One, two, three – Roland has finally made the 303 bassline, 909 drum machine, and VP-330 vocoder that so many people wanted. They’re small, they’re really affordable ($349-399), and they’ve got modern features. But after decades of remakes that strayed from the very things that made people love the originals, at last Roland has learned from their own legacy. So, let’s talk about what’s new and what, mercifully, isn’t.
These days, various combinations of faders and touch sensors and grids of pads and buttons and encoders and knobs appear with cyclic regularity. We’re past the point of inventing the automobile – we’re down to tuning particular cars for particular tasks. But what do you want to use if you’re really playing live? Maschine Jam is a combination of software and hardware that focuses on that scenario. We’ve met with the team that built it at Native Instruments and have our own unit in now to test, so here are some first impressions.
A piano keyboard or fretboard is set up with a particular mapping of pitch in mind. But the major advantage of any undifferentiated grid is the ability to work with scales. You can have any tuning and modes you like. A new free update to Novation’s Launchpad Pro adds that functionality to their grid controller – and that transforms how you’d use it musically. Now, Novation’s grid controller is far from the first such hardware to add the ability to map the pads to scales. Native Instruments’ Maschine (4×4) and Ableton’s Push (8×8) each have scale modes for their grids. …
Time to start singing about how we’re the operator with our pocket calculator again. The ZONT Synthesizer is an upcoming handheld instrument. And it’s what one designer imagines for the synths of the future. Apart from being tiny, you can change its function by snapping cartridges in and out – Game Boy style. And whereas we think of synths now as big, clunky boxes with wires coming out of them, the ZONT can either plug into a desktop dock for connectivity or connect wirelessly. We’ve had a chat with its designer to see what’s in store.
Wheels were never as big as grids. Well – in this context, anyway. The arc was the spiritual successor to the monome from designer Brian Crabtree – ultra-high resolution encoders for turning, with lights, as continuous as the monome grid was binary. But despite some poetic, meditative videos the monome project produced, the arc was always mostly quiet on the scene. And then it disappeared, supplanted by other projects (like an entry into Eurorack). Now it’s back, on preorder.
Backpack-friendly rigs on the cheap are yours – if you know how to put them together. Fortunately, we’ve got some expert help. For starters… fancy tools? No. Sync? Who needs it. Just a Korg Kaossilator and the Propellerhead Figure app are part of a little jam here from our friend Jakob Haq.
In the march to fancy dedicated controllers and standalone hardware, something was lost – what if you just want a whole bunch of faders (and maybe some encoders with them)? German boutique maker Faderfox (the clue is in the name) seems to understand our craving. And they even appreciate our fantasy to show up at a gig, superspy style, with a metal briefcase. Wish granted: the Faderfox UC44, 16 faders and eight push encoders in a box.
For years, the criticism of laptops has been about their displays – blue light on your face and that sense that a performer is checking email. But what if the problem isn’t the display, but the location of the display? Because being able to output video to your hardware, while you turn knobs and hit pads, could prove pretty darned useful.
It’s about time to solve this power problem on music gear once and for all. Here’s the thing: USB has quietly simplified powering everything else. Look at your phone. Now, a USB cable not only means you can charge from your laptop, but also various travel adapters – and, crucially, from battery power. With mobile batteries getting steadily better, that’s huge. You can just pack a battery and not worry about finding a wall socket, for hours or (with high capacities) even days. And those batteries are getting better as products, too – you can buy some nice looking, nicely …
When Novation’s little Circuit came out, it was already an appealing, simple box for making music. You got two polysynths and a four-part drum machine built in, coupled with a step sequencer, RGB pads and encoders for control, and MIDI, all for just a hair above $300. At the same time, though, you were restricted to the built-in sounds. Today, Novation are unveiling a bunch of updates that open up the machine to more customization – to personalizing it for your own use.