John Cage.

Two hours of video covers over a century of history of sound art

And hello, spring semester. Here’s an exhaustive (and fascinating) lecture on the history of sound art – by a philosopher. Philosopher Christoph Cox traces the history of sound art from the invention of audio recording in the late 19th century to the genre-bending compositions of John Cage to the explosion of sound installation in the 1960s. Cox surveys a range of sonic practices, revealing how they resemble and resist approaches in the visual arts. The film comes to us from the Barnes Foundation, the superb arts institution in Philadelphia.

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This interactive Fatima Yamaha show projects emotions into light

So, we’re fresh off of hosting a MusicMakers hacklab in Berlin on the theme of Emotional Invention. And in an accidental synchronicity, this week Blitzkickers talk to the creator of an interactive installation for last year’s Amsterdam Dance Event that used sensors to project emotions into a spectacle of color and light. The resulting scene looks like something out of Close Encounters – hues amidst the fog and a flying saucer ring around the crowd. The idea: get twenty participants to volunteer to wear headsets and bio-signal sensors, via EMOTIV brainwave headsets, heart rate, and skin response. (Some might get …

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Yamaha may have the best workstation synth, now quietly improved

The workstation keyboard hasn’t died in the age of the computer and the analog revival. Instead, it’s just gotten, well, more workstation-y. Advances in embedded computation have gone alongside general purpose computer hardware, making the workstations from Japanese giants like Yamaha, Korg, and Roland do more than before, with expanded functionality, memory, and sound. These instruments do so much that it’s hard to describe them. But I know even some serious synth enthusiasts who have a lot of respect for Yamaha’s Montage. That may come as a surprise, partly because Yamaha’s marketing is aimed squarely at other groups. So yes, …

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More details on the $650 Elektron Digitakt – and why we’re into it

The Elektron Digitakt sampler/drum computer may have been sitting silently under glass at last month’s NAMM trade show. But no matter: it was still the gear generating the most buzz. The thing is, we’re already hearing enough about the Digitakt to pique our interest. First, there’s that price — US$/€650. That’s terrifically affordable by Elektron standards. And then there’s the compact size, the accessible-looking controls and OLED, and the focus on sequencing and sampling. This just looks like a fun, friendly groove box. It also looks like a device that could significantly expand the audience for Elektron gear, not only …

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Photo (CC-BY) Mike Mozart.

Turn a terrible toy turntable from a supermarket into a scratch deck

Well, this is probably the world’s cheapest DVS [digital vinyl system]. The reader here got the deck for £14; retail is just £29.99. Add a Raspberry Pi in place of the computer, a display and some adapters, and you have a full-functioning DJ system. For real. Daniel James tells us the full story. My favorite advice – and I agree – don’t buy this record player. It really is that awful. But it does prove how open source tools can save obsolete gear from landfills – and says to me, too, that there’s really no reason digital vinyl systems still …

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Photo (CC-BY) Martin Hearn.

Get the sound of an abandoned US surveillance tower, free

Over fifty years ago, it was built in West Berlin atop a mountain of rubble to listen in on the Communists in the East. And now, the infamous Teufelsberg UA National Security Agency tower can lend its cavernous sound to your tracks. It’s available as a free plug-in for Mac, Windows, and even Linux, and it’s open source. Someone found this idea appealing already, as the impulse samples we wrote about previously became the creators’ most popular download. But now, you get a plug-in you can drop in your host. It’s actually a pretty nice array of stuff here: Lush …

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What if you could touch and feel a score?

What if scores could be touched and felt instead of only read? We’ve just come from a deep, far-ranging discussion with artist Enrique Tomás, a researcher at the Interface Culture Lab in Linz. It’s part of Enrique’s residency with CTM Festival and ENCAC – European network for contemporary av creation, who also support some of our work. And it’s presented as part of another of our MusicMakers hacklabs at CTM Festival. It’s worth sharing some thoughts already. One of his more compelling illustrations of this was his PhD project, tangible scores: Credits: Enrique Tomás – PhD at Interface Culture Lab …

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Get a powerful step sequencer as a Windows VST, free

Quick! You need a step sequencer! Sometimes you want a full-featured sequencing tool and your host doesn’t have one (or it doesn’t do what you want). HY-SEQ16 is a terrific, versatile option. I could talk about the whole feature set but: randomize. Probability controls. There you have it. Okay, also, preset management, separate randomization per parameter (ooh), sequence direction – basically everything you need. If you really fall in love with this one, US$28 buys you 3×16 steps and an LFO. This looks great to me, not least for controlling external hardware. Heck, I thought I didn’t need it, and …

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pc44

68 pots cover this controller so you can go knob crazy

More is more? Now, you can show up at your next gig armed with a box full of pots – 68 of them. Faderfox is a controller maker who works in extremes: either extremely tiny controllers, or massive cases full of faders and knobs. The PC44 is very much in the latter category. The PC44’s sibling is and predecessor is an unassuming 4×6 grid of pots called the PC4. The PC44, though, is maximalist by comparison. You get an 8×8 matrix of potentiometers with rubber knobs. And there’s a single push-button encoder with detents (labeled “value,” at the top). Four …

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The $499 Softube Console 1 now looks like a great buy for producers

Softube’s Console 1 was an intriguing offering when it came out, but I suspect some people balked at the price – and simply didn’t know what it was or what it was for. Now, at five hundred bucks, the audience should be bigger. And Softube are working on making the “what is this anyway?” story clearer. So, what is it? Let’s back up. First, imagine a big mixing desk – like a big Solid State console. Now imagine what that console would look like a computer accessory. Obviously, you’d want it to be a whole heck of a lot smaller, …

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