Yes, the tools are better and shinier – but there is a method to what musicians are doing with them.

Maschine 1.8 arrives today, a bit early, a free update. I looked at this release when we went hands-on with the updated software and new color hardware. Whether or not you get the new controller, it features a new transient follower and tube and tape saturation effects, improvements to pitch and time shift, and better file handling. You also get a free serial for NI’s Massive synth.

This is a good thing. But let’s back up and talk about what these tools are really for.

Looking for something to add to the news today, I realized I missed a popular video by NI with none other than Frente Cumbiero. Ostensibly, it’s a video about Maschine, and shot by the software developer, but it could really be a video about sampling.

Colombia is the beating heart of Cumbia, but that warm-blooded music now pumps through the rest of the planet’s dancefloors. Seeing Frente Cumbiero (aka Mario Galeano) digging through stacks of records, the man takes on dual roles as musicologist and composer. When he talks about sampling, he talks about sharpening his musicianship and understanding the music compositionally. It’s a historical recomposition, simultaneously analysis and reintegration into something new. And, significantly, he can do this with his fingers.

It’s relevant, then, that he works end-to-end in Maschine, not so much because it’s a compliment to the tool’s engineers, but because it means that he makes each rhythmic move something that happens beneath his fingers, improvisationally. It acts out on that grid the activity composers have exercised since, well, the dawn of music. He absorbs and then reconstructs musical ideas, like a bard retelling a story. And this integrated process of study and analysis – not just random sampling for convenience – is something you could easily apply to other drum machines, other workflows.

So, while you’re updating Maschine – or looking at your favorite drum machine hardware or software – you might consider how you can truly improvise and free up musical ideas.

And, for that matter, while things are installing and whatnot, here’s some great reading on Mario Galeano:
Frente Cumbiero and the Renaissance of Colombian Cumbia [iCrates]