Vintage Thanksgiving Day Postcard

Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers. I was thinking about technologies for which I’m particularly thankful, some non-obvious, some perhaps so obvious they might be easily be taken for granted. Each I hope represents some opportunities for others. At the risk of starting a Thanksgiving roast, in no particular order, here are the ones foremost in my mind in the waning days of 2010.

1. MIDI: MIDI gets kicked around a bit – it’s not a perfect protocol, commonly-used messages are low resolution, and the parts most people use really haven’t changed since the mid-80s. But don’t discount why we use it so much: it’s ubiquitous, cheap, and lightweight. Want something simple that works over WiFi and Bluetooth? Want to connect something from 1986 you found on eBay to your iPad and then use on a DIY synth with a $3 microcontroller? Want to connect an Xbox keytar without any hacking? MIDI may not be the right tool for every job, but as a lingua franca, it sure is darned useful.

2. Linux: Linux can still sometimes exhibit a punishing learning curve, and proprietary drivers for devices like video cards can cause issues. But in a world of wildly diverse hardware and painfully-quick obsolescence, Linux is a lifesaver. It can resurrect old machines, make netbooks usable, and the Linux kernel is fast becoming the solution for embedded gear from Android-powered devices to DIY projects. For music, that means an OS that can run on anything, and quickly wind up making noise with tools from Pd and Csound to Renoise and DJ app Mixxx. Suddenly, anything that runs on electricity and has a processor looks like fair game.

3. Music notation: Fun toys aside, what’s the real killer app in 2010? It might be the score. It’s still the fastest way to communicate a musical idea to someone else, or quickly play the Billy Joel tune your cousin wanted to sing along with. (Best karaoke machine in the world: your brain.) And this year, we saw improved ways to enter those scores, from ever-more-mature commercial packages to free tools like Lilypad. An iPad can be a fake book full of lead sheets; a browser can turn some quickly-typed notes into notation. All this using something that wouldn’t look entirely unfamiliar to someone who stepped through a wormhole from a few centuries ago.

4. Reaper: We face a challenge in music technology: we’ve actually got too many great options. So it’s a good thing that there’s at least one DAW that’s easy to recommend that you know people can afford, with pricing ranging from $40-150. Reaper runs on Mac, Windows, and (with WINE) Linux. It’s not bloated with features, has no DRM, is heavily extensible (with both custom plug-ins and scriptable MIDI). And if you’re trying to get a friend to try a DAW without (cough) pirating it, you can point them to Reaper’s free trial version. Add to that the fact that you can author Rock Band songs for the game platform – including full keyboard and guitar transcriptions in the near future with Rock Band 3 – and Reaper is a DAW worth keeping around.

5. Four-lettered Synth Makers That Remember the Past: Not one but two famous names from synths yesteryear, MOOG and KORG, have been on fire in 2010. Moog celebrated its Minimoog anniversary with an enormous XL edition. Practical? Not terribly. Something boys and girls could pin up to their walls? Yes. And Moog also had a bigger-than-ever Moogfest, proving its synths and effects weren’t just the domain of electronic music geeks, plus an affordable iPhone/iPod touch app that turns those handhelds into portable machines capable of recording anything and adding far-out effects. KORG, for their part, proves a big music tech name can remember their past, too, with the soul of their MS-20 appearing in iPad apps, wonderful, stocking stuffer-friendly hardware (Monotron), new bundles of software emulation (for those who prefer “real computers” to iPads), and, heck, even retro t-shirts. What these two companies have in common: understanding that their legacy matters to people, and finding ways to get that legacy in front of as large an audience as possible. Those are both ideas I hope catch on.,

6. Portable Recorders: Then: Marantz, Nagra, Tascam Portastudio. Today: go-anywhere field recorders from Tascam, Zoom, Roland, Korg, and many others. The ability to go out and actually record stuff remains one of the most essential needs in music tech. Today’s devices add nifty extras like pitch-independent tempo adjustment and built-in metronomes, making them as much a friend to musicians as they are sound designers. Odds are, if you’re reading this, some portable audio recorder is one of your most valuable possessions. Tascam DR-03 @ CDM

7. Pd: Pure Data, the open-source offspring of Max/MSP creator Miller Puckette and contributors around the world, is a free graphical patching tool that runs everywhere. You can use it on ancient iPods, or – via libpd – on bleeding-edge Android and iOS handhelds, in addition to (of course) desktop computers. It’s been incorporated in free and open source projects, and commercial and proprietary projects alike. Thanks to terrific free documentation and sample patches, you can also use it as a window into learning, with the aid of being able to see signal flow visually. (Even Max gurus can pick up tips for that environment with some of the online help.) The beauty of Pd – as with a number of tools – is that sometimes just making what you need is easier than making something someone else made do what you need., pd-everywhere @ noisepages

8. Bandcamp: The Web is littered with services catering to artists – not least being the chaotic mess that is the remains of MySpace. Bandcamp, in contrast, is simple, efficient, and functional, and for many of us has been a place to acquire music direct from artists as well as to publish it – no complicated jukebox/storefront middlemen needed. Some of my favorite listening this year came from Bandcamp.

9. Contact mics: A few dollars in parts and a soldering iron will make you a perfectly-functional device you can use to explore sound. Or, you can splurge on high-end devices. Either way, the surest antidote to endless choice in software synthesis or enormous sample banks is to go out and get a little closer to sonic vibrations. brokenpants DIY contact mic tutorial

10. The Internet: Distraction. Time suck. Scourge to privacy. A funny thing happened on the way to the Internet: you may have found a group of people who inspired you to make more, and share more, helped you solve problems and get back to music. On Twitter, on Facebook, on forums, on, yes, our fledgling Noisepages, everywhere I go, I find people who help me get tech working for me and remind me why I love music. So… thanks. Maybe there’s hope for us after all. (see… The Internet)

That’s my list. What are you thankful for? Let us know in comments.

  • Human Plague

    I'm thanking for Black Friday and the amount of deals happening in audio software this week.

  • tim

    I am thankful for:

    – the plethora of new eurorack modular synth modules!

    – the continued evolution of programs (ProTools, ableton LIVE etc) that we have relied on for a decade or more 

    – portable recorders (esp 192k multitrack)

  • My list would include voltage controlled modular synthesizers. This is a wonderful era for modulars.

  • I'm giving thanks for You CDM…thanks for all your hard work!!!! Happy Turkey Day

  • electronic_face

    Happy Thanksgiving, Peter, and thank you for CDM! Reading your blog is time well spent, and I can say with certainty we're all thankful for your work. Eat well, man!

  • DAWS. I love the fact you can buy a relatively cheap laptop and load Reason in for under a thousand bucks. What you end up with is a portable studio. Especially now Reason samples for real. I also love Bandcamp, and the fact you can record, upload and sell the whole thing online. Great new world for musicians.

  • lest we not forget my all time favorite; VST! Cubase 3.55,waaaaay back in 1999, was the day the earth stood still and my mind is blown every single day at how VST's changed my life!

  • Nice piece of work, Peter! Liked the new design also. Yeah, and more turkeys as well!

  • Theta_Frost

    I'm thankful for the fantastic 8-bit community! Having ever evolving techniques and ways to write music, + a fantastic community is awesome! Audio was never so versatile!

  • 5meohd

    ableton live didn't even get an honorable mention?


  • Brian Tuley

    Live, Max for Live, Max 5.1, and Pure Data Pd is great too!

  • Peter Kirn

    Thanks – thankful for readers, as well.

    Tried to pick some things that perhaps don't get an explicit call out, so of course many things not on my list. On your list, you can mention whatever you like!

  • Greg

    If you can't make music on a comparatively new laptop with it plus a functioning microphone, you need a new hobby.

  • Seamus

    I'm thankful for the recent boom in 'boutique' and analogue gear that everyone seems to be going nuts over. But not for the reason you might think – The demand for all that stuff has pushed the price of less fashionable things like digital and virtual analogue synths waaaaaaay down. Now even a peon like me can afford some tasty synth action!!

  • I am thankful I can make music in a coffee shop sipping a latte and using the Korg Monotron, ipod touch and ableton live all at the same time on a small table. Too good to be true!!

  • Josh

    Sometimes I seem to forget after sitting in front of a computer screen for too long. People!  Lots and lots of extremely intelligent and creative people sharing absurd amounts of vast knowledge.  Oh and lets not forget traditional acoustic musical instruments, as well as all of the other natural sounds that we get to manipulate via all of our cool toys.
    and cdm which I like to read daily.

  • Thanks for this post 🙂
    Like Josh, I'm thankful for all the information. Music, books, and really great people.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • FreakWithoutACause

    Thanks for the shoutout to Reaper. IT KICKS ASS. One of its practical, & unique, features is it can provide an automation lane for EVERY adjustable parameter. And those parameters can be dailed in by number, even in VSTs that don't come with fine tuning built in, a great help when you just trust your mouse to tip a virtual slider/knob just a tiny bit higher or lower. Oh, & happy gobble-gobble.

  • mrmoustache

    I'm thankful for reaper and CDM!

    I've been searching the net for a geeky audio/music blog for a while and then I found CDM and I've been happy ever since 🙂

  • I still thank NI for Maschine! Then there are the 1210 (RIP), Ableton Live, Allen & Heath for their wonderful mixers, the Korg NanoKontrol… can't think of anymore atm.


  • Random Chance

    I’m thankful for the programmable, cheap, ubiquitous stored program machine with cheap and powerful true color bitmap and texture-mapped vector graphics consoles, abundant hifi audio interfaces, and the availability of development tools at (almost?) any level conceivable. From macro assemblers to C compilers to virtual machines, optimizing compilers for embedded and special purpose processors, and functional languages, graphical patching, libraries and frameworks for anything one might want to build, and all the beautiful (and not so beautiful) rest. Computers have changed everything, either fundamentally (think digital sound recording and editing as well as sound generation) or subtly (think adding patch storage or some automation to analog devices). And we’re still not over the initial excitement (meaning that we impassionately view all computers as just tools) which for technological advancement can only mean that we have not yet reached the end. That’s probably a good thing.

  • y

    what a useless article
    u forgot one thing…without that most of ur gimmicks would not work…computers.

  • laptops. like the man says we can make music in coffee shops, on trains and in your mom’s lounge. and if you can plug it in to an amp, you can also perform in these places if you wanted to. you don’t need a van full of hairy ass bikers any more to get to a gig.
    we don’t know what thanksgiving is in the uk, nor do we celebrate it, but thanks for giving, cdm.

  • I'm really thankful for my soldering iron, and for the great DIY community out there (which in turn is saying thanks for the internet in some way).

    What you say about Reaper is really true. Btw. I think a  lot more people would use it if pirating some of the big players in the market wouldn't be so easy… which is the same for a lot of other software.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well said, Random Chance.

  • Arduino

  • I'm a little biased, but I'm surprised that SoundCloud wasn't on the list. Maybe we need a top 11 🙂

    As well as becoming an invaluable tool for any audio creator who wants to host, stream and share their creations on the web, SoundCloud has also integrated with several DAW's this year (eg. PreSonus Studio One), iPad apps (eg. Korg iMS-20) and field recorders (eg. FiRe app, Vericorder etc). Would love to hear everyone else's take on it.

  • anechoic

    I'm thankful for Linux audio apps: Ardour, Pd, Baudline, Audacity and many others.

  • DragonBomber

    Thankful for CDM's many handy and entertaining servings of content, for all of the people I know who give, sell cheaply, or lend me gear to tinker with, for my brother-in-law giving me additional dollops of guitar instruction, the wealth of good sheet music/MIDI files out there for an array of videogame themes, Synthesia and other apps I use often, the many faces of NDS flashrom cards and homebrew software, the continued release of commercial NDS music software, and having occasional time free to expand my meager skills in misc areas of music.

  • DragonBomber

    Forgot to second another reader's mention of being thankful for VSTs. I concur!

  • I am grateful for my friend Xavier Oudin. He makes great synths.
    And I proud to be helping him

  • Ben Tyedearsz

    I'm thinking of getting a Moog Guitar E1 with MIDI … it'll go well with the Source Audio Wireless Hot Hand Phaser/Flanger, which is one weird piece of technology I love, straight after the Adrenalinn 3 pre-amp and of course, the ubiquitous Wah Wah pedal (not to mention all the other stomp boxes, most of which are probably digital, but there's some analogue in there too. They all connect to 2 amps to give true stereophonic sounds and endless possibilities. Now all I gotta do is workout which DAW system to use.

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  • James Yasha Cunningh

    I'm thankful for February Album Writing Month (FAWM), Musescore and my ukulele, all of which got me writing music this year. Musescore isn't a perfect scoring application, but it's free and it keeps getting better. If it had the microtonal capabilities of Mus2, it would be awesome. I keep looking for the digital equivalent of the ukulele, but I haven't found it yet.
    And I'm thankful for the small developers who go way beyond the call of duty to extend and support their applications, especially: Camille Troillard (Osculator), James Coker (Numerology) and X. J. Scott (Li'l Miss' Scale Oven).