There’s a Eurorack craze on. Synth fever continues to spread. Instrument and software makers keep innovating. And there was reason to time all of this new gear madness to the beginning of this month – with not one but two massive trade shows, each a short Bahn ride away from one another in Germany. It’s almost too much. So, we’ve put our favorites all together, to keep it all straight.
Last November, I went armed with some LOM label microphones to the Netherlands to find out what sounds you could discover in a space research facility. That exploration produced a lot of sounds, and one way to play with them was to transform them into percussion. Now you can download the drum kit I made for your own use, or to create your own instruments.
Forget about whether anyone is going to listen to that release, let alone whether you’ll make money. Finishing is a beautiful feeling. Something happens when you get to that phase of adjusting the final mix, bouncing for mastering. For many of us, that last step involves a stereo bounce. But I think it’s high time to start thinking in terms of stems (both in the lowercase, and the all-caps STEMS Native Instruments is keen for you to use).
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).
The piano has been living with a beautiful legacy, but that legacy can double as tyranny. The Steinway Model D, favorite instrument of mine that it is, has also frozen the technological development of the keyboard instrument. And that’s why the Una Corda is different. Built custom by David Klavins, and associated with that builder’s collaboration with pianist Nils Frahm, this lightweight piano is unlike any you’ve seen or heard before. And now, you can get a taste of playing the real thing with a software instrument.
There are a lot of hugely powerful things you can do with an environment like Reaktor. But that doesn’t necessarily suggest where to begin. The best way to get into a deep tool is often to solve a simple problem. At the Native Sessions installment on Reaktor 6, Nadine Raihani showed us a simple example of taking a user library offering and making some quick changes. The result: a Euclidean polyrhythm sequencer (Euclidean say what?) that you can play from a keyboard. That turns out to be scary useful: like holding down notes for instant improv techno.
It’s a marvelous time to be a musician. You can imagine a musical instrument, a compositional invention, and then realize that idea in short order. So I was glad to get the chance to emcee an evening of discussion with Reaktor experts, including the folks who built the tool, last month in the software’s hometown Berlin. That discussion ultimately was partly about Reaktor, but partly about the act of instrument building itself – meaning there were insights for anyone interested in working with electronics or software to dream up new musical tools.
It doesn’t have screens. There are no giant wheels or touchstrips. There’s no complex software integration, or built-in mixer, or pads for remixing. But what the DJ4 is is what you might be missing in other DJ controllers. It’s got the controls you need in a tiny, tiny footprint that won’t have you hunting for new luggage or scrambling around a venue to find a bigger table because your gear won’t fit in the booth. (Ahem, yes, you know who you are, giant controllers.) And unlike the increasingly branded, computer-tied world of DJ controllers, this one also works with anything …
Working with samples is great fun, but there’s a certain sameness to approach. Load a sample. Play back a sample. Slice a sample. FLESH takes a unique angle: it analyzes sound samples and mangles them into new animals. And it’s the latest from Tim Exile, a one-man live performer of madness himself (Warp, Planet Mu), and one of Reaktor’s greatest patching virtuosos on Earth. His first two instruments, THE FINGER and THE MOUTH, were already weird and wonderful tools for performance, but FLESH could be the deepest one yet. (Yes, that’s just Flesh, not The Flesh. So it could be, …
iMaschine, the iOS drum machine, is back in a new version. Now in mini, pocket-able form, you get arrangement and live play features from the desktop edition. For iPhone 6s/6s Plus owners, it also responds to 3D touch. I always keep sketchpads around – literal sketchpads, of the pencil and paper variety. So when software is described as a “sketchpad,” I take that seriously.