Hey, software drum machines aren’t the only ones who get new synthesized drums – now hardware owners can, too.
If you had to explain the Elektron Analog Rytm drum machine to someone quickly, the answer was already pretty easy – it’s about the sound. Well, in an OS update quietly dubbed “1.30,” Elektron just added a whole lot of new sonic possibilities, in the form of twelve new machines and synthesis models.
Want bass drums? There are three of them.
New metallic and ride and hat sounds? Sure.
Not only are there new models, but loads of parameters inside each of them, so any one of those models gives you a lot to play with. You also aren’t restricted to using these as drums, per se – with all those options in there, you can also treat these as synth voices and make basslines or anything else you can think of. (The Elektron folks show off some nice options with the bass drum, for instance.)
Add in FM-style sounds in Impulse, and you can make some beautiful, ringing timbres.
Check out the video for some great demos and tasty noises:
I just love this machine; it’s been great to watch it come into its own.
For anyone finding dance music dull, I think a lot of the problem is lax creativity with sound design. Now, new toys aren’t necessarily going to make a producer who’s, uh, a boring person suddenly turn interesting, any more than a fashion makeover will transform you into a better conversationalist. But put these tools in the hands of anyone passionate about sound, and I think they’ll have a great, great time – with some results to show for it.
Listening to the Analog Four, I hear something that does sound really distinctive and modern – very Elektron. (Very Swedish, even.)
And there is some connection between the culture of the machine and the culture of the music made with it. If we only talk about 909 sounds, for instance, we are going to get a lot of repetition – that’s nothing against tradition, but tradition can be too narrow.
But I’m confident that the pendulum is about to swing back. Whether you choose some weird plug-ins or a Reaktor or SuperCollider patch or a modular or something like the Analog Rytm or just abusing some hardware, I think it’s time we celebrate unusual noises in both production and listening.
Sorry, off my soapbox now. Let us know what noises you make with 1.30, Elektron owners – we’d love to hear them.
Known for his associations with the labels Klopfgeist and Paradigm, Malbetrieb premieres a track from his newest record ‘Meun EP’ via Chapter 24 Records.
As described by the artist himself, Malbetrieb lets his emotions be the guide – consisting of unusual choices and sounds without losing reality. Taking this approach led to the release of his first full length album ‘Life in the Clouds’ featuring remixes by Sebastian Mullaert, followed up by ‘Nim’ on SoHaSo, a remix of Sebastian Mullaert‘s Movement – coming out on Kontra – scheduled for late 2016, and of course the soon to be released ‘MeunEP’ on Chapter 24.
For his first EP on Chapter 24, he presents a collection of tracks he recorded in one take, in the throes of inspiration. The productions were all made exclusively on hardware, using the computer solely to record the stems. What resulted was a captivating and communicative sonic exhale, both raw and refined.
Meun EP will be available 6th of May via Chapter 24 Records.
This one’s too good to wait. Gustavo Bravetti, the Uruguay-born producer and DJ, is already something of a maximalist. He’s the sort of person who can rock alternative controllers live on a mainstage in front of massive festival crowds – the powerful counter-example to the notion that such high-pressure gigs have to be press-play. And now, he’s been hard at work on a powerful tool for expanding the possibilities of performance on Elektron’s hardware, all using Push for control. I could ramble on, but the best way to follow this is to watch the extensive tutorial video he’s just posted:
It’s called, simply, “Performer” – Performance Master Snapshot Controller. And it works with the “dark trinity” of Elektron gear – that’s Analog Rytm, Analog Four, and Octatrack – along with Ableton Push and Max/MSP.
The computer is acting basically as a prototyping tool, as glue between the Push controller and the Elektron gear (indeed, Gustavo is already thinking about how to make a version of this that doesn’t require a full laptop and OS). But the point is that Push’s versatile layout becomes command center for snapshot recall.
It’ll be free when it drops this weekend (Gustavo tells CDM the work is done).
And wow, does it do a lot. You can control mute states for tracks, as well as level. You can use the crossfader as a modulator, or cross-fade tracks, or cross-fade performance macros, or add crossfader actions. As the name implies, you can take snapshots. You can activate, deactivate, and store parameters.
As Gustavo tells us, it’s “a non-linear sequencer” for snapshots. You can select snapshots and choose which parameters are recalled – so you could pre-program whole songs, he says, or just use the programming as a guide for creating builds, cuts, and so on. (And yes, live, full-on mute is a useful thing.)
That’s impressive enough, but it’s the way the pieces are put together that makes this so uniquely musical. There’s a quantized engine, allowing you to automatically launch snapshots in time, defined by rules and triggers and controlled by crossfader gestures.
A 4×4 customizable pad area let you program in phrases and arpeggios, use custom delays, and more. “The possibilities are endless,” says Gustavo. “You can play arpeggios in sync and live on the Elektron machines – something you can’t do by default.” More videos with those features are coming.
And the user interface is beautiful, as well – this thing almost looks like a dedicated piece of software. For now, there are two tools, a “satellite” tool for routing and the larger interface. (Gustavo says he plans to merge the two.)
What is this like in action? Here’s Gustavo playing, from last summer (it’s continued to evolve since then). He keeps very, very busy – watch those hands. (This to me is fascinating – not saying that a more active performance is necessarily better, but it’s fascinating to observe the range of levels of control different artists use to define a live set. To me, it’s one of the things making live sets interesting…)
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In his first article on the history of the turntable, DJTT contributor Akhil Kalepu took us through the phonograph’s early history, from its origin in the late 19th century and well into the mid-20th century. These technological innovations laid foundation to the concept of DJing and would be further developed following World War II – learn how DJing rose out of radio in this historical piece.
The First DJs: Radio DJs
The term “disc jockey” first appeared in 1935, about two decades after Reginald Fessenden played George Frideric Handel’s Largo from the opera Serse in 1906, the first radio broadcast of recorded music in history. Technically, DJing entails the playing of multiple records in succession, so the honor of being the world’s first goes to Ray Newby, assistant to radio pioneer Charles “Doc” Herrold who founded the Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless in San Jose, Calif. Radio was new territory at the time and had no regulations for broadcasting.
Doc Herrold (left) and Ray Newby (right; image credit bayarearadio.org)
The school was built primarily for training operators for ships, but at the age of 16 Newby got the blessing from Doc to play continuous music on air, many of which were Enrico Caruso records, the Italian operatic tenor who became a superstar thanks to the popularity of prolific recording career:
“We used popular records at that time, mainly Caruso records, because they were very good and loud; we needed a boost. We started on an experimental basis and then, because this is novel, we stayed on schedule continually without leaving the air at any time from that time on except for a very short time during World War I, when the government required us to move the antenna. Most of our programming was records, I’ll admit, but of course we gave out news as we could obtain it. (“I’ve Got a Secret” 1965)
Radio at the time was a mixture of news, sports and radio drama in addition to live music. This changed in 1927 thanks to Christopher Stone, who was the editor of a classical music magazine called The Gramophone. Stone had the idea of a program dedicated solely to recorded music, convincing a skeptical BBC to launch the program July 7 to great success. Contrasting with radio’s formal presentation, Stone delivered in a friendly manner that appealed to audiences listening to records for the first time, making him the first DJ to achieve star status. Before leaving for pirate radio, pioneer Radio Luxembourg (and getting blacklist by BBC in the process), Stone even developed his own dual turntable setup almost two decades before Jimmy Savile.
Martin Block and Stan Kenton (public domain image)
Walter Winchell would coin the term “disc jockey” in 1935, describing Martin Block’s “Make Believe Ballroom,” the first American record show to become a hit with radio audiences. Block was an announcer at WNEW in New York when the Lindbergh kidnapping hit the news. As listeners waited for updates, Block began playing records to keep people entertained, mimicking the feel of a live concert broadcast. His personal style felt more like a conversation than a theater announcer, foreshadowing the rise of radio personalities in the following decades. As the show went on to become nationally syndicated, gramophone technology continued to advance and move into more living rooms.
Changing Record Technology: The Long Playing Record
Prior to the 20th century, gramophone records were produced with no standardized rpm or size. Berliner sold 7-inch discs that were “about 70 rpm,” but the introduction of a governor (speed regulator) in 1897 enabled uniform recordings, eventually leading to the 78 rpm standard. There wasn’t any reason for the industry to adopt this speed; records were labeled with whatever arbitrary speed was chosen by the recording machine and 78 became the most common format before the introduction of the LP.
Vinyl, long-playing records marked a turning point in recorded music. Older shellac records were brittle and noisy in addition to only providing less than five minutes of recording time on each side. Radio transcription discs were the first records to use vinyl (then called vinylite), and the U.S. government later contracted several record companies to produce V-Discs, which were vinyl 78s with special recordings for soldiers overseas in World War II. These rare discs feature recordings from top artists of the time like Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, though it was illegal to use them for commercial purposes before becoming collectors’ pieces today.
Soldiers listening to V-Discs in WWII
Columbia Records issued the first contemporary LPs in 1948, producing discs at 33 1/3 rpm that competed with RCA Victor’s 45 rpm albums released shortly after. With 26 minutes of music per side, 12-inch 45s eventually made way for the Album Era, when artists took advantage of the long format to produce iconic concept records, most notably The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967). Long-playing records became the most popular format as transistor phonographs entered millions of homes, while DJs took advantage of the higher fidelity and durability the new technology brought.
The Foundations of DJ Sets and Mixing
The post-war period gave rise to the radio personality, disc jockeys who were followed for their unique taste in music and responsible for introducing new sounds to the public. Alan Freed coined the phrase “rock and roll” at WJW Cleveland as well as presenting artists across color lines in the early 1950s. Popular music as a cultural fixture developed out of this new format as modern DJing began to take form with radio DJs hosting “sock hops” or “platter parties,” often with a live drummer to fill in the time between songs.
Alan Freed, the DJ behind the term “rock and roll”
In Jamaica, sound systems playing American R&B became dominant in Kingston, eventually adapting their sound to ska and reggae with custom-built rigs that could play very loud bass frequencies. In addition to the DJ, selectors would be responsible for choosing records while a vocalist would “toast” the audience. Not to be confused with rapping, toasting involves rhythmic chanting originating from West African oral traditions.
Sound system culture would go on to have an influence on a number of genres, most notably the Jamaican-born “father of hip hop,” DJ Kool Herc who introduced beat juggling to the Bronx in 1973. Watch him describe his technique below:
Isolating breaks was already popular with dub music, but Kool Herc adapted the technique to American funk and soul, giving rise to hip hop with rappers continuing the Jamaican toasting tradition.
Prior to this, Francis Grasso developing some of the most basic DJ techniques we use today while playing at New York’s Sanctuary club. In 1969, Grasso used the practice of clip-cueing (already popular in radio) to beatmatch tracks together, on Thorens turntables no less, which were high-end at the time but much less reliable than Technics.
Legendary DJ Francis Grasso, with Thorens TD-124 turntables in the background
Grasso’s mixes were particularly impressive, considering this was on live drummers and he was capable of crafting long blends with careful attention. The man is also known for changing the game in music selection. DJing was most often played to the audience off the popular charts, but Grasso went against the mold by choosing a variety of styles, playing close attention to the mood and musical narrative.
Technics: A DJ Standard From Late-1970s On
In 1974, DJing would get its iconic instrument with Technics’ release of the SL-1200, a special endeavor by Matsushita to create a high quality and reliable record player. The turntable would go on to become the industry standard thanks to its high torque, low flutter magnetic drive and heavy insulation against acoustic feedback, not to mention that they are very durable. While Technics have always been popular in the DJ community, the rise of digital music, CDJs and MIDI technology lost the company sales.
Panasonic would discontinue the line in 2010, though public demand and a resurgence of interest in vinyl recently resulted in company’s latest announcement about the SL-1200G and limited edition GAE, which recently went on sale in Japan. Unfortunately the decks are priced at $4,000 a pop due to Technics’ alleged need for reinvesting in manufacturing tools, but CTO Tetsuya Itani says there might be a more affordable option in the future: “Right now, we start thinking [about a more affordable model]. But not definitely right now. We need to study.”
Akhil Kalepu is a producer and DJ from Philadelphia. His website is theinfamousAK.com
Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about the history of DJing, techniques, technology, and the many factors that lead to the modern style of DJing and club culture?