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making music with machines. synthesizers, music toys, old tech, cheap tech, netbooks, live performance, alternative interfaces

Updated: 2018-03-06T01:13:38.455-08:00


A Pint of Beer and a New Tattoo: Audio Damage Tattoo Reviewed


(picture stolen from say (or somebody does anyway) that drum machines have no soul but who's to say that? And Roger Linn lols @ u. Soul is a subjective, unquantifiable concept. And its not about "live" You can't tell me that every single hip-hop tune made with machines like the TR-808 or MPC is soulless. The same goes for any electronic beats. Sure, many are but that's the fault of the composer/producer.I was still wanting NI Maschine and still peeved by the fact that it'd require me to get a new computer when I ran across Tattoo. Seems to have just come out and it does look promising. TR-styled 12 channel drum synth with nice step sequencer and randomization functions? Will control other midi instruments? And demos sound nice. Audio Damage doesn't offer demo versions but they will refund your money. So it seems like a sure thing... more review and audio examples after the jump...( Screenshot swiped from Audio Damage. But that's what it looks like!)The soul of a new machine?Tattoo works as advertised. There are some issues which I'll get to. But it sounds damn good. Tattoo probably can get brutal if you want it, but I say it mostly sounds round and buttery. It's not a clone of one machine like the 808 or 909. The sounds are basically a greatest hits of Roland's analog machines: 808 or 909 kick, separate 808 and 909 snares, 909 rimshot, 808 cowbell (one of my fave drum sounds ever), hats based on the 808 and 606 (yay!), and DR-110 and 808 cymbals. Claps they say were more or less identical across all the old machines and the toms are original, I do like the toms. No samples, everything was synthesized. Everything is tweakable - disappointingly not *extremely* so but in a very usable way at least. Things like tuning, envelope, filters (on cymbals and rimshot), waveform (to switch from 808 to 909 kicks), saturation (on kicks) and in the name of flogging dead memes, a "more" cowbell button. I think Audio Damage should make something called "The Mango" as well. Or Longcat.It looks great too, rather NI, reminds me of both Maschine and Limelight, the latter being my previous favourite virtual drum machine. (Suprise: its Tattoo now) The little mod sequencer reminds me of Limelight's in particular. It's one of Tattoo's best features, useful for fills or randomizing velocity and it can be used to sequence every drum voice parameter (!). The main step (Pattern) sequencer is not idiosyncratic like Limelight (which is admittedly rather charming there) - looks a bit like Maschine but cleaner. It goes down to 32nd notes, fine for house and techno, even pretty good for idm/break/glitch/core wankers like me. Pattern length can be set to 2x16 if you're using 16th notes, this is nice for some variation in techno beats. It can do 16th or 8th note triplets if you want.The real fun happens when you start playing with the step randomization features. There are basic random buttons. And better, probability sliders: one can be set to remove notes, the other adds them. Random notes can be set to 32nd notes even in a 1/16 pattern, this is useful for glitchy bollocks. What's more, it sounds a lot funkier than say Ableton's Beat Repeat. That's your soul, right there, I found it. Also the global Swing (based off the 909) sounds very nice indeed.And get this: velocity/note info (including random notes, sucka) can be sent to other instruments via midi. Tattoo plays really nicely with other instruments in Live. And of course you can record midi clips out of it. Note: this only works with the VST version. Tattoo's internal synth can be turned off too as to save on CPU when controlling other instruments.So some issues: a standalone version would have been nice. Granted, I personally don't use standalones much but for playing around. Tattoo is only available as a VST or AU. Also, there seems to be a problem with stability with using Tattoo and Live, at least on the laptop I used. (I put Tattoo on my netbook so maybe that's it) I still have a copy of Live 7 and it just won't boot up if Tattoo is in my VST folder. Live 8 runs fine[...]

Steppy Lite


Steppy Lite works with any version of Live Lite 7.0.18 or higher.

It  uses Impulse instead of Drum Racks to trigger samples and uses 8 midi tracks instead of 9.

Notes triggered are C3-D-E-F-G-A-B-C4 ...this maps to Impulse, its also maybe a more useful range than that used in original Steppy (designed for Drum Racks) though it includes no black keys. A midi pitch effect on each track will let one finetune notes.

Read the blog post below this to learn more about Steppy. Next up is to make a 16 step version and maybe one designed around APC40 instead of Launchpad. (Though it works great with both.) And some videos.

Download Steppy Lite here:

Steppy! A Step Sequencer for Launchpad+Live


(also works with Akai APC40)I had some articles lined up but its very unlikely I'll get anything done until after New Year's.In the meantime, though I came up with Steppy! (not the most original name I know) I just wanted a basic step sequencer I could control with my Launchpad or APC40, so I made one! Consider it a late Hanukkah/Early Xmas present, maybe its better than a lump of coal.Steppy is an 8x8 monophonic step sequencer for Live. It was designed around Launchpad but works great with APC40 too. It's quite basic, I wanted something that would let me rearrange cut-up breaks on the fly, using Drum Racks and it was tested with Ableton's 808 preset for that. Steppy is simply an Ableton Live set. There are no midi effects (or effects @ all) and it doesn't need MAX for Live or anything. Works straight away with Launchpad in Session mode. It *does* need Live 8 to run, LiveLite 8.06 for Launchpad will work, that's what came w/my Launchpad. LiveLite 8.09 for Launchpad will not as Steppy uses 9 midi tracks. (I don't know about Mac versions) Am working on an 8-track version that will run on any LiveLite 7 or higher. Download here: how it works... it's a massive kludge but it didn't take very long...Operating it should be pretty obvious, 8 steps that progress from left to right, go up and down to select the note for each step.Each cell contains a midi clip containing a single note......As cells "move up" so do the notes in them. As they move right, the notes are delayed by a step. To ensure all steps are synched, I set Ableton's global quantization to 1 bar. Hey, I *said* it was a kludge! Set the quantization higher - or maybe I mean lower - down towards 1/32 for some interesting rhythms.Yeah, unfortunately since Launchpad lacks clip stop buttons, you have to go to Launchpad's Mixer view to turn off steps, but that's not such a big deal......Tracks 1-8 send midi to Track 9, which contains a single Drum Rack. It can play the Rack or record to a new midi clip on Track 9, I guess thats kinda obvious. Since the range of notes are mapped to the lower range of Drum Racks, you may need a Pitch midi effect on track 9 to pitch it up an octave or two to get it in the range of Impulse (or VSTi, whatever) I think it sounds great with monosynths!I think it would be cool to get some analog sequencer-type stuff happening on this and its totes doable by putting Pitch,Velocity, etc midi effects on each track 1-8. And this may go great with some extra knob controls like nanoKontrol (or just APC40) Right now though I was just playing around with putting the effects on track 9, stuff like Random, Arpeggiator, Chord, for all kinds of good stuff.Download: hope somebody gets some value out of it! If anyone actually does anything with it, plz let me know.To do in the future: 8-track Lite version just using Impulse on each track. (Impulse also being a lot less processor-heavy than Drum Racks) Also maybe a version built around APC40, maybe one with some effects. But this seems a good starting point.[...]

Tweaking Netbooks for Audio (XP mainly, some Windows 7)


I hope this one is not too boring!Netbooks have become one of the hottest sectors of the computer market, maybe they'll even muscle out those ubquitious lappies with little glowy apples on the lid. Mind, I don't really have a hate for Apple, I still have a G4 PowerBook which I'm fond of, it might even make an Old Tech article. But anyway a while back, I picked up a little Toshiba netbook myself, so I wouldn't lug my 100-pound Panasonic Toughbook everywhere, as badass as that may be. The advantages are obvious, the Tosh is light, cute, portable, has a lovely bright screen and cost $350. I wondered if it'd be powerful enough to handle a minimum of audio production and dj performance - and well, it is, with some work... I'd also spent some time tweaking the Toughbook prior, we're talking Windows XP, although netbooks are starting to ship with Win7 and don't mention Vista... and I know a plus for Macs is that you don't have to tweak them, but then you're missing out on all the fun...I ended up getting a Toshiba Mini NB 205. Although the netbooks I saw all seem to have the same exact specs, or close - Atom N280 1.66GB, 1GB RAM, 160GB HD - I got this one because it had 3 USB jacks instead of just two, a replaceable 6-cell battery (you want 6 or even 9, some Asus netbooks have the latter), RAM user-upgradeable to 2GB (will do this!) and it looked a bit more pro than others. Oh, and a not-so-glossy screen. The glossy screen fad Apple started needs to end now. ASUS was my second choice btw. Toshiba also pleasantly suprised me for shipping this thing with a minimum of bloatware. It can also power USB devices in sleep mode and there is a shock-protection utility that resets the hard drive head when the lappie is jostled or dropped. I have done the latter twice. I am the enemy of all lappies. It came with WinXP SP3, they are also shipping with Win7 now.So I set out optimizing this thing to make tunes. Last time with the Panny, I remember doing crazy stuff like editing the registry, which I consider the Windows equivalent of opening the Necronomicon. Google brought up this thread on gearslutz: to have been replaced by this one: this was the most useful article it linked to... tells ya what's essential, what's good and what's useless. Just read it. Some stuff I did like "Change Processor Scheduling to Background Services". Some I sorta did like "Switch Off Power Schemes" - the Tosh has a better power management utility than Windows, this seems to be a strength of all netbooks and probably how manufacturers come close to their bullshit battery life estimates like 9 hours - real life use is probably always half what they claim. At best. Anyway, in Full Power mode, I set everything to Max and set it to *never* power anything down. In Normal mode, for when I'm on battery power, CPU is set to max and the monitor brightness set to half, as its a freaking bright LCD anyway! Some of the marginal tweaks I did, like removing visual effects (which I don't like anyway) and setting the screensaver to *only* launch when I click on to its desktop shortcut. Other I didn't, such as removing the desktop image. Pointless tweaks include disabling certain Windows background services, so I havent done that, besides (regretfully) uninstalling the bloatware that is iTunes on Windows. There's a lot more in that article, so while it's old, so is XP, so it's worth a read!Also, check these: but good, copypasta from TASCAM guide) to... l[...]



Oops, I goofed. Just upgraded Live8 for Launchpad to 8.0.9 and now it *does* match the specs on Ableton's site. (8.0.6 was the one that came with Launchpad.) 8 tracks of audio, 8 midi; 8 scenes still sucks donkeys but you can use more third-party plug-ins - 4 effects and 4 instruments which make it a *lot* more useful for production. Until I get full Live 8 (really its a matter of time) I will be using it. And 7.0.18 for DJ... again, it works with both APC40 and Launchpad!

Here Comes a Challenger! Novation Launchpad vs Akai APC40 review


The Ableton world was abuzz with the release of Akai's much-anticipated APC40, which promised a hitherto unmatched integration with and a level of realtime control over Live. The buzz didn't last as long as Akai might have hoped as only a few months later along comes Novation's Launchpad, which offers a bigger grid and USB bus power for half the price. Does it deliver? Is it the APC40 killer? Failure to launch? (OK, thats harsh.) Or just a slightly Live-savvy monome clone made in Asia?Build Quality: The extra US$200 does go somewhere besides sliders and knobs, the APC40 looks and feels like a piece of pro audio equipment. The Launchpad feels like a midi controller, not a particularly cheap one, mind, but a midi controller. The APC impresses with its metal bottom, rubberized sides and, of course, those knobs and sliders; the former are actually nice LED-ringed endless rotaries, the latter short-throw but quality faders. Set Live's takeover mode to "value scaling" and you can forgive Akai for not making them motorized. The crossfader is replaceable as well. The Launchpad is well, a piece of plastic with rubber buttons on it. Does not feel like anything would break on it. The *single* USB cable with the L-shaped connector seems secure, in contrast to the APC which has a wallwart connector and a straight USB connector that sticks out a bit, worringly. Not saying anything *would* go wrong on it, but if something did, I wouldn't be shocked. Advantage here goes to Novation, unless of course, the internal switches are crap or something.And before I continue, of course you can pick the Launchpad up and hold it with one hand or in the crook of your arm comfortably, while the APC is made to sit on a desk. Neither has any holes on the bottom for mounting on a stand or putting on top of a turntable spindle. (Technics: making resting places for your controllers and CD books since 2000) There's a neoprene sleeve for the Launchpad but I didn't get one so I assume it's sold separately.The Grid: Obviously Novation wins this one. An 8x8 grid is always gonna beat an 8x5 one. You get more of your Live clips available on the controller, plus the Launchpad buttons are a bit larger and more closely (and comfortably) spaced. They're even good for fingerdrumming, once you get past the utter lack of velocity sensitivity (APC40 lacks it too). And cut up a bunch of breaks across the grid and the question of velocity becomes a bit moot-ish. The Launchpad's LEDs are lighter and brighter than the APC's, tho this doesn't make much difference in practice. It's square, too, so if yr using it to trigger one-shot samples (or even synths... phwoarr) just turn it around and new combinations and possibilities present themselves. Hit the scene launch buttons for potential noise chaos awesome and win.Integration with Live: APC40 wins, durr. Not just the obvious knobs and faders and transport controls but also the track select and most importantly, clip stop buttons. To stop a clip on the Launchpad, or for that matter mute, solo or arm a track, you have to push the mixer button first, which adds a step, while on the APC has buttons for all those thinghys right there. Beyond that, to set track, pan or send levels, you have to push yet another button on teh Launchpad, which is one more step of annoyance.  In all fairness you do have to hit switches to choose between sends and pans on the APC's knobs and the Device/Clip Control section there is fiddly. (At least it has it) To tell the truth I kinda prefer the simplicity of the Launchpad and it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Session Overview mode lets you "zoom" out and navigate through big 64x64 sets. The two User modes are for assignable midi controllers, Novation recommends using one for Drum Clips and another for Max for Live.In real use, the Launchpad pwnz0rs in live Live sets. I recreated a new version of my Apollox9 mix that's I'd originally done on the APC.(sadly[...]

Novation Launchpad Unboxing


Straight off the boat from China... THE Ableton Live Controller...kinda presumptuousKinda boring, but there it is.Its a bit smaller (and lighter) than I thought. The small bag holds a DVD, so thats how big it is, durr.But it seems a quality product. With netbook and nanoPAD, these go well together!On top of APC40. Its smaller, but a good kinda small. Grid is nice! Looking good in the dark. [...]

How Emo


I am syndicated on LiveJournal now. Thx to Aliz.

Here Comes a Challenger! Akai LPD8 vs Korg nanoPAD review


When Akai showed their new laptop controllers,  It *did* look a bit "me too" on the part of Akai but I'd always wanted to mess around with an MPC or MPC-ish pads beyond annoying all of Guitar Center with their MPC5000. While I love the nanos, especially the PAD and have already made a few tracks with them, one of the great things about all these products is that the price makes them *almost* an impulse buy, so I picked up an LPD8 for shits and giggles. Does it deliver them, oh yes, and in a good way. Is it better than Korg?1. The construction of the LP8 inspires confidence, the first thing I noticed after taking it out of the box (damn near identical to Korg's) is the nice heft and thickness (Oooer) of the LPD. (Even the USB cable is thicker) 2. LPD8 looks like every other current Akaipro product, while the Nanos (like pretty much every Korg product of the past ten or so years) look pretty random. 3. LPD has 8 pads to nanoPAD's 12 and while I'd rather Akai covered all of it with 16 pads, the LPD has 8 knobs. Korg, zero. 4. Korg does have the x/y pad and roll/flam/hold buttons which make creating little fills hella fun. 5. Akai's pads are backlit (ringed anyway) in red, while they only light up when you strike them and thus I'm not sure this would help much in the dark anyway, it does look better as those on the nanoPAD don't light up @ all.6. Finally, Akai has better pads. Akai has better pads. Akai has better pads. I couldn't stop playing with the pads on the LPD. They are *not* MPC pads - the small size should give that away - and they don't even feel like MPC pads, I think they feel *better*. And certainly better than the Korg's which are quite stiff and thick and unmoving, providing next to zero tactile feedback. There's a nice tactile thump to the LPD's rubber and there's a bit more give than the Korg, though perhaps not as much as the MPC? When it comes to velocity sensitivity, I was pleasantly surprised, the LPD is @ least as good as the Korg; what I'd always heard, and in my experience was true, about MPC and MPD/MPK pads is that you really had to bash them to get full velocity and little taps to make smaller beats (entirely possible on the Korg) was out of the question. Not on the LPD, quite sensitive with a decent range of control. I even found you can make little fills and stuff quite easily by drumming on the same pad. I *do* miss any kind of fill button, which Akai *could* have included; think it'd basically be an arpeggiator for drums and Akai's sister product, the LPK keyboard does have an arp. Still there is no reason I couldn't use both the Akai and the Korg. (I will)The pads on the Akai are also evenly spaced; those on the nanoPAD have more space inbetween the rows than the columns which makes fingerdrumming a bit harder. (My main problem with the Korg.) They are also larger.Opening up a Drum Rack in Ableton Live to test with the LPD revealed a shortcoming. It's not any better mapped to the notes in Drum Racks than the Korg. And @ least the scenes on the Korg were set to different ranges on notes, while on the Akai (called "programs") they are not. Both devices can be reprogrammed and remapped using software available form Korg and Akai, and they should be, to take full advantage of Drum Racks; just for the lazy person, the Korg works better out of the box.Knobs on the LPD have to be midimapped in Live to even work, but once you do that, it works *perfectly* with Drum Rack's macro controls. One great thing to do with any pad controller is to use it to control chromatic synths (instead of a keyboard) since it forces you (or at least we who are untrained) to come up with melodies you wouldn't usually. Here, with the knobs controlling synth parameters, its Here's a short piece fucking around in Drum Racks and Claw:linkxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe knobs also mean I'd even put the [...]

Old Tech: Sharp 722 Minidisc Recorder


Who remembers the minidisc?Well, if you liked recording live shows or your own playing or just walking around collecting ambient noises and weren't born with an ipod mic in yr hand, you might. And you probably loved them. Sharp units were nearly everybody's favorite as you could change levels *while* recording, a simple but damn near essential feature seemingly unique to that brand.I got this, definitely used but in box w/most accessories for $10 from a thrift shop. And it shows just how cool old tech can be. OK, you save money and save a useful and even cool product from landfill. But the 722 is the perfect companion for my Kaossilator, which is just why I bought it. I was sick of coming up with cool riffs and whole songs on the Kaossilator and forgetting them. Yeah it's gotta line in (doubles as optical) and the sound quality is great. Stick it in a bag with Kaossilator and a patch cord (yeah, you need one, the 722 came with it) and you are ready to go.Kaossilator + 722: like peanut butter & chocolate, ebony & ivory. And the tiniest electronic music studio?What else is cool? (and what sucks)1. Rugged metal construction. This model is about 10 years old. Made in Japan (which may be overrated as plenty of good crap's made elsewhere in Asia now) but Sharp knew how to make good crap there. This seems like it's from another age. And it seems to have outlasted my iPod.2. The mechanical age design, which apart from its sheer arseyness, is quite easy to grok. Buttons for most every function and that cool gearshaped jog dial and little sliders and levers. It looks like it's going to transform into something the moment you walk away. In truth, it's probably one of the more interesting MD designs that made it Stateside. It's also a middle finger to Apple's Starbucksy aesthetic, which tries to be all simple but ends up cheaper and more fiddly. 3. And yeah, it's be even cooler if it housed a hard drive but MDs are cheap and durable.4. Cool backlit remote. Too Bad main screen is not5. 24-bit ATRAC, it says so! Better'n mp3. Note; the early Sony MD recorders in the 90's were supposed to sound a bit nasty, by 2000, they'd fixed that. Did I mention mic (with power!) and line in jacks?6. Removeable gumpack battery! Screw you fruity Cupertino pod people! Heck, they even give you an extra external battery pack that houses a single AA. I have to use this since I didn't get the wallwart with mine (boo).7. True gapless playback! Ah yeah. Back in the 90's, I think it was Warp who put out MDs with a bunch of tiny snippets in the same key and bpm, put play on random and you'd get a different performance every time. Note: I am planning to do something like this. Also, since you can split tracks later, it's great for DJ sets. See...8. Edit and name tracks right on the player. Yes. Great for recording yourself. Note: editing is not that accurate. On rack units, and for some reason, some Panasonic players you could get further down.9. It says hello and goodbye to you when you turn it off and onBut what sucks?1. OK, I lied. This particular model has a known bug. Something happens when it can't read the TOC and it just. won't. work. Sharp fixed this on subsequent models, most of which weren't sold (officially) in the US. So while I love my 722, I live in constant fear of it crapping out.2. Removeable media. You gotta swap them out. And like cassettes or CDR's they pile up. Also, while I got two MD's in the box, who knows how much longer I can find more, if at all? (Actually I see TASCAM @ least still sells MD recorders) Heck, I can still find cassettes.3. Zero computer connectivity. Want your recordings on your hard drive? Record them out the headphone jack.Later MD recorders did let you transfer tracks *to* them over USB, but not vice versa. Sony's Hi-MD finally rectified this, by which time hardly a[...]



Hi! This blog is an extension of my twitter account, so I can post in depth and in obviously more than 140 characters!

Mostly I'll post on music tech and making music (derp) and I hope I can find my own angle on it and be funneh and interesting.