Category Archives: file under: things I like

Such a great intro to synthesis.

I love it when google does stuff like this.

Soundware from my friends…

I’ve built up a pretty extensive pile of sounds over the years. Before the days of easily accessible libraries available for cheap (or free) download, unless you wanted to just use clean, sterile preset sounds, you pretty much had to roll your own from scratch. I’ve spent a lot of time sampling my own analog synths and buying vinyl records for breaks and isolated sounds to use.  At one point I would even refuse to use the same sounds twice, starting each new production with a completely blank canvas. Having all this stuff sitting around, I’ve often toyed with the idea of releasing my own sound library, but haven’t really found the right situation to make it worth the months of work it would take to do it right. Fortunately some of my peeps have made the plunge:

Count Bass D is a bit of an underground legend, putting out a number of critically acclaimed albums and working with a who’s who of indie hip-hop (MF DOOM, Edan, Madlib, etc). We’ve done some tunes over the years and been record shopping together a gazillion times. Dwight has always been a competent drummer (both acoustic and drum machine), so I was happy to discover that he contributed to some of Toontrack’s EZ Drummer libraries (Twizted and Claustrophobic kits I believe). You can find EZ Drummer for pretty cheap these days and the add-on libraries are all a la cart. Trust me it’s going to sound a whole lot better than buying and trying to record a real drum kit yourself.

Speaking of homies from back in the day. I’ve known the BeatKangz (Rev and Aja specifically) for well over 10 years. In addition to producing a gang of folks, they have continuously been grinding their way through the musical instrument industry culminating in the release of their own virtual instrument and hardware drum machines.  I actually contributed some sounds to their first project, the Zoom SB-246 drum machine aka Streetboxx. If you walk into a Sam Ash or whatever and see one on display there’s a factory preset named “coolout kit” that has my sounds.

Once they started putting out their own products unfortunately there was some very aggressive marketing (shit talking basically) that caused a fair amount of controversy and detractors online, but anyone would have to admit…they’re doing something that no one in hip-hop has equaled yet. I mean…yeah Dr. Dre has his own electronics company but he’s just selling overpriced earbuds and headphones. It’s not like he’s developing his own gear and giving away his signature drum sounds. I think these guys deserve much more props.

King Britt is a world renowned DJ, Producer, and Remixer and one of the few guys here in Philly that I can sit around and just geek out with. He’s always on top of music tech, past and present with a lean toward the experimental side of things. As a heavy Ableton Live user, King has been featured (under his Saturn Never Sleeps partnership with Rucyl) on the Ableton site and released some of his sounds in an Ableton sound pack.  He’s also featured in the 2012 Ableton special issue of MusicTech Magazine that should be in Barnes and Nobles next month.

Speaking of back in the day…

This pretty much sums up at least half of the vibe of my formative years.

R.I.P. Jack Tramiel

His products meant more to me than anything Steve Jobs ever did. (sheep)

I spent literally years of my life staring at this screen.

R.I.P. Jack Tramiel

Android music apps – part 1

I’m pretty deep into Android stuff. For the record, I’ve stayed away from iOS devices mainly because:
1. I’m not a big Mac user (although I’ve owned at least 5 over the years).
2. Initially AT&T was the only iphone carrier and I did not want to switch.
3. I hate using itunes as gatekeeper.
4. I like my gear as open, hackable, and with as many user-replaceable parts as possible.
5. I buy electronics as tools not as trendy fashion accessories.

Of course there are pluses to a tightly controlled and popular ecosystem. The iOS music apps are generally more polished, powerful, and from larger companies. Android however is full of little mom-and-pop software developers and continues to have a very indie vibe. Devs are usually very reachable. You can report a bug or suggest a feature and they address it 100x quicker than say Korg would. Overall, I’m glad I jumped head first into the platform and made a whole album on a Android device. To this day, I still carve out time to try out nearly every new audio (and most video) related apps. Folks ask me suggestions all the time, so here are some newer apps music apps I’m really digging:


Nanoloop
– Part synth, part sampler. It’s come a long way from it’s 8-bit/Game Boy/chiptune roots.


Caustic 2– As close to Propellerheads’ Reason for Android as you’re going to get. Only step-sequencing for now though.


Nodebeat – There are a bunch of abstract music apps around but this is one of the best. You can accurately control the randomness and solo over the sequences.


xPiano+ –  a great GM rompler with a ton of ‘bread and butter” sounds.


Saucillator – Although it was inspired by the Korg Kaossilator (which I used on this tune years ago) I was happy to discover that it’s is more of a synth than rompler. The looper is perfect and really fun. I wish other apps (like Caustic) had that function.


G-Stomper – Currently the most powerful sampling drum machine on Android. (no disrespect to Electrum which I also love). G-Stomper can be a bit CPU and memory intensive but it’s worth it.

budget dj gear. now there’s no excuses.

I’ve noticed lately that as DJing tools get deeper and deeper in features, what was once mid-to-high level is now available for really low dough.

Example 1. You could spend $500-2000 on Serato or you could just spend 100 bucks on this combo:

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Mixxx (free and open source) + Ebox-44 ($100) will give you just about all the functionality of the original version of Serato Scratch Live. The Ebox has been getting good reviews and the Mixxx software has really come of age. All you have to do is add turntables,mixer, and 2 Serato records. Speaking of Serato…

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2. If you’d rather use a midi controller and not mess the added expense and weight of a vinyl setup you could easily use Mixxx with a midi controller. Perhaps an even better solution would be to grab a Numark Mixtrack Pro for $150-250 and use Serato’s DJ Intro (which trumps the LE versions of Virtual DJ and Traktor in terms of FX and jog wheel performance).

3. Given the dominance of Serato Scratch Live (and on the controller-front Traktor Pro) you can often find good deals online or in music shops on other lesser known DJ software that didn’t really catch on. I’ve seen M-Audio Torq. Cross,and  Mixvibes packages sell for dirt cheap on clearance and second-hand. All of those are actually usable solutions. I still use Torq every weekend without a crash and Torq 1.5 works great on my backup netbook (more on that later). Even if you don’t like any of those softwares you can just use the bundled audio interface with Mixxx.

Hardware samplers may never make a comeback…but I’m ready.

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One thing I kind of miss in this information age is the random pawn shop score. Ebay has almost ruined the secondhand market for gear, causing folks to inflate prices or overvalue. I guess the same holds true for most collectibles. The last frontier seems to craigslist or the good old yard sale. Basically “the game done changed”. It’s not enough to search for deals on stuff that people already consider valuable, nowadays you have to stay ahead of the curve and search for things that no one’s really checking for. Case-in-point…rackmount hardware samplers.

Last year I found a guy selling an Emu ESI-4000 on craigslist for only 10 bucks. He said it wasn’t triggering and perhaps someone could use it for parts instead of just putting it in garbage. I figured what the heck, perhaps it’s user error. As I’m picking up the Emu I ask him, “What else you trying to get rid of?” and he shows me another sampler. This time it was an Akai Z4 in a road case. I remembered this was basically a MPC 4000 without the pads or sequencer. He said that it wasn’t working right either, but I could take it off his hands $25?!?!

The case itself was worth more than that.  I felt guilty so I gave him 40 or 50 bucks.Sure enough once I made it home I had them both running perfectly in less than an hour. The Emu was just set to an odd MIDI channel and the Akai just had bad stick of RAM installed. Score!!! The Z4 being one of the last samplers Akai made addresses nearly all the downsides of dealing with hardware in a modern studio. You can use USB to transfer sounds or program it directly from a computer. It has an large internal hard drive and can autoload sound on boot. It sounds incredibly pristine and tight. I’m currently transfer a bunch of old Akai libraries over to it just to use as an extra sound module. I haven’t really found a use for the other one, so the ESI-4000 is basically collecting dust.

Current inspiration…the RadioShack Reverb.

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I’ve wasted a couple of hours this week just playing with this. Like a lot folks, this was my first ‘studio’ effects unit. I thought I was the man when I had this, my Roland TR-606, Casio SK-1, and two tape decks. It’s a really cheap analog delay. Plus, the delay time is very small. Normally that would prohibit it’s usefulness, but it’s has both line level and microphone inputs, so you can patch the unit into itself while still using an input.  That creates this wonderful lo-fi distorted, feedback drone thing that’s really expressive. I’m going to use this a lot this year. BTW- There’s a plug-in version of it, but the damn thing costs more that the hardware ever did. Not cool.