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Unlocking unimaginable sounds with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop now has its own cover band. Arturia have done a new documentary on England’s proudest home for electronic sound, the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Founded in 1958, the laboratory had the wildly ambitious mission of producing any sound any BBC program might ask for – foley to sci-fi. That of course took on especially unusual possibilities thanks to this trippy show for kids about an eccentric time traveler, Doctor Who – and the inventiveness of the likes of Delia Derbyshire made sounds with brute-force tape manipulations that seem futuristic even today. Derbyshire and Daphne Oram may …

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Watch Space Dimension Controller tear up his live set

Jack Hamill, aka Space Dimension Controller, is another of those stand-out live electronic instrumental performers, able to involve lots of improvisation while still maintaining control and composure. No press play sets here – this is all perfectly conducted live performance. Note that that still doesn’t necessarily mean playing absolutely everything – it’s more about this hybrid of controlling elements from a compositional sense, maintaining some balance between what’s pre-composed and what’s made on the fly. Resident Advisor shot a lovely extended film with him: In the rig, Maschine Jam controls Ableton Live (and is handy for just such integration). I …

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Here’s what a cassette tape rig could look like

With cassette labels making a comeback, there’s the question – how do you play the things? And the answers have gotten more creative than ever, with liberal use of effects, DIY tape loops, hacked hardware, and other techniques. Hainbach, who I featured in our tape music round-up earlier this week, wrote with more details of his rig. Have a look: Mixer/control: Koma Elektronik Field Kit Player 1: Siemens portable cassette player, modded by Dutch music hacker/builder Gijs Gieskes. (Here’s another tape mod idea from him!) Player 2: (umodded) Marantz PMD 222. Recording: Fostex X-28 four track Effects: Strymon Timeline effects …

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Bonobo has turned a track into a tranquil, trippy VR journey

If virtual reality is for anything, surely going on a musical trip is what it’s for. So it’s fitting that Ninja Tune artist Bonobo is making a step into the world of virtual reality. And stepping into “Outlier” (off the album Migration) in virtual reality form is really like taking a trip – the song itself becoming a pathway. Built for Google’s Daydream platform, the “Outlier” VR app first prompts you to steer through a landscape with your controller, the song advancing toward you as glowing space-y, misty abstract hills and portals. You then summon a flock of birds, which …

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Listen to some gorgeous ambient music coming out on tapes

Okay, let’s try to put aside any hipster jokes for a moment. Maybe it’s a sign of the times that cassette tapes are becoming a scene for beautiful ambient and experimental music. It’s gotten to the point that you might find yourself paying to have a tape shipped to you, even if only to thank an artist for a download code. Here are a couple of mixes that might just hook you on the medium all over again. First , there’s Hainbach, whose YouTube channel full of live experiments and mixes is one of my favorite video subscriptions at the …

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Can the MPC X win over some die-hard German MPC hardware users?

The MPC 2000. The 2000XL. The 500. These old Akai boxes inspired countless live sets – and many devoted fans still make them the centerpiece of their rigs. But Akai abandoned the standalone hardware market for years. Native Instruments came along with Maschine, making the hardware just a controller for software running on a computer. And the MPC lost its place as the machine synonymous with the drum machine/sampler device. Now, that looks set to change. Akai is back in the standalone hardware business with a new angle – get all the capabilities of a computer, running the same software, …

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Get hands on with the hot new Elektron Digitakt

What do you need your boxes to do? For a lot of people, that’s making grooves, producing nice-sounding drums, manipulating samples, and playing sequencing – and then mucking about with them and breaking everything. You might call that a “drum machine.” You might call it, in fact, a “laptop.” But the faster mucking around gets, the more fun you’re likely to have. On this scene, enter the Elektron Digitakt. Part of why I wanted to share Cuckoo’s friendly, accessible videos on the Elektron Octatrack yesterday was to help set the stage for the Digitakt. Does it do everything the Octatrack …

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Get entranced by the strange hypnotic world of Maria Teriaeva

I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought Buchlas. Yes, Moscow, capital of that country that gave the world Theremin and the Polivoks, is now in a fully renewed embrace of the synthesizer. And as that scene develops and gets more closely connected with the international scene, we’re getting the gift of some simply spectacular music and inspiring artists. This summer, the city will host Synthposium – earning a place on the calendar alongside the likes of Germany’s Superbooth or America’s Moogfest. And for an artist embodying the new wonders this brings, look no further …

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How to ditch the computer and use Octatrack for backing tracks

Elektron’s Octatrack has been around since 2010, with Digitakt about to make its launch. But it remains a bedrock of a lot of live rigs. And there’s something that’s still special about it. It’s a sampler, yes, but with eight tracks and a built-in sequencer. It’s got a deep effects section and loads of I/O. In other words, it’s a digital box that assumes a lot of the collection of functions that are the reason to lug along a laptop. It does that job of playing tracks, sequences, and effects in an improvisatory way – whether closer to live playing …

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Roland does for drum pads what stompboxes did for guitar effects

Roland has a simple idea: take digital drum pad hardware, and simplify it. What you get is fun and ready little boxes you can stamp with your foot, play with your hands, or hit with a stick. Instead of one big unit with a bunch of features or a whole electronic kit, the SPD::ONE line is four different compact units with particular sets of sounds. There’s a kick, an “electro” unit, a “percussion” unit, and a “WAV” sample loader. All four also double as MIDI controllers for your computer. I think people who never even thought they wanted a drum …

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