Well, you have to give some credit to NI – they’re teasing a new product on a day when people’s attentions may be turned elsewhere, electronics gadget speaking. The “sneak preview,” in the fashion of some previous previews, actually reveals a whole lot about what they’re doing. It’s a 2-channel mixer that can evidently operate as a standalone mixer, but also doubles as a control surface. That puts NI in competition with the likes of Pioneer, Denon, and Allen & Heath, moving the software company more squarely in a horse race with manufacturers associated with the physical stuff you see in a DJ booth.
It also makes it clear that NI’s products will keep adding color LEDs.
The mixer itself is happily not hugely wide, from what you can see in the video. Beyond that, it offers a range of visual feedback, control of standard channel mixing options, what appears to be four decks with loop controls and the like, and effects.
NI is also doling out effects the way an ice cream shop might offer tasty flavors, putting the DSP geekery of their developers to work fo a wider audience than, say, people who make strange instruments in Reaktor.
But there’s a deeper question behind all of these mixers and control surfaces: what, exactly, is a DJ doing these days?
I think it’s actually difficult to design a mixer/controller to please everyone.
For the edge cases of the DJ market, two channels may actually not be enough. In fact, I’ve heard DJs recently complain that what they want is mixer/controllers with more I/O – so they can combine lots of live performance hardware with computer control. That would move live dance music performance away from “controllerism” as advocated by the likes of press outlets like DJ Tech Tools and artists like Moldover. That is, in the controllerist model, hardware is just a remote control for the vast sound-shifting powers of a computer. But as some people keep hardware around for live performance (see the next video in my inbox for an extreme example), the computer is just one noisemaker among others.
The other fundamental question to me is whether NI’s gear will be as effective with other software (cough, Ableton) as with Traktor, as the controller/mixer audience may not only want to use that particular DJ app. In fact, if this device did do a good job of controlling various software, then the need for lots of external I/O would be significantly less.
(And I do very much hope this works as a standalone mixer without a host computer; the hardware platforms on which devices like Maschine are built don’t allow that, which is why Maschine doesn’t work as a MIDI-only controller without a computer.)
Keep in mind, neither of these arguments is especially relevant to the DJ customer who just wants a one-product solution, or is just thinking about Traktor. But… you can probably read about that person somewhere else.
On the upside, I can think of some advantages to the 2-channel approach. It could save space (rivals can take up a lot of room in luggage and in DJ booths), and we have yet to hear a price. And while I’m interested in how this would work with Ableton Live (and a lot of Live users buy NI hardware), it’s also possible to do a set in Traktor that’s more “live” than Live. It’s all in the performing artist’s hands.
It seems time to take a fresh look at how all of these tools are converging, and how you’d actually use them in practice. As it happens, various DJ and producer friends of mine have of late been turning their eyes to this question. So I’d love to ask readers: what sorts of products would you want to see tested? What sorts of live music scenarios (DJ or otherwise) would you want tested?
To answer that, I hope to look beyond just my own perspective and invite in other performers and DJs, to get a broader view. But I’d like your views, too.
Let us know. Heck, it could help distract you from waiting around for Apple announcements.
For another take on this, speaking of DJ Tech Tools: The Traktor Kontrol Z2? Native Instruments Previews Standalone Mixer