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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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Nadia Boulanger has a message for you on music and inspiration

Forget genius – musical devotion is about love. “Can you live without music?” is the question from Nadia Boulanger, the legendary music teacher. When she talks about the fear of encouraging too many people, this is the teacher who taught Daniel Barenboim, Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla — and the list goes on. And this isn’t “those who can’t, teach” — on the contrary, Boulanger broke ground for women at the conductor’s podium, taking the baton in front of a number of the world’s best orchestras and premiering the likes of Stavinsky and Copland. But, for all …

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The Monolith is a huge synth powered by Teensy, shown at Maker Faire

The Monolith is a “ginormous” music making machine, powered by a tiny chip and tiny code – the Teensy and one single Arduino sketch. And what you get is a completely non-portable synthesizer with flashing lights, controls for sequencing and synthesis, and the ability to make beats and melodies. It won accolades at this year’s Maker Faire in California, and creators Darcy Neal (aka Lady Brain Studios) and Paul Stroffregen (the Teensy’s inventor) joined Tested to show it off. (That’s the YouTube show by Mythbusters’ Adam Savage.) They’ve packed a lot of clever features: Arcade button controls 8-step sequencer with …

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Circuit 1.5 adds staccato, patch preview, and MIDI CC stuff you want

Circuit is small. Circuit doesn’t do too much. But what Circuit has been doing is steadily adding little improvements that are exactly what users have been asking for. It’s a uniquely focused tool, and that’s the reason I find myself writing about little firmware updates. They’ve been really important. Now 1.5 continues that trend with three features that, while not flashy, could actually have a huge impact on how you work. Watch, in this clear video: Fractional Gate or “staccato” features let you record up to six different levels of gate length – that’s how long the note will sound. …

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