Category Archives: Music

WretchUp Instrument now available on iOS

The WretchUp instrument I designed for Mouse On Mars is now finally available for everyone on the iOS App Store. The original idea came about when we discussed the landscape of iOS music apps and noticed a lack of apps that experimented with a certain lack of control, a risk associated with using them, but thereby gaining new ways of expression. We were searching for the freedom found in many physical instruments, where everything can go horribly wrong in the next moment, but the instrumentalist can start to learn and tame the instrument, gaining new ways of expression along the way. Think of string instruments, pianos, acoustic and electric guitars, but also instruments like the STEIM Crackle Box.

WretchUp is not the answer to this quest, but it is intended as a step in that direction. The Pd patch leaned on the great Rjlib selection of high-level construction elements, which were modified to render what is essentially a feedback instrument built on two delay lines. The patch ran in RjDj on iOS, which is sadly no longer available on the App Store. To make the instrument more risky but also more rewarding to use, we added gyro control over the base octave and an additional filter at the output stage.

Peter Kirn and Oliver Greschke then took on the task of converting the original patch into an app, while also expanding it by adding a looper and the option to choose between continuous mic input or input on touch. The app remains simple, but can generate a nice variety of sounds, which in this case mostly means soundscapes beyond the safe, toned down sounds of typical iOS synthesizers. Forcing the musician to work for control, and also to work for getting any sound out of the app at all, is part of the idea. This can be seen as a hurdle at first, but when it is overcome, very small gestures with the instrument can make huge differences, serving as a basis for an individual development of distinctively different sound expressions.

In another video by SoundTestRoom, one of the early adopters, we find a very different use case with different results.

WretchUp is available on the App Store:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wretchup/id928543264?mt=8

Article with more background info on CreateDigitalMusic.com

GiantSteps Panel at Sónar 2014

On Thursday, June 12, I will be part of a panel discussion on musical knowledge in technological innovation. The panel is part of the Sónar Festival 2014 in Barcelona. It is organized by the GiantSteps EU-funded research project (http://www.giantsteps-project.eu/), in which Native Instrument is involved as a consortium partner.
Panel website Post at GiantSteps

CDR Maschine Special

CDR Berlin

CDR Berlin will host a Maschine Special on October 10, offering a workshop session with a focus on the work and the thoughts behind Maschine Studio. I will get a chance to answer questions on the CDR stage. Afterwards, there will be a workshop with Mouse On Mars, and they will – among other things – talk about the WretchUp app I helped to put together, and which is nearing its release (finally!). Should be a nice evening with friends!
CDR Preamble with a short Q&A
Event website with registration

NeuronVS now free

Although the Neuron Synthesizer was and still is a flagship synth that stood for innovation in the field of Resynthesis, it was not a commercially successful product. After the hardware version, the creators also released a software plug-in based on the same engine. The unique approach in this engine is that concrete material, such as a user’s own samples, can be fed into the engine, which then creates an abstract semantic model from it and uses its own sound-generating means to recreate the original sound. The model is rather complex and includes many parameters in both timbre and temporal development of the sound. It is interesting as an example of a bold abstraction process, transforming sound to the symbolic level, while retaining much of its information. The engine then allows the user to go beyond the more or less faithful recreation of an original sound, and work with the parameters of the model – musically the much more interesting part. The NeuronVS software part is now available for free for Mac OS.

The Neuron Project

WretchUp by Mouse On Mars Crowdfunding Campaign

WretchUp interface, as used by Mouse On Mars.

Mouse on Mars together with Peter Kirn of Create Digital Music have launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to turn one of the Pd patches I developed for them into a full iOS and, potentially, Android app. I am not part of the campaign or development effort, but of course looking forward to the outcome.

Besides developing the app, this project will also contribute to the porting of the great Rjlib set of Pd abstractions for use in other iOS projects. The patch itself and all code that is not protected by Apple will be made available as open source.

In addition to the benefits of the Pd patch becoming an app and the Rjlib becoming more accessible, this is also a highly interesting social experiment. The discussion on Create Digital Music is a great example of how value is being negotiated in today’s economy, while at the same time, several funders of the campaign have invested more than they were asked for in the respective packages they chose.

Read more:
Campaign Website
Create Digital Music
Rjlib

Concert: Atelier Elektronik | DEGEM at Ferienkurse Darmstadt

Ferienkurse

On Saturday, July 24, Andreas Otto and I will play a live set at the “Darmstädter Ferienkurse”. We will play a mixture between a concert and a DJ set, with the archive of music published by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Elektroakustische Musik (DEGEM) as material. Some select works will take centerstage, while the crossfades between them will be enriched to become performance miniatures in their own right, adding material from other pieces into the mix. Cellist Andreas Otto will use his software-based “Fello”-setup as instrument, played only with the bow, relieved from the cello.

The concert takes place in the unique environment of the “Out of control” audio system, courtesy Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber Dresden and Prof. Franz Martin Olbrisch. The system is based upon a setup of electrostatic speakers and a control software that allows for dramatically fast movements of the sound positioning.
Concert info
“Fello” software project
“Out of control” audio system

Conference: netaudio Berlin 2009

After the great discussion rounds at RAW Tempel in 2007, the netaudio Conference is back in Berlin. This time, both lecture and party sessions are located at Maria, right on the river. The night line-up is massive, with two floors hosting live acts and DJ sets by some of the finest netlabel artists, all neatly organized by styles and genres – whether that makes much sense remains to be seen, of course. The daily lectures and discussion rounds promise to be extremely interesting as well.
Conference website

Evolving Multitouch I

All currently available multitouch technology relies on hand-eye coordination to interact with objects on the screen. For this reason, real-world applications are limited to gadgety interactions, e.g. on the iPhone. In such situations, the user generally wants to see what is happening graphically on the screen.

In other applications, the setup looks quite different. In a music performance, staring at the screen while manipulating parameters is not the best way to appear in front of an audience. Here, tactile control has to work without always having an eye for the on-screen object, because the eye tends to be needed for the crowd.

For this reason, the good old-fashioned machine-control paradigm still dominates the interface market for music applications. Knobs, buttons, and faders are still the mainstay on today’s stages for electronic music. But the versatility of multitouch screens is no less desirable in music equipment design. Attemps to match the benefits of both approaches are scarce. Just recently, though, a new and promising approach has surfaced, as published in MIT’s Technology Review.

This technological concept uses a latex screen with multitouch capability and a set of pneumatic pumps able to create small air pockets underneath the screen. These dynamic buttons can be either positive or negative, and the pressure when pushing them can be recorded as well. This looks very interesting for dynamically changing music composition and improvisation systems, although the proof-of-concept implementations are mostly about telecommunication.
Full article
Video

Free pays off for Nine Inch Nails

 

Image courtesy Nine Inch Nails

Image courtesy Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails’ four-part album “Ghosts I-IV” took the crown in Amazon’s 2008 sales ranking for mp3 albums. Taking into account that Amazon’s mp3 store positioned itself against iTunes in terms of revenue, this placement would mean a considerable earning on the band’s side. What makes this interesting is the fact that the very same album was released for free under a Creative Commons license directly from the band’s website. However, people chose to pay for this album. This may seem special, but considering basically all music is still available for free illegally, the same could be said for almost every sale of an mp3 album. People choose to pay because they value the artistic work and the convenience offered by second-generation online stores like Amazon and Beatport. DRM-free offerings may play a significant role in this.

Nine Inch Nails apparently understood this and took the straight approach: Don’t make free downloads illegal; those downloaders are still your fans, and they may well pay for a concert. Maybe because they were given the free option, so many people felt enticed to pay for the download in the end.
Via Chris Anderson’s Long Tail Blog

2009: The Year of Music Releases in App Stores?

As the “music only release” business model becomes more and more unattractive, especially when a physical medium is involved, the year 2009 may bring a lot of success stories around interactive releases that are not seen as mere “records”, but rather as games or applications. There are two main reasons why such concepts may play a bigger role in the future of releasing music:

– New distribution concepts for regular album releases are great if you already have a big name. Then, you can custom-tailor your release strategy to fit the needs of your project and your fans, while receiving a lot of attention from the public and press on the way. This worked well for Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, but would probably not help an unknown producer in Kreuzberg get her name out.

– The app store concept goes hand in hand with the proliferation of ever more powerful, yet more or less closed systems. The ways to get new software onto any regular PC are so diversified, an app store for Windows Vista or Mac OS probably doesn’t have much impact in terms of revenue. However, on platforms that are either closed entirely, like most game consoles or an un-jailbroken iPhone, or that focus on convenience in getting new software onto the device, app stores will likely be the main portals you turn to for new software. And on these platforms, consumers are used to paying money for products. That’s one of the main reasons why they’re so attractive for music releases. Here, control is possible and its exertion doesn’t even bother the end consumers.

There are two sides to this story, really. On the one hand, any system that will help musicians pay their rent (not get insanely rich) with their artistic work should be welcomed, especially in these recessionary times. At the same time, though, we should worry when whole new macro-economies build around a technological platform that is controlled by one company – such as Apple, Sony, RIM, and Nokia, to name only a few. The way to go would be an open standard, a cross-platform application format that would be accepted in the app stores for mobile phones, game consoles, and netbooks alike.

The Creative “Pro”

In software for creative media production, a re-definition process is gaining momentum that was originally started by Apple’s consolidation of their top-line creative software as the “Pro” line. But what does “Pro” stand for in an economy that is on the way of making the old definition of professionalism obsolete. Professional instruments are traditionally those you can bet your life on. Transferred to the creative media industry, that makes professional instruments those that one uses to earn a living. But there’s no clear divide any more, as electronic musicians use products that used to be considered as un-professional to make a (good) living with music, while an army of amateurs invests in “Pro” products, thus funding their development in the first place.

So, as the hard, essential definition of professionalism doesn’t seem to hold in this realm, the “Pro” in so many software products seems to signify something else: The image of the straightforward, no-frills professional, the one that “gets things done” with just the right tools for the job. With an abundance of complex creative tools at hand, a demand is created for straightening out the creative process, for something to help actually finish a project – just like the glorified “professional”. Maybe that dream is what so many of us buy in a “Pro” product.

Quantizing MySpace: The Online Musician’s Currency

Profile Views

Whenever certain qualitative criteria for the assessment of a product or a service are not enough to justify (or determine) its value, generalizations occur. This becomes blatantly clear in the way numbers on MySpace pages are being observed. Right now, MySpace is the most important source of information among industry artist managers, bookers, and music journalists. There are essentially three important numbers these people look for, and their meaning has become very powerful. But what can they really tell us, taking into consideration how easy it is to manipulate any quantitative measure on the internet.

The first number one looks at when checking out a MySpace page is typically the count of Profile Views. Up until now, this has established itself as the single most important measure when it comes to getting something via a musician’s MySpace presence. This seems to link directly to the attention an artist is able to generate, and thus can be used to determine their value for a company or an event. It’s a generalized measure like a currency, because no qualitative assessments of the musician’s artistic qualities have to be taken into account in order to determine this very abstract “value”.

The state of this currency in the Indie scene at the moment: Everything less than 10,000 Profile Views: not worth bothering. Between 10k and 20k Profile Views: still poor, but may have the chance to grow. 20k – 40k Profile Views: the broad midrange. 40k – 60k: the upper midrange. 60k – 100k: pretty good for Indie measures. 100k – 200k: really good for non-mainstream. Above 200k: Already a big name.

These numbers and categories evolve, of course. Older profiles have an advantage simply because they’ve had more time to accumulate Profile Views. Therefore, it can pay to keep an eye on the development of Profile View numbers. A musician with 10,000 views getting 500 new people per day interested in his music may be more worthwhile to work with for a company than an artist in the 40k-60k range attracting only 15 new views per day. 

Thus, it’s also very interesting to see how often a new song the artist put on his MySpace page gets played right after deployment. But be careful: There are tools out there to manipulate this number. So don’t take it too seriously. Likewise, the number of friends (third number) an artist has are more a measure of his or her activity on MySpace than a real account of popularity. This is because many people don’t even check who exactly wants to be added as their friend, and again there are software tools out there that can automatically generate lists of people on MySpace you may want to add as friends, and you can then send them a mass mailing with an add request. Although not as manipulatable as the number of plays of a song, this does make it possible to have a huge number of “friends” on a profile that may have never heard the music. 

It is going to be interesting to see where MySpace is heading in the near future. If it wants to build on its status as a keeper of the Online Musician’s Currency, it will have to take measures against inflation – and deflation, of course, which may come with a lack of attention for the platform as a whole. Although this may not be about the music directly, generating generalized “value” doesn’t have to be a bad thing, even for an Indie musician. It allows to reach across artistic and cultural borders, and find out what’s “out there” that might be worthwhile to get in touch with.

Interview/Feature: Radiohead

When Radiohead stopped by in Berlin on their world tour, I had the great opportunity to get up close and personal with their stage setup. Their really nice keyboard tech Russ Russell showed me around all the details, including the cleverly devised backline (with lots of Native Instruments software) and the astonishingly experimental Max/MSP / synthesizer station at the stage center. One other aspect I wish I would have had the time to check out in detail is the light system. It’s built using the most advanced LED technology, and it runs entirely off a battery they keep in a truck behind the stage. According to the technicians, this is the most energy-efficient way to run a stadium-sized lighting system so far, and they plan to proliferate the technology to other eco-conscious bands as well.
Full interview
More information on the lighting system

Interview: Vince Clarke

Vince Clarke

Photo courtesy Vince Clarke

As founding member of Depeche Mode, Yazoo, and Erasure, Vince Clarke has left a distinctive mark in the history of synth-made pop music. In the interview, he explains his take on songwriting, and why self-restraint is important when you have one of the largest collections of analog synthesizers at your disposal. What really got me hooked was his use of the early computer-based UMI sequencer (running on an educational computer designed by the BBC) well through the nineties, then immediately switching to Max/MSP and Reaktor.
Full interview

Michel Waisvisz 1949-2008

Michel Waisvisz

It filled me with great sadness today to learn of the death of Michel Waisvisz, the long-time director and inspirational head of STEIM. Though not unexpected, his death leaves a void that hurts just as much. My thoughts are with his family.

Michel was a rare encounter, incredibly inspirational in a very encouraging way. He chose to work as a sound artist, but his ideas could have filled book after book just as well. I feel lucky to have crossed his path, and I know many (including myself) who will keep his thoughts and ideas alive in their work. Rest in peace, Michel.

STEIM condolence page | Crackle.org

M_nus Sunday Adventure Club: A Berlin Heterotopy

Sunday Adventure Club

Richie Hawtin’s M_nus label are usually wizards when it comes to the creation of a coherent identity for an event or any other type of activity. This is mostly achieved through a good communications concept and brilliant web design. Thus, it came as no surprise that the website for yesterday’s Sunday Adventure Club was rich with signifyers towards the intended identity: A pirate’s bay of minimal techno, with Berlin as its island base and other parts of Europe as free-floating islands in a sea of irrelevant rurality. Globalized local identities at their best.

With this in my head, I was stunned to see the venue mostly undecorated and without obvious connections to the symbolic language of the corresponding website. Instead, the Berlin-identity was back in the driver seat, with its diverse train system rolling right past the crowd, which itself was stuck in a recess between the tracks and an old-Berlin style clay wall. No, this was no island at all. Instead, what I saw and felt was a heterotopy, a venue separated from the regular Berlin, but deeply rooted in its symbolic topos. This was enriched and transformed by the international crowd and the improbability to see a Richie Hawtin set in (almost) full daylight. So, the best communications concept for the creation of an event’s identity is worth nothing after all, if it is not executed all the way through to the venue, where people would couple this identity with social inter(!)action. A great party nonetheless, this event did not convey the coherence I had expected from a brand as successful as M_nus.

Richie Hawtin DJing

Save STEIM

STEIM, the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music in Amsterdam, is in immediate danger of losing its governmental funding. The bottom line of the negative advise from the reviewers is that STEIM doesn’t appeal enough to the mainstream pop-music audience. Chasing ghosts of mass-media hype, the Dutch government is on the verge of shutting down an unparalleled institution for creative support, where I had the privilege to work on the projects “fello” and “noiseroom”, as well as to teach two Pd workshops with wonderful and inspiring participants.

For all the details on the current developments, please head over to STEIM’s website. Although time is running out, there’s still the possibility to send a letter of support.

Here’s an excerpt from my letter:

Both artistic work and technological research conducted at STEIM have influenced and benefited a large number of projects in a diversity of fields, such as academic and popular music, interactive media art, modern dance, instrument and performance theory, and the visual arts. Many of these projects have brought together participants from different countries and cultures, thanks to STEIM‘s unique ability to provide lodging, without which many projects could not have happened. Providing such support and thereby drawing in advanced projects from all over the world, STEIM serves as a beacon in the heart of Europe, bearing testimony to the open-mindedness and support of plurality that the Dutch culture is known for internationally.

Today more than ever, STEIM brings together artists from different fields and connects them with a global network of creative productivity. In the Open Studios at STEIM as well as in the guesthouse, both artistic and social exchange have found a safe haven that should be of high value to the Dutch people. STEIM is a place where well-known artists engage in experimental projects to advance their creative scope and broaden their technological as well as artistic repertoire. From my point of view as a German resident, the existence and the acceptance of STEIM, rooted in Amsterdam‘s local culture but decidedly international in its scope, is nothing but admirable.

STEIM homepage / Related posting on Createdigitalmusic.com

Interview: Speedy J

Umfeld.TV

Image courtesy Umfeld

Besides producing and performing music for dancefloors all over Europe, Speedy J also likes to cross over into more abstract realms of multimedia art. His recent project Umfeld.TV is a great example of the creative possibilities of up-to-date musique concrète and surround composition after the novelty factor of the technology has worn out. On his website, the full DVD image is freely downloadable under CC license.
Full interview

Pingipung counts down to Christmas

The good folks over at Pingipung Records have a nice Christmas calendar countdown-website this year. In association with Halle für Kunst, Lüneburg, they gathered 24 of their artists (including yours truly) to produce short pieces of music for the days before Christmas. Many of these miniatures turned out to be quite usable as ringtones. If you’re not down with the regular bells and whistles of Christmas sounds, this might just be your type of carol!
The calendar