What should DJing software look like, anyway?

It’s just a teaser, but for once, the idea is simple, straightforward, and clear. Native Instruments have taken their DJ software, Traktor, and combined it with a grid of pads for sample triggering and loops. The upcoming hardware/software combination we expect later this spring.

At the risk of stating the obvious, what’s significant about adding loop triggering to any DJ set is that you can more easily move beyond playing and mixing tracks. Even without drum machines, this kind of manipulation is part of the grand tradition of DJing, made all the more impressive when ground-breaking DJs were able to accomplish it using only a turntables. (It’s perhaps a triumph over the linearity of recorded music in the 20th Century that, at last, artists found a way to subvert recorded music’s permanently-frozen state and reclaim the playback device as an instrument.)

What the upcoming product does is to take the virtual deck metaphor of Traktor and makes each deck a sampling machine. Each deck can trigger one-shots and loops, coupled with the mixing, cueing, and effects possibilities of Traktor as a DJ tool.

The obvious comparison will be to Ableton Live, but here, it’s as significant what is different as what is not. This wording from NI’s description will admittedly sound a lot like Ableton Live and colored renditions of the monome: “Stylish multi-color pads trigger loops and samples, allowing for on-the-fly remixing.” There’s definitely some influence there.

But the grand-daddy of all these things is sampling drum machines, the first instruments to popularize triggering one-off or looped audio content from a grid. (Tip of the hat here to Roger Linn and his designs.) Ableton’s breakthrough was taking that sample-triggering grid metaphor and cross-breeding it with the DAW, the all-purpose studio workstation with its channel strips, tracks, and arrangements. In Live, the track is king.

NI’s breakthrough here promises to be seamlessly making each deck – not each track – the focus for sample triggering. And their hardware literally combines the DJ mixing and effects functions with those pads. In the future Traktor tool, the deck, not the track, is king. And that makes all the difference. The deck will behave like a deck for cueing (a common complaint about Live), for one, but it’s also important that whereas Live gives you as many tracks as you want, you’re forced into the limitation of four decks in Traktor. That limitation is neither positive nor negative, but rather something that will influence every other decision you make. (Having looked over the shoulder of Richie Hawtin’s impossibly-enormous Live set recently for Plastikman, with tracks that scrolled on seemingly endlessly, I can tell you this isn’t a minor point.)

Of course, the other amusing point is the timing of when NI is tipping their hand. NI already makes a popular sampling drum machine, Maschine, combining a dedicated controller with software. Akai has just entered the ring with their own revision of the MPC – combining a dedicated controller with software to make a sampling drum machine. NI, for their part, here reveals that their next move is a new dedicated controller/software combo that also adds in DJing.

Anyway, for now, it’s just a video, so everything else is speculation. Feel free to have a look and let us know what you think, which, knowing comments, I’m certain you’ll do in no uncertain terms.

Side note: My brain is fuzzy; can anyone remind me of the capabilities of 4decks? This was, as I recall, a Reaktor patch that combined looping and decks.