From "Grid Index," Carsten Nicolai catalog, raster-noton.

raster-noton founders on how they found visual inspiration

Few electronic labels or acts have an identity as well defined as raster-noton, and its co-founders Bytone (Olaf Bender) and alva noto (Carsten Nicolai). And I don’t just mean single cycle waveforms or quick bursts of noise, hard-edged projected high contrast geometries or digital aesthetics, though those associations will certainly spring to mind. Even as the label has expanded in its musical scope in recent years, it has retained a sense that aesthetics themselves matter, that its artist roster are capable of painting with sound and exposing the process of using technology. Understanding where that comes from visually is key …


I Played the Oval Digital Hand Pan, And It’s Amazing

Making a futuristic new music instrument requires more than just the spark of a clever idea. It needs resources, funding, input from musicians, and other ingredients, in perfect balance. Those dimensions can offer cold, hard reality, but met properly, they can also offer opportunity. And that’s part of what made Barcelona’s SONAR+D such a compelling place to be last week. Tucked into the packed SONAR festival was a convergence of the engineering, musical inspiration, and business knowhow required to make musical inventions. The Oval, superstar of a pavilion hosted by Kickstarter, was the highlight for me. We saw it in …


7 Ways SONAR+D is Asking Bigger Questions About Music Tech

Lineup Sónar+D 2015 from Sónar on Vimeo. There’s nothing inherently wrong with asking the same questions repeatedly. Cyclical inquiries are necessary in any practice. And over time, you refine answers. But this year’s SONAR+D program promises something different. SONAR+D is the younger, digital discourse alongside Barcelona’s massive electronic music festival. SONAR itself deserves a lot of credit for helping create the template a lot of digital music and media festivals follow today. And as that has since blurred into a parade of headliners, SONAR+D added a lot of dimension. There were good talks, hacklabs, workshops, and a showcase of makers. …


Hand Pan Percussion, Reimagined as Futuristic Musical Instrument

It looks either like a hand pan (if you know your percussion instruments) or a flying saucer sitting in someone’s lap. But Oval is actually a digital instrument, a physical object that connects to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and then produces any sound you want. It’s also emblematic of how the scene in alternative instrumental controllers have changed. A few short years ago, something like this most likely would have seen a one-off prototype. Its natural habitat would be an academic conference (hello, NIME). Maybe you’d see it onstage, maybe you’d read about it. Nowadays, things are different. Just …


Watch Creative Stuff You Can Do With SONAR’s New Drum Replacer

Soon, music features could arrive the same way episodes do in Netflix. Since unveiling its “Membership Program” at the beginning of the year, Cakewalk has been putting out free monthly updates for its members. And now there’s one that’s pretty newsworthy. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to powerful music tools, but getting features baked into a DAW offers some additional convenience and integration – and, let’s face it, you might wind up using a tool that you otherwise wouldn’t buy on its own. “Everett” (sharing a name with the make of piano I had growing up) released …


Subscribe, Click, Collaborate: The New Ways to Buy Music Creation Software

It’s been a long time coming, but the month of January has brought more new ways to pay for music creation software than we’ve seen in a few years. When you want to share a playlist with a friend, you can count on giving them full-length tracks with Spotify. (Sorry, Taylor Swift fans, but everyone else.) If you’re on a tight deadline to finish a video edit, you can pay a small monthly fee to use Adobe Premiere – and send it to the film composer knowing they can do the same, rather than having to buy it outright for …


Jeff Mills on Audiences, Techno’s “Who Cares If You Listen”

Techno legend Jeff Mills has a beautiful quote making the rounds on social media, responding to the question of audience. He’s still making music for them, he says – but doesn’t want to get pulled into simply giving them what he knows will work. Watch from about 8:30 for the video above, in its original context (a 2010 tugobot piece). It resonates for me with the Milton Babbitt’s “Who Cares if You Listen?” (That’s a title Babbitt claimed he never used; this is a tale so familiar to contemporary music that it has its own Wikipedia entry, for those of …


LegoTechno: Sliding Lego Blocks Make Music with littleBits, Maschine, Arduino

Keep watching: this LEGO sequencer, playing a littleBits synth kit, does something amazing. Sliding tiles around actually changes the sequence, all reading the blocks, in a terrific real-world, physical user interface. (Well, it certainly pleased the crowds at the Music Hack Day at SONAR in Barcelona.) And yes, this means the team we saw earlier keeps working on this. Intrepid hackers can use the just-barely-hidden Lua back-end of Maschine to do their own custom scripting. More on that soon. In the meantime, let’s check out the details:


littleBits Synth Kit Will Add USB Audio, CV, and MIDI; See Snap-Together Modular Live in NYC

littleBits has already won over some synth enthusiasts with snap-together modules you can combine via magnets, and a collaboration with KORG. But until now, the open source gizmos have been largely a world unto themselves. You could route audio in and out, but that’s it; any expansion was dependent on buying more littleBits modules. Over the course of this year, that will change. Already, there’s a US$36 Arduino module, opening up custom-coded functionality and computer connectivity. And by the end of the year, littleBits will add three modules that make the Synth Kit into more of a synth (or controller, …


SONAR X3 Makes Control of Sound More Fluid with Deep Celemony Integration, More

SONAR, Cakewalk’s flagship Windows DAW, receives a significant update this month as SONAR X3. There are a number of improvements, but what may be the most significant is a deep integration of Celemony’s toolset for manipulating pitch and time. DAW tastes will be forever personal, so you can be forgiven if you simply don’t like or have never used SONAR. But it’s worth noting that some things the software has accomplished have led the way for other tools. Cakewalk was the first, for instance, to embrace 64-bit audio processing and computation, and continues to (fairly) boast of its 64-bit “double …