exposing raw circuit boards on the outside of the case. And maybe everyone wears their underwear on the outside of their pants, like superheroes.)
Back to π, though. It has a manifesto worthy of the illuminati. And it makes sounds that resemble someone on the hidden Rebel base tuning in their radar. Or maybe of a rave with the Borg. (Yes, I’m mixing Trek and Wars. Blame J.J. Abrams and Barack Obama.)
Here’s what it sounds like:
I especially love the handmade carry case. This is something that is missing in a lot of commercial products.
Now, who’d like a nice slice of pi?
π is infinite transcendental number. It represents circle – the symbol of unity, universe and spirit. The limited edition of this very special instrument is mysterious as π itself. It gives you infinite ground to explore. You can`t get total control of it. You rather have a partner that can find your needs. There are 3 different randomizers to get deep into its sound possibilities and patchable clock sequencer. It is field for exploration in the mathematical world of sounds … and circles.
Lost? Okay, they also share these stats:
several oscillators, wavetables and synthesis types
settings accessed by randomizers
patchable clock sequencer
internal clock or MIDI clock divider
numbered limited edition
As I understand it, there’s lots of Arduino magic powering all the variants of their boards. And then they start mixing and matching clever and weird interface conventions to make instruments that are unpredictable, unstable state machines that tread a line between tuning in sounds and creating musical surprise. But the results are clever. More on the experiments with my own soon.
Equinox Sounds has announced the release of Latin MIDI Kits Vol 1, a collection of 5 Construction Kits in MIDI format for creating a wide variety of Latin music such as Salsa, Merengue, Afro Cuban and Mambo. This pack features a nice selection of piano montunos, bass loops, drums, percussion and fills all based on [...]
Steinberg has announced the release of maintenance update version 7.0.4 of its Cubase and Cubase Artist music production software. The fully supported update adds over 20 improvements such as enhanced visibility in MixConsole, new MIDI functions and Chord Track improvements and resolves more than 45 user-reported issues. The update is now available for download from [...]
Toontrack has launched EZkeys Country MIDI, a new MIDI expansion for the EZkeys virtual piano instrument for Windows and Mac. As the title suggests, this pack is focusing on the country genre and will showcase the journey this music style has found itself on the past few decades. It includes anything from the classic and [...]
Nektar has announced it has started shipping the Panorama P1, a compact control surface with 66 real-time controls, a color high-resolution TFT display and deep integration for Cubase, Nuendo and Reason. Build on the established Panorama workflow originally developed for Reason, the latest Cubase and Nuendo support offers full navigation of the sequencer tracks, mixer, [...]
Arto Varaala has updated the Kirnu Cream MIDI performer plug-in to v1.0.2. Kirnu Cream is a very powerful MIDI performer VST/AU plugin for Windows and Mac. It works on both 32 and 64 bit systems. Cream is intended to be used in both live and offline DAW usage. Changes in Kirnu Cream v1.0.2 Track key [...]
Loomer has updated the Sequent modular multi-effects unit to version 1.3.11. Sequent has seven individual effect blocks: a Beat Looper; two Filters, both switchable between lowpass, bandpass, and highpass modes and capable of self oscillation even without an audio input; an oversampled Distortion unit; a Gate with variable depth and slew; a Panner; and a [...]
Out today, Arpeggionome is the iPhone follow-up to an iPad grid instrument, making lovely, elegant cascades of notes from a screen full of circles. The work of San Francisco-based electrical engineer Alexander Randon, it’s especially nice to see not just the app itself, but the music the developer makes with his own tool.
Watch the video, and you’ll get a feel for how he makes his creation musically expressive.
Evidently inspired by both the Tenori-On and the community of monome apps, Arpeggionome has a number of features that set it apart from other tools. It’s tough to find iPhone apps that are as handy as iPad apps, given its smaller size. But here, there are some clever touches.
Parameter changes are quantized – a move Alexander says was inspired by Ableton Live. That makes the app well-suited to beat-driven music, but also more practical to handheld idea sketching.
MIDI support (available via a $4.99 in-app upgrade) is robust, with MIDI clock sync and external MIDI triggering. You can even trigger whole patterns via MIDI, a nice addition for live performance. That makes this usable in larger rigs in a way some apps (cough, iMaschine) still aren’t, and extends the playability of even the pocket-able iPhone version.
Parameter view knobs have a smart touch adaptation: Alexander notes that you can “drag-down and release” and “reset the knob to its stored value with the pattern.”
- X-Y matrix triggers patterns across pitches and speeds, hence the dizzying streams of notes you hear in the demo.
- Accelerometer/tilt for pitch band and volume.
- 15 touch knobs.
- Lots of included presets, or build from scratch.
- 240 notes per second in the Performance Matrix, with adjustments for start note and rate.
- MIDI (via in-app purchase) for everything: Virtual MIDI (between apps), CoreMIDI hardware interfaces, MIDI over Bluetooth, and MIDI over WiFi.
There’s in-built documentation, and the whole tool is built with the free Pure Data library (to which I helped contribute in some modest way) libpd.
Alexander also sends along some nice words as a reader, to which I say, those of you working on this really do inspire one another with your ideas, so all of you can take some credit for seeing concepts spread through music making. (He also gives nods to Ray Wenderlich and StackOverflow as iOS development resources!)
$.99 through this month (and in-app MIDI is cheaper than normal, too); full price will be US$2.99.
But let’s hear some of Alexandernaut’s music, too, ethereal, moody music, tightly quantized and taking apparent inspiration from eerie video game scores of yore. It’s available free on Bandcamp, and you can listen here:
– and, of course, he’s put together an all-Arpeggionome record, also free on Bandcamp.
The apps, including a Music Hack Day version that became the sophisticated Pro app for iPad and now this:
Loopmasters has launched Big Room Sylenth Patches, a new Patchworx soundset for the LennarDigital Sylenth1 software synthesizer. Patchworx 43 – Big Room Synths for Sylenth, is a collection of Electrifying Leads and Ballsy Basses specifically catered to Big Room productions created exclusively by Re-Zone and for Loopmasters. If you are using the Sylenth synth and [...]
Sounds To Sample has released Dot’s Martini Lounge – Electric Chillwave, a sample library by Dot Bustelo. Filled with the rich soundscapes, hazy progressions, and laid-back vibes you’d hear in rooms thick with incense and a clock eternally stuck at 4AM, Sounds to Sample Presents is proud to debut their first female sound designer on [...]
Gospel Musicians has announced version 1.2 of Neo-Soul Keys for the iPad, a virtual electric piano app. Neo-Soul Keys® is finally here for the iPad. Now you can take an electric piano with you everywhere you go and not have to worry about lugging around a hundred pound Suitcase. The same grit, dirtiness, warmth, cream, [...]
Sample Magic has introduced Deep House Workouts, a collection of topline leads and bassline jams. Inspired by classic 90s house and contemporary deep house trends, Deep House Workouts serves up scores of song-starting chord riffs and associated basslines in both Wav and MIDI format. Loaded with 165 Wav loops of all-analogue chord motifs, retro organs, [...]
The Loop Loft has announced it is offering a free copy of its Linear Drums MIDI pack with any purchase at the Loop Loft shop. Automatically receive a FREE copy of Linear Drums (a $29 USD value), when you purchase anything at The Loop Loft – This weekend only! The free download will be presented [...]
Oscillicious has released version 1.3.1 of its BeatCleaver slicer software for Windows and Mac. BeatCleaver is a beat slicer and music sampling application for quickly chopping up songs, beats, and recordings. BeatCleaver samples, slices and stretches all your samples. Changes in BeatCleaver v1.3.1 MIDI controller support for previewing slices. Snap to Zero crossing option for [...]
The Mixxx free and open source DJ software for Windows, Mac and Linux has been updated to version 1.11. Mixxx has everything you need to start making DJ mixes in a tight, integrated package. Whether you’re DJing your next house party, spinning at a club, or broadcasting as a radio DJ, Mixxx has what you [...]
Sugar Bytes has introduced the iPad Edition of its Turnado multi-effect. Turnado is a revolutionary multi-effect tool, crafted especially for massive real-time audio manipulation. It combines unique and dynamic effects with the most intuitive and immediate control you can imagine. Just turn it on and crank it up. In the studio, simply dial in your [...]
Newer, faster, thinner … better? One technology follows another in dizzying cycles. But how is it that something that was once an amazing engineering marvel ceases to be so? If it really works as a musical instrument, how could it be less of a musical instrument than it was before?
Palm Sounds’ Ashley Elsdon was talking about music making in the palm of your hand before anyone had ever seen an iPhone. So I had to smile when I saw him connecting an old Palm to our MeeBlip synth. It wasn’t just a novelty – the synth was ticking along with this vintage technology in a way that looked generally cool, drool-worthy – somehow, new.
So I asked Ashley to do a special story for CDM to explore what you can do with vintage pocket music making – to revisit what was possible through modern eyes, and see what you can still use today. What we get is both history lesson, for those who stick with their newest product, and a practical guide to making use of devices you can now often find nearly free. (Hint: you can even emulate Palm on new devices, too.)
It’s not just a story for the sake of it. These gadgets are the product of a massive expenditure of energy, packed with toxic chemicals. This could be what saves them from the landfill – and what creates new music instead of new waste. But there is still a reason you bought that new iPhone. So let’s let Ashley explain just how useful this retro gadgetry may be. -PK
Palm Sounds: Palm OS and Windows Mobile Music Making
The world of mobile music making has grown beyond all expectations over the last few years, and it’s only fair to say that iOS is now king in that world. So, why make music on old PDAs? They’re slower. There’s virtually no new development. Yet there are still some areas where an aged PDA can make a shiny new iDevice look dumb. For a start, you can access to the file system, and expanded storage, too. Ed.: Okay, I have to whince a little bit at the fact that this isn’t true on newer gear, but – yes. True.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s some amazing software for older devices that is completely free.
So, I’m going to make the assumption that you’re interested in getting to know a little more detail about these devices and what they can do. I’m going to cover two operating systems and the hardware that they run on. There will be more focus on the Palm OS over Windows Mobile, but both have unique software available that in some cases goes beyond what is possible on iOS at the moment.
Palm in its various guises over the years were probably the best-known manufacturer of PDAs in the 1990s. They made the hardware, they made the OS, they made peripherals. Sound like a familiar model? Palm’s early hardware used serial connections to connect to the desktop, which made them excellent for MIDI applications, and many developers made great use of this facility. However, from version 5 of their OS and a simultaneous move to ARM-based hardware, the serial connection was lost and MIDI along with it. Ed.: Doubly absurd: there’s no reason you can’t do serial and MIDI from an ARM chip. But I digress.
The upside of this move was more processing power, and along with that some of the best-loved and most innovative software to hit a handheld in decades. More of that a bit later. As Palm was the main manufacturer of their own hardware, the majority of models that are still available and useful for music. I’ll mention the best models for music making at the end.
In some ways, Windows Mobile were ahead of the game here. To be clear, I’m talking about the OS up to version 6.5 and before it morphed into Windows Phone (which made a lot of developers very angry, and none of the music developers ported their code to the new OS).
Windows Mobile has had some amazing music software developed for it, some of which is still available today, but sadly, not all. There were a huge number of different Windows Mobile devices on the market, and you can still find lots of these on auction sites today. In terms of which devices are / were best for music, that’s debatable. However, processor speed and memory are the two major factors as always in considering a device.
Palm OS: An ahead-of-its-time embarassment of riches
As with lots of platforms, Palm OS music making started off with the simplest of apps. I don’t intend to cover those, as many have vanished now. However, a few applications that started off in those early days were developed further and are still available now.
Applications from miniMusic (minimusic.com) fall into this category. miniMusic were pioneers of Palm OS music apps, and their offering covered a huge range of different musical needs. Here’s a quick run down:
- BeatPad: A drum machine and simple pattern sequencer. It handles 4 banks of 8 patterns and allows you control pitch, velocity and note length on every note in the sequencer. It has MIDI out and also can use sounds created in SoundPad.
- NotePad: A fully-fledged Notation application for Palm. This is a truly amazing app. MIDI-capable, and can access GM sounds on a device with a GM chip or use the SoundPad FM sound banks.
- SoundPad: This is the app that makes the sound files that everything else can use. SoundPad uses 4 oscillators for FM synthesis.
- AxisPad: An XY pad instrument. As before it uses SoundPad for its sources and can house multiple ‘slates’ for various performance types.
- MixPad: Is a MIDI file player. The ‘pro’ version was to have a lot more editing and even recording capabilities, but it is very unlikely that this will come about now.
If that wasn’t enough, miniMusic also had musical learning applications (BugBand and EarTrain), and early demos of apps that sadly didn’t get developed further, SpinPad and WavePad.
… and then came Chocopoolp!
Ok, it’s a strange name. Chocopoolp made two apps for the Palm OS. Bhajis Loops is by far the best known, but before I talk about that, I need to mention its predecessor, Microbe. Whilst Microbe is essentially a sequencer with two synth parts and a drum machine, it was a huge step forward in mobile music making on the Palm OS. Microbe’s synths offered amazing sound control on a tiny device and export to a .wav file onto your SD card. As Microbe developed it added a song editor, the ability to export a whole song into Bhajis Loops and more.
And then there was Bhajis Loops. Bhajis Loops did for music making on the Palm OS what NanoStudio and BeatMaker 1 and 2 did for iOS music making. Bhajis Loops did everything short of audio tracks on a Palm PDA. It allowed up to 64 instruments (depending on how powerful your device is), four FX buses, plus accommodating a plug-in architecture (with a great range of plug-ins still available), a master bus, and full automation of instrument and effect parameters. All this before the iPhone even arrived.
As if that weren’t enough, Bhajis can also export to MIDI or .WAV file,s and best of all, it’s available for free now.
I’ve really only touched the surface of what Bhajis can do, and if you’re even remotely interested you should find out more by visiting www.chocopoolp.com.
But before we leave the Palm OS music making world …
There’s just one more thing I should mention. Back in the days before Bhajis, one truly interesting development in the Palm world caught my attention. It was called Capers. The idea was to replace the Palm OS with a new operating system for music only. What a great idea, I thought. The people behind Capers started to releases apps, or as they called them, applets for Capers which were largely MIDI-related, but were quite impressive in their own right.
Sadly, the replacement OS never came about, and in fact, there’s precious little trace of Capers left on the Internet now, but I still think it was a great idea. In fact, I’ve often pestered the developers of Capers to release the code so that someone could take it further. However, to date whilst it’s been promised, it’s never come about. Maybe one day.
Making music with Windows Mobile
Windows Mobile was always one of the biggest competitors for Palm, if not the biggest, and it, too, had some pretty amazing music software. Some of that’s still available today. Here’s a few of the highlights from the Windows Mobile world:
- Griff: Arguably the best Windows Mobile music making software available ever. In fact in some ways it rivalled Bhajis Loops. Griff sported an amazing plug-in architecture which supported plug-in instruments and effects too. And the plug-ins available crossed a wide range, from a drawbar organ to network MIDI (although this was somewhat experimental in its implementation). Griff allowed a huge amount of automation of every parameter you could think of, and exported to .WAV, as you’d expect. At its peak, you could expect to pay well over £100 for the software and all the plug-ins, but now the app itself and a selection of plug-ins are available for free. Sadly, some of the 3rd party plug-ins are no longer available anywhere.
- Mixtikl (miniMIXA++): A generative music app that has its roots in Koan Pro. Mixtikl is now on iOS and Android, but started as miniMIXA++ on Windows Mobile and has grown and grown ever since.
- MeTeoR: Stands for Multi-Track Recorder. This app was then ported over to iOS and has continued to be developed there. However, it was the first multi-track available for Windows Mobile, and probably the only one as well.
- Sunvox: Another app that’s now available for iOS, and Android, but still has a Windows Mobile and a Palm OS version too. Sunvox is an incredible mobile app by any standards and is truly cross platform.
That was then, how about now?
So, I think it’s only fair to say that there were some amazing applications for these older devices, and many are still available either very cheaply, or for free. That’s great if you want to run these apps on older device, but what if you don’t, or can’t? Well there are a few ways.
If you’re running iOS and are happy to jailbreak your device, you can run the Palm OS apps on iOS. StyleTap produce a Palm OS emulator that runs for iOS (and also for Android) allowing you to install Palm apps to your iDevice. The same solution works for Android, although you don’t need to jailbreak.
Sadly, to the best of my knowledge there’s no way of emulating Windows Mobile on another mobile platform, so if you want to sample the delights of Griff you’ll need to have something to run it on.
As for new development for Palm OS or Windows Mobile, well, that’s a short conversation. There really isn’t any.
So, there’s a relatively brief tour of what you can do with older devices and software and also how you can still use some of these on iOS and Android. There are still a lot of resources available for these devices, but it’s only fair to say that they’re dwindling away day by day. Hopefully it might inspire you to try out some Bhajis or Griff music making.
Find the latest in mobile music making news at Ashley’s enduring site:
and yet more fine English geekery (Doctor Who! Daphne Oram!) at:
Yuroun has introduced Pure Pads, a sound library for the Alchemy sample manipulation synthesizer by Camel Audio. Pure Pads is a small Alchemy soundset with 30 pad sounds. All the sounds where made with the Alchemy’s Virtual Analog engine, so the sounds are Pure Alchemy. The pad sounds are Warm, lush, deep, dreamy, drone’ish. Listen [...]
Resonance Sound has announced the release of Big Room Elements, a sample library by Audio Boutique. Audio Boutique’s latest masterpiece is gonna be just like the first flowers after a long frosty period to your next big room smasher. A massive arsenal of 475 single sounds and loops ranging from fx, drums, build-ups and bass/chord/melo-loops [...]
8 knobs. No, 64 knobs! No, giant knobs, hundreds of buttons, dozens of faders…
Okay. One button, one knob. Put (one of your) opposable thumbs to good use and just do something simple. And, with something this small and inexpensive, never go anywhere without a real knob again. (Friends don’t let friends operate fake simulations of knobs using mice. Augh. Painful. (Which way is a “circle,” again?)
That was the creed of none other than Brendan Ratliff, aka Echolevel, aka chip music “superhero” Syphus, a composer/musician/hacker who works scoring games and film/TV soundtracks and general musical mayhem. He wanted something simple that just didn’t exist. So he built it himself, all using an Arduino-like dev board (by way of the ultra-small Teensy USB hardware).
It works without drivers, so any OS will function, and so will the iPad via Camera Connection Kit. In fact, that makes this a great project if you’re learning how to make this sort of hardware – and it’ll keep you from biting off more than you can chew on your first go.
Of course, there are lots of build details and instructions should you want to attempt your own. And open USB MIDI implementations are just making so many things better. (I wonder if we’ll ever get around to doing something with that?)
What a teeny little super guy this is. Did I ever tell you about the time …
Brendan makes music. Let’s hear it. (Sorry, I’m late to giving a talk, so that’s all the intelligent analysis I have … no, Brendan deserves more — here’s a giant cornucopia of awesome. You can quote me on that.)
Disclaimer/apology: I grew up in the 80s, and … sorry about the two references above.
Sounds To Sample ghas released Electro MIDI Melodics, a sound library featuring MIDI files and wav loops for electro music production. Filled with every melody you’ll need to build your Saturday night, mainroom floor-filler, the Sounds to Sample crew bring your their first MIDI melodics package with more electro-grit than a cell phone in a [...]
Function Loops has introduced three new sample libraries: Future Sound Of Techno & Tech-House, Vocals Bundle Vol.2 and Underground Sound of Drum & Bass. New Function Loops libraries “Future Sound Of Techno & Tech-House” is a brand new release of sonic tools dedicated to underground techno & futuristic tech-house production. Massively fat bass & drums, [...]
Organic Loops has launched Real Strings Vol. 5 – Uplifting Cinematic, a collection of string loops by Pete Whitfield. Pete Whitfield is back with a fresh set of Real String loops featuring Uplifting Cinematic arrangements capable of adding drama and suspense into any musical production. These authentic string samples by Organic Loops were recorded in [...]
The Loop Loft has introduced Funk Drums, a new MIDI Loops series collection of drag and drop MIDI drum loops for any software. It’s time to get funky up inside of your DAW. Introducing Funk Drums MIDI Loops – The funkiest batch of loops to ever touch your sampler. From classic James Brown beats, to [...]
He’s not a household name. But Tatsuya Takahashi is the man from Korg’s development group behind instruments you almost certainly know. Starting with the first Korg monotron, followed by the Monotribe, monotron DUO and monotron DELAY, Takahashi has been standards bearer to a legacy of Korg stretching back to the early analog days. These newer instruments return to some of the analog circuitry and ideas behind earlier instruments, bringing a new playful approach to electronic music making for the masses, at stunningly low prices that put the products in reach of those musicians.
And now … well, now there’s volca, three new instruments covering bass, beats, and keys (in name and function), each under $150 bucks. And so we’re really lucky that their designer Tatsuya Takahashi from Korg in Inagi-City, Japan visited us in Berlin. He had all three volcas in hand, and shared his experience as a musician and designer, complete with a live improvised jam for us on the products he and his team at Korg built.
It was a rare pleasure – Christmas in May.
The three new instruments are both more value-packed and more capable, complete with (at last) MIDI input ports that let you connect other gear. volca beats, volca keys, and volca bass each focus in on a specific sound design task, while sharing common sequencing and sync features, and tidy bodies with big touch strips. They’re self-contained music instruments (complete with speakers), but also play nicely with each other and other gear.
You may have seen a look at volca from Musikmesse, but there, these babies were locked inside big “don’t steal me” cages and had to be heard over the din of a trade show. Tatsuya stopped by my studio last week with the items so we could hear them on proper monitors and play. And play we did, for a delightful afternoon filled with grooving volca sounds and chatter, joined by Benjamin Weiss of DE:BUG and Engadget Germany (who has also been a musical collaborator of mine lately).
I thought they sounded pretty good at Musikmesse. Then I heard them properly and got to play for more time. And I can say this: they’re even better than you likely think. With street prices now aiming for around US$139 and €139 (official European list is €166, for instance, but street looks lower), they’re looking just ridiculously desirable.
Something about them also suggests that Korg has gone from experiment to real instrument. Those early Korgs were nice, but the absence of MIDI was a pain (especially on monotribe), and they weren’t for me at the level of must-have sonically. These are different. I got to talk to Tatsuya for a long time about his ideas. He’s an extraordinarily-insightful designer; a long-time UK resident with a proper English accent, you get a real sense of focus on the designs he works on, a degree of confidence that shows in the designs. I understood from our conversation that Korg was unsure – as the rest of us were, frankly – how the original monotron experiment would be received.
If the first blush of monotron was “toy,” those of you who picked them up and made music with them proved they were more. And volca seems to acknowledge that, not only with the much-needed MIDI port, but with more spacious touch strips that are more playable, with deeper sound design options that set them apart not only as “cheap” but genuinely “unique.” A friend on Facebook asked if monotribe owners wouldn’t be frustrated by the availability of volca beats. I said, quite the opposite, I think those monotribe owners – putting up with the rest of our skepticism, going to the trouble of shipping off their hardware to add MIDI mods – may now feel vindicated. The volcas are a triumph of the design thinking behind monotron.
Let’s talk specifically, though, about what I mean and how I’d pick between the instruments.
First, here’s a listen to music made by Tatsuya on the spot using each, so you can hear what they sound like. (A shame, actually, that we didn’t record more, as we were having fun all day long.) Recorded for CDM in my studio, direct from the instruments, no additional effects. (That means they’re also completely dry.)
And here’s a jam with our friends at KOMA Elektronik, also from Tatsuya’s Berlin visit – thanks to Wouter for sharing this with us.
Things you may not know about the volcas:
The delay is not the same as the one on the earlier monotrons. The new delay is actually running on the microcontroller, a custom-implemented delay routine squeezed into the volca’s processor cycles. And it’s irresitable. In fact, it was the thing that drew me to the volca keys first at Messe, capable of whipping up spacey ambient dubs from your synth leads. (The earlier monotron used a dedicated chip for delay. My intern messed around with his own delay implementation using that same chip last summer — this stuff isn’t a secret, once you open the case, and Korg even shared the earlier design in public sechematics. What made the monotron special was fitting the analog filter into the delay line.) No matter: it all sounds great, and it’s certainly in the spirit of the original.
Sync is a blast – and you can sync up other monothings, too. You can connect minijacks to sync these different instruments, including both volcas and Korg monotribe. Now, you can also sync from MIDI in – and then use that to clock something else from the sync port. So, for instance, you could add a volca bass, run MIDI from your laptop, and then run a sync cable to your monotron, and everything will clock together.
MIDI out will be hackable. Tatsuya didn’t let us unscrew the cases – these things are rare – but he did confirm for us that “MIDI out” is spelled in large letters on the board. So, hackers, just as you added MIDI capabilities to past Korg boxes, you’ll be able to supplement the included MIDI input with output.
The battery lasts. The suspect East German wiring in my studio never got tested as everything was happy running off batteries. Having built-in speakers is fun, too, though the only problem is you’re unaware how big the sound of these instruments can be.
You can automate the (digital) knobs. Korg advertised this, but using it in practice is endless fun – for acid techno lovers, but anyone wanting to sequence more complex sounds, generally.
The filter sounds great. Both the bass and keys use a 1974 miniKORG700S filter, recreated here. It’s been tuned differently: on the bass, it feels more like a squelchy acid filter, whereas on the keys it is a little bit tamed for subtler sound designs (though still capable of some acid-y sounds if you push it, making deciding between bass and keys doubly tricky). I was a bit unsure of this move, having grown accustomed to the MS-style filter on the monotron (and, more recently, recreated for the MS-20 mini). But while this filter sounds different, think of it as yet another characteristic Korg filter, capable of some fairly out-there sounds. In fact, it may make you a bit sad that the new volcas lack an audio in jack. (Having seen the case; trust me, there wasn’t room!)
Slide touch makes the sequencers more usable. Slide along the touch strip, and you can quickly silence and mute drum parts on the volca beats, for instance. You can also use Active Step to add and remove steps on bass and beats, and hop around the sequence on beats with Step Jump for rhythmic effects. It makes the beats and bass really performance-ready.
The sound is poor, but I love the virtuosity of this demo, apparently as given to dealers in Japan – it makes you want to buy all three, then spend a lot of time practicing (and means we can never complain about the touch strip again):
volca beats has added some sound features that keep things fresh. The “grain” parameter adjusts the digital wavetable on the hat, and can make some glitchy, tight sounds. (Yes, the hat is a hybrid digital/analog circuit, which makes sense for this case. Had a bit of discussion last time in comments about this – I said it was digital, you said it was analog, and we were both right.) PCM Speed creates some creative effects, as well, for other digital timbres. And the Stutter effect can be tuned to all kinds of different results. We talked a bit to Tatsuya about this; a real goal of the beats was keeping things original, and all of this helps. But, and this is important:
You’ll get deep bass when you want it. That “toy” criticism can be fair if an instrument can’t rumble the floor with bass or hold up in a club or mix. With all three, I was impressed in better acoustic environments by the sounds of the bass drums and bass lines.
So, if I had to get only one volca… I’d probably get the volca beats. It’s tough to beat a drum machine for under $150. Two, or if I had another drum machine/sequencer I liked: definitely the keys. It has a distinctive lead sound, the various unison options are a joy, and the delay really opens it up. You can still use it for basslines, happily. But it’s really genuinely tough to choose. The bass is definitely acid friendly, and having the three oscillators is great. It’s not hard to imagine some people getting all three.
But this isn’t a review. We expect volcas to appear in the summer. By then, we’ll have more hands-on video showing how these work, and certainly more sounds. (We expect more from Korg, too. And Korg, Tatsuya was making great sounds with his instruments, so we told him we wanted more from him, too!)
Oh, and it was nice that both I and the folks at Koma got to talk to a Korg veteran about instrument design. We’re not sitting still on the MeeBlip project – we’re hard at work on something new, something different than what the volcas offer. And we’re thrilled that you can now put together a very affordable hardware studio, as it means MeeBlip is more useful than ever. At the same time, part of why I’m humbled and happy to have had the MeeBlip experience is that I now appreciate the work done by someone even as big as Korg. Korg owns their own factory in Vietnam; Tatsuya had just visited to work with the manufacturing team. The result is something incredibly high-quality, consistent, and affordable, that was even recently not possible at this price point. When you’re making physical products, every manufacturing detail therefore matters.
And speaking of manufacturing, it’ll all be shipping later this summer. We’ll be watching.
More photos, courtesy Benjamin at DE:BUG.
Hex Loops has introduced Free Trap 5 Beats, a sample pack featuring 5 construction kits in wav and midi format hand-picked from Hex Loops trap packs collection. Inspired beats by producers like Lex Luger and artists like Rick Ross, Waka Flocka, Drake, T.I. and many more, this collection of free trap beats construction kits fits [...]
Freaky Loops has released EDM MIDI Melodies 2, a MIDI pack by Utku S. This pack featuring 100 Dirty driving peaktime melodies ready for pure dance floor devastation + 20 Bonus Wav Loops. All loops BPM and key labeled. The flexibility of MIDI means you can also change the key of the loop, edit the [...]
Equinox Sounds has released the Ambient & Cinematic MIDI Kits sound library. ‘Ambient & Cinematic MIDI Kits’ from Equinox Sounds features five fantastic lush and deep Ambient and Cinematic Construction Kits in MIDI format suitable for Ambient, Cinematic, Soundtrack and TV composers searching for some melodic inspiration. These MIDI Kits are also perfect as a [...]
Toontrack has announced the release of the Indie Folk EZX EZdrummer expansion library, focusing on capturing the organic, warm, intimate and ambient sound characteristic of the indie folk genre. The EZX, aptly titled the Indie Folk EZX, was recorded at the Avast! Recording Co. in Seattle, home to bands such as Fleet Foxes, The Shins [...]
EqualSounds has introduced Urban Trapz Vol. 1, a sample library for hip hop and trap music production. ‘Urban Trapz Vol 1’ from EqualSounds brings a breath of fresh air into Trap and HipHop genres. This amazing and quirky collection of five construction kits redefines the oldfashion appropach to Trap, HipHop, RnB, Pop, East and West [...]
Incognet has launched Club Essentials Vol.1, a construction kits sample library. Incognet is back with new series of fresh, modern sounds. Incognet Club essentials Vol. 1 is first pack in this series, which consist of 460 mb pure, massive prime-time progressive, electro sounds, combined in 10 construction kits . Inspired by Nicky Romero, David Guetta, [...]
Peter Dines has released Loupe 2, a sample manipulation instrument for Native Instruments Reaktor. Loupe is a Reaktor ensemble that assigns freeform sections of a sample to different MIDI notes and allows them to be pitched, reversed, resized, filtered and enveloped individually. The incoming MIDI notes do not repitch the sample directly , but you [...]
Loopmasters has released Dubstep Bass Logic ES2 Presets, a Patchworx collection of 64 bass presets ready to use within Logic Pro’s ES2 software synthesizer. Designed specifically for Logics Pro’s, powerful free synthesiser, ES2. The 64 Soft Synth Presets included in this pack is comprise of 64 menacing dubstep bass sounds and 64 MIDI Files ready [...]
Zenhiser has released ES2 Classic Trance Presets, a collection of 100 trance presets for Logic’s ES2 synth. Boasting 100 trance presets for Logic’s ES2 synth including lush pads, driving arpeggiated patterns, rushy synths and driving bass sounds make this preset pack a grantee to inspire your creativity. What else could you wish for today than [...]
Reason 7 is available now, in the full version, upgrades, and entry-level Essentials editions. You can download the new release right away – including, intelligently enough, as a torrent for downloads even if Reason users get overexcited. (Cough, Ableton. Hope you’re paying attention.)
There are lots of improvements, but the banner features are clearly integrated slicing and external MIDI sequencing.
Those features have been a long time coming. The ability to sequence external MIDI gear seems a no-brainer for a tool with so many great sequencing tools and robust MIDI input control support. And integrated audio slicing is, oddly enough, something Propellerhead was instrumental in advancing through their REX format and ReCycle product. What you get in Reason 7, though, in exchange for the wait, is an implementation that only Propellerhead could pull off.
Reason 7′s external MIDI support, for instance, has extensive integration with the slick modular capabilities integrated in Reason. We covered that in depth with Propellerhead in a preview:
When Reason Met MIDI Out: How MIDI, Virtual CV Work in the New Reason 7 [Pictures, Details]
I’m covering the slicing workflow today:
Reason 7′s New Tools for Slicing, Stretching, Retiming Audio: Q&A, Tutorial Vid
The other good news is that Reason 7 works with any Rack Extensions you’re adding. After all, Propellerhead promised that Rack Extensions would provide deep integration but forwards compatibility – so when you update Reason, all the extras you’ve added work, too. Propellerhead tells CDM that all currently-available Rack Extensions do indeed work with the new release.
Third-party developers are saying the same thing. Producer and developer Peff posted via his Facebook page that he’s happy with compatibility with the new release:
Buffre and Directre are both running stable in Reason 7. No code updates required = Propellerheads are awesome!
What else is new:
- Mixing with a spectrum analyzer, visual EQ tools (something becoming almost expected in software EQs these days)
- One-click group and parallel mix channels – meaning Props are happily not being too slavish as they emulate big, traditional consoles
- Automatic Retro Transformer has settings like vinyl and VHS tape (interestingly, also available as €39/$49 purchase if you don’t want the other new features in 7 and want it as an extension instead)
- MP3, AAC, WMA import, etc.
$449/€405 for the full Reason 7 release; $129/€120 for Essentials. Essentials owners get the new release free. Reason users can upgrade to 7 for $129/€120.
Propellerhead has announced the release of Reason 7 and Reason Essentials 2, major updates to its award-winning music software line. The latest versions inspire musicians to create more and better music with deep, streamlined mixing and a complete rack for all types of instruments. Reason’s renowned music-centric design focuses around a virtual rack of software [...]
Drumdrops has announced the upcoming 1963 Premier Outfits 54, the first release in a series of 8 single shot multi-velocity drum kits. Already one of the world’s leading places to purchase bespoke live drum tracks as multi- tracks, stems and loops, Drumdrops.com are now gearing up to start selling the first of their high-standard, single [...]
Hot Music Factory has released Soul Funky, a new sample pack bringing back the feel of 70′s funk with a mix of disco and soul. This product is inspired by Funk and Soul hit makers such as Stevie Wonder, Commodores, Cherl Lynn and many more. These 5 Construction Kits will give you high quality 70′s [...]