We know an iPad can augment a music setup. But the question for many is, can it replace a computer? Arturia’s iSpark isn’t shy about what it accomplishes. It really looks a whole lot like the company’s drum machine on desktop, only remade for iPad. And it even works with the dedicated SparkLE controller – meaning you now can go pad controller + iPad as you could controller + computer. It also comes with Ableton Link, for easy syncing and jamming with other apps, other iPads/iPhones, and Ableton Live (in any combination).
Meet a new, special creature. So, you’ve got your own special dream for a musical tool – the instrument or effect or sound machine you want. Traditionally, you’ve had a few options for realizing that – apart from going to the shops and hoping you can buy something that fits. You could develop in software and run that on a computer (via Max/MSP, Reaktor, Pd, SuperCollider, and so on). You could patch together some hardware rig (as on a Eurorack, for instance). But what if a tiny board could be the computer and the hardware? That’s the third category in …
Thanks to the addition of MIDI to a new generation of browsers, a browser tab could as easily be an interface to a synth – not just a place for social media distractions of pictures of synths with cats. Now, we’ve got an (unsolicited) Web editor for our own MeeBlip synth, joining editors for Roland Boutique and Yamaha Reface instruments.
Well, f*** minimalism, apparently. We’ve seen monophonic/duophonic synths. We’ve seen new analog keyboards. What we haven’t seen is analog keyboards that seemed to be designed when an inventory of pads and knobs exploded – in your face. And that’s what the new Arturia MatrixBrute is. It looks like a fake Photoshop mockup you’d see on a forum, perhaps. But it’s real. All real. Close your eyes for a second and let your retinas recover, and let’s sort out what is actually even happening here.
There are plenty of hardware step sequencers out there. But now Arturia has a compact entry friendly to keyboardists. This isn’t about dialing up melodies with knobs. It assumes you actually know how to find melodies on some keys. Clearly building on the success of the BeatStep Pro sequencer hardware, Arturia’s Keystep is a keyboard with both step sequencer and arpeggiator modes. And Arturia has given CDM an exclusive first peek, to share with you.
Link is a marvel – even if you never touch Ableton Live. Grab some iOS gadgets, put them on the same wireless network, and you get rock-solid sync that responds dynamically to any tempo change on any device. But, come on. Love you iPad as you may, you don’t want to play only with apps. Maybe you want a Elektron box or an AIRA TR-8 or an ElecTribe syncing along. A new app, LINK TO MIDI, does just that one thing, easily. You still get dynamic peer-to-peer sync with all your other apps. But by adding LINK TO MIDI, you …
It’s not enough just to gripe about something not being good enough, to tally a criticism of a product in the “cons” side of a review. Intrepid musician-hackers are going and just changing it themselves. Karg, the Heidelberg-based musician (with an ‘a’), is a fan of Korg, the manufacturer (with an ‘o’). And presumably when he bought the Kaossilator Pro+ and its touch pad access to tones. But he ran into frustration when he couldn’t quite get his finger on precise pitches and rhythms. So, he hacked the hardware to add the functionality he wanted.
There may be an Ableton logo splashed on it and integration designed specifically for Live. But one of the nice things about Ableton’s Push and Push 2 hardware are that, at their core, they’re open. Everything sends and receives standard MIDI messages. As we’ve seen, even the display is hackable. And that is admirable not only from an engineering standpoint, but because it means the hardware you invest in has a life beyond just specific drivers and software updates. Now, that extends even to rival software Bitwig Studio – which means you can even use a Push 2 on Linux.
For a lot of us, hands-on sequencing control is a boon to playing, even alongside a computer. So then there’s the question of which sequencer. The reason Arturia’s BeatStep Pro got so interesting this year is that it’s a right-down-the-middle option: not too expensive, not too complicated, and not too weird, but very capable of driving the essential stuff you’d want to sequence. Bassline, some drums, maybe a lead – in whatever genre you happen to use – it’s covered. So, that was all good enough. But what’s been impressive as the year has gone on is that Arturia haven’t …
As more people bring home hardware, the next question is how to get that running smoothly with software – for recording and control. We just saw a really great tutorial for doing it in Reaper, using our MeeBlip synth. Now there’s another unsolicited MeeBlip tutorial (really, I had nothing to do with this), this time with Bitwig Studio. Watch at top.