LegoTechno: Sliding Lego Blocks Make Music with littleBits, Maschine, Arduino

Keep watching: this LEGO sequencer, playing a littleBits synth kit, does something amazing. Sliding tiles around actually changes the sequence, all reading the blocks, in a terrific real-world, physical user interface. (Well, it certainly pleased the crowds at the Music Hack Day at SONAR in Barcelona.)

And yes, this means the team we saw earlier keeps working on this. Intrepid hackers can use the just-barely-hidden Lua back-end of Maschine to do their own custom scripting. More on that soon. In the meantime, let’s check out the details:

A Lego Sliding Puzzle Sequencer Controls NI Maschine to sequence three littleBits Synth Kits through control voltage (CV) from an Arduino.
Also sends out OpenSoundControl OSC and audio to control reactive visuals on different computers.

Interacting with rythmic patterns through a tangible sliding puzzle allows for some interesting polyrythmic adventures.

What's going on there?

Lego bricks can be placed on a eight transparent Lego base plates (16×16) to create rhythmic beat patterns.
Each of the eight baseplates holding the patterns can be moved around on a transparent surface. Whatever pattern (or part of a pattern) is placed in the center of the surface is filmed from below using a Webcam. The image of the brick pattern is analyzed and converted into Midi and OSC Messages that are sent to an Ardunio board, the Maschine Software (and another computer that generates dynamic visuals from the OSC Messages and the audio). An Arduino board turns the Midi Messages into control voltages to control three littleBits Synth kits that generate the sounds. Additional sounds can be injected from the Maschine software.

Made at Music Hack Day 2014 at the Sonar Festival, Barcelona.……

See the original LegoTechno Sequencer in action here:…

The Team:
Kristian Gohlke / Bauhaus-Universität Weimar
Michael Hlatky / Native Instruments
Tobias Baumbach / Native Instruments
Mickael Le Goff / Native Instruments

LEGO experimentation from the same team, at Stockholm's MIDI Hack Day last month.

LEGO experimentation from the same team, at Stockholm’s MIDI Hack Day last month.

Very cool.

The post LegoTechno: Sliding Lego Blocks Make Music with littleBits, Maschine, Arduino appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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Friday Roundup: How To Find A DJ Name That Isn’t Taken (Probably!)

Finding a great DJ name has always been a huge topic of discussion here, and we smiled at the post we chose to lead with this week - do you think the author knew what they were saying when they were talking about Pitbull, for instance?! The post Friday Roundup: How To Find A DJ Name That Isn’t Taken (Probably!) appeared first on Digital DJ Tips.


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Watch a Short Film on the Play Between Musicians and Instruments, Design and Technology


From Rush to the classical clarinet to rethinking the keyboard interface, a lovely new film by Michael Shane explores the relationship between music and technology, and the philosophy behind new musical inventions.

Two New York-based characters figure prominently in that investigation. There’s Martin Yee, the drum tech, who talks about humans and drums. (Sadly, we don’t get into the question of acoustic technology – that’s something I hope to cover in upcoming reports, both in transforming and augmenting the drum kit, and re-designing the acoustic piano.)

Then, there’s the ubiquitous keyboardist Jordan Rudess, whom I think puts on one of the best demos yet of the Roli Seabord Grand piano. The Roli story is timely, as investors are willing to bet big on instrumental innovation. The company just got a whopping US$12.8 million in funding. I have to admit, I’m not certain what the market potential is for strange, new keyboards. But Jordan, while he chooses timbres that sound fairly conventional (fake eletric guitar) does display the ability to use the instrument as a virtuoso.

In a way, though, it’s the thoughtful clarinet bookends – and a lovely duet with Jordan – that provide the best food for thought. Thanks to The Verge for putting this together, and I hope you guys continue to look at music technology in your coverage.

The closing thesis: “technology makes noise; musicians turn it into music.”

That’s a nice phrase, and perhaps true once the instrument is in the musician’s hands. But incorporating the creation of the instrument, I would argue the relationship is subtler than that. The sound of an acoustic piano, for instance, is a form of design that results in a certain sound. That noise itself has musical intent; compositional imagination is partly in the mind of the instrument builder and embodied in the instrument. The same is true in software and synthesizers. The act of being a musician is partly technological, whether honing your own physical abilities through practice or tuning, modifying, and even designing the instrument yourself.

The notion that these lines are blurred, not a clear duet between separate entities, of course, is the underlying thesis of this entire site – in case you hadn’t noticed.

But watch for yourself:

The post Watch a Short Film on the Play Between Musicians and Instruments, Design and Technology appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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Get Amazing Max for Live Devices – And Sound Advice – from Max Ninja Christian Kleine

This is where the magic happens. Oh, yeah. Photo courtesy Christian Kleine for CDM.

This is where the magic happens. Oh, yeah. Photo courtesy Christian Kleine for CDM.

It’s called Max for Cats. But you don’t play it with a laser pointer and your feline friend. (Note to self: project idea.) The latest from sonic mastermind Christian Kleine, Ensemble and DiGiTAL are in fact terrifically-rich string and digital synthesizers, respectively, for Ableton Live and Max for Live.

Getting to know their creator is just important as getting to know those tools, though. Christian Kleine is a uniquely fusion of musician and engineer. Hailing from Lindau but making a name for himself in mid-90s Berlin, his musical career itself is already newsworthy, as a soloist and as half of Herrmann & Kleine. But just as Berlin became an epicenter for music technology as well as music, he went on to a career in sound design and sonic engineering, now honing his enviable Max for Live skills at Ableton.

So, of course, CDM readers need to know not only what new devices Christian has made, but a little bit about how he approaches creation as toolmaker and musician. And we need exclusive pictures of his studio, which he doesn’t normally allow. (He said he gets embarrassed. Of… being awesome? Not sure.)

And, of course, we need to meet his cat.

First, those new Devices.


Ensemble is a retro-styled string synth (think Arp Solina SE-IV), with aftertouch control and pulse-width modulation support. Things start to get interesting around the formant filter, with ten vowels (clickable – eee!) and morphing. And the nice Chorus and Phaser are also available standalone. (Doubly welcome, as some of those built-in Ableton Devices are beginning to sound a bit recognizable!)


DiGiTAL is a full-blown polyphonic synth, one that could easily stand on a level with something like Ableton’s Operator; it feels like it could be the synth in Live 10. You get a hybrid approach – additive, wavetable, frequency modulation and subtractive synthesis are all on offer – but brought together graphically. Everything centers on a view of the wavetable and harmonic content. Paired with an Oberheim 2-Voice-inspired sequencer, modulation matrix, EQ and chorus built-in, and lots of extras, this is a really serious synth.


Each Device is 29€ / US$39, on sale for 20€ / $27, on the Ableton store.



CDM: Tell us a bit about your relationship with Max for Live. How did you get into using Max in the first place?

Christian: In the late 90s, I tried out all available music software. I finally had a Mac after using the Atari [ST] with Steinberg’s “TWELVE” and Digidesign TurboSynth for some time.

Among these were CSound, SuperCollider and [Native Instruments'] Generator (Reaktor fore-runner).

And Max (soon: Max/MSP). I did stick with Max; I found it most intriguing. Later I made many Pluggos [the former plug-in format for Max/MSP], and at some point we ([Ableton co-founders] Robert [Henke], Gerhard [Behles], some others and me) discussed the possibility to integrate Max into Live and, of course, I was delighted. I did a bit of device prototyping for Max for Live then.

How did you assemble these two new Max for Cats creations? What inspired them?

Since I bought my first synth (the [Clavia] Nord Lead 1) in 1995, I was hooked on synths because of their — in my mind — mystical sound abilities, after having being a guitarist/bass player. I refined my passion over the years and since I could somehow make my sonic ideas audible via Max, it is either hardware, synthesis concepts, or pure fun trying out new things that inspires my stuff.

The main goal for me is still that it must be easy to use, fun, musical ,and have a certain depth to it. I have no problem with imperfections or weird things – these often can inspire whole genres!

Any tips for using these Devices?

Get familiar with the character and strength of an instrument in order to remember when and where to use it best.

We luckily live in times where almost everybody with a computer has access to nearly any (synthesis-) technology, but learning every aspect of synthesis is often tedious. (I remember programming the additive [Kawaii] K5 is not really fun while it is to use, for example, Dark Synth (or my own Digital, I hope!).

Christian's passion for software, equaled only by a passion for hardware. Why choose, then?

Christian’s passion for software, equaled only by a passion for hardware. Why choose, then?

Obviously, you’ve got some mastery of Max for Live. But what about those just starting out – any advice on how to tackle the depth of the software?

I witnessed that most people who fail to learn Max (for Live) have no idea what they want to achieve with it – so I would say that having a goal would be the first step.

Do you want to achieve glitch sounds because you like Autechre, etc.? Learn how to create a random delay line!
Do you want to create create visuals which move according to the pan position of stereo sine waves? You’ll certainly find a tutorial which brings you closer to this achievement!

Also, don’t be afraid to ask – after all, there is this wonderful global community aspect of Max (and similar languages).

Last but not least, the nice thing about Max is that you can look at the handwriting of each programmer and see how they tackled a specific problem.

That makes sense. And we should note that you can have a look at the inside of Max for Live devices – even these. I certainly know I don’t learn how to do these things without a project in mind, a goal to struggle against.

So, speaking of looking at other Max creations, got any favorites from the community?

There are so many nowadays! Some faves: (would be different tomorrow!)


Frexture ["spectral sampler"]


Of course, the wonderful ML-185:
ML-185 Stage Controlled Sequencer


And the simple but great tuner:
[Ed.: note that this uses fiddle~, the landmark pitch detection object in both Max and Pd by their original creator, Miller Puckette - worth checking it out.]

And and and :-) of course there are many really good ones for 5-20 $.

Thanks, Christian! We’ll look forward to the Max for Cats instruments – and see the MIDI-based Devices below, too.


Arp One


Chord Memorizer

The post Get Amazing Max for Live Devices – And Sound Advice – from Max Ninja Christian Kleine appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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New FedByMachines EP is Haunting – As Cut Recs Label is Going Subscription


Big players have gone subscription. But what about a boutique label? That’s the different distribution DFRNT has chosen. And whatever the model, his latest EP is simply gorgeous. Matt Earp unearthed this one and reports back.

The interplay between free vs pay-for music in the digital world takes new twists and turns every year. Everyone from the majors to first-time producers eventually have to make decisions about whether to “sell” their music or give it away, and then decide what exactly the concept of “selling music” even looks like in 2014. As a group, subscription models have been a fertile ground for novel business experimentation – everyone from Spotify to individual artists have played around with different ideas for how to make them work. A particular one I’ve loved and covered previously for CDM is Drip.FM, Ghostly International’s service for exclusives from itself and a raft of its label friends. So I was excited to get the announcement that DFRNT was working on a similar idea on a much smaller scale for his label Cut Recs. The new Cut subscription service has been running since March in its current form and the latest release is the super gorgeous 5 track EP from highly underrated Dutch producer fedbymachines. I thought I’d use the occasion of its release last week as a chance to dive deeper into the world of Cut Records.


DFRNT is Scottish-born, Riga-living Alex Cowles. Cowles is probably one of the harder working men in his corner of the digital music universe. As an artist he’s made a ton of music that sits on the more lush, cinematic end of the dubstep universe, blending its polyrhythms into dub, techno, and house. (Patience was a favorite release of 2013). He ran the recently defunct but seminal Echodub label that set a standard for his sound, but just ended it to launch his latest label Brightest Dark Place. The man’s a workhorse – his Insight podcast is at over 100 episodes, he both DJs and performs live, he designs great websites, writes for a couple publications himself, and publishes not one but two hilarious sites on the side – Music Descriptions and How To Send Me Music. You, me and everyone else only wish we were this much a renaissance man or woman.

His baby for the last several years has been Cut Records – a second label he launched purely to give away lush, complex music from artists he rates highly for free. His quality control is through the roof – many of its releases and artists have become dear to me over the years. And it’s a truly international crowd, with all sorts of tunes coming from Mexico, England, Canada, The UK, The US, France, The Baltics and beyond. But “free” ain’t exactly free – after 17 releases, he was having trouble paying the server bills and mastering costs, to say nothing of his long standing desire to actually pay artists for their work. So he hit on the idea of switching Cut to a subscription service in March of 2014.

From the press release announcing the move:

 Popular netlabel Cut is shifting from providing releases on a “pay what you want” basis, to a $1 per month subscription model.

For the last 3 years, owner, Scottish-born Riga resident DFRNT (Alex Cowles) has been curating a selection of electronic music releases featuring talent such as KRTS, Thefft, Essáy, Lung and Rain Dog as well as his own productions as DFRNT.

Citing rising costs, Alex has announced that in order to return to a more regular release schedule, and maintain the standard of music he is switching to a $1 a month subscription.

“We hope those who have not donated in the past might consider subscribing after enjoying all our releases so far. $1 isn’t a huge amount, and at just $12 a year you’re paying around the price of a single album for at least 12 quality releases.” 

Subscribers will get “at least” one release a month, but despite selling the benefits, Alex realises the subscription model is not going to be favourable with everyone:

“This is not a decision I have made lightly, and I don’t expect everyone to be happy about it, but in order to move forward, to continue to release good music, to regularly provide listeners with new and exciting artists, and to keep our little corner of the music scene alive, it is a decision that has been made with as much of everyone’s best interests at heart.” 

Find the official announcement at, and subscribe to Cut on the new website at

An ambitious move. Especially considering that if you subscribe now (for a paltry $1 a month), you also get access to the entire Cut Recs back catalog for the cost of your dollar. (If you don’t want subscribe, you can now pay for the tunes direct at Cut’s Bandcamp site.) Now that the new service is four releases deep, I wanted to check in with DFRNT to see how it was going. Cowles reports:

So far, the switch to subscription has been OK, but I was expecting it to do better. We had a mere 1% signup rate from our mailing list, so of the thousands of people who were happy to get free music in their inbox, only a few were willing to support it by this means.

However, some small-time promotion, and getting the word out on Facebook, plus a reminder to the big list got us up to a slightly more manageable set of subscribers. Still not enough to go wild, but enough to cover mastering costs on the releases, and get an email out to those who are subscribed about new releases.

I’m disappointed that I can’t build it up as much as I’d hoped – we’re getting very little traction in terms of press and PR. Nobody seems bothered that we’re trying to do something relatively new, so in that respect, it has become more difficult. Free music more or less spreads like wildfire, but as soon as there’s money involved, people switch off.

I’d like to build the service, so that we can get, let’s say 1000 subscribers. That’s a major milestone as far as I’m concerned. Then we can afford to pay artists up-front for their music, pay for mastering, pay for solid Press and PR – and really build things up from there – being able to guarantee an artist 1000 people effectively “buying” their release (as well as giving them a good advance) is probably better than many independent labels can do these days.

SO it’s fair to say that the venture is in untested waters, setting a price point and doing this sort of subscription service. It’s impressive that it can all be run by one man but it’s unclear yet whether a subscription fits in with the Cut listeners’s ideas about their methods of music acquisition. When Cowles asked for feedback on the switch, a fan posted a comment to the effect that the price point might actually be too low – that $1 could be perceived as more of a hassle than it’s worth and debase the “value” of the product, whereas $5 or $7 a month might make the subscriber think they were really getting something worth paying for. I’m not exactly sure if that’s the case or if something else is going on, but there’s certainly no script for what Cowles is doing. At any rate, I’m happy to see him try it – especially if he conducts his experiments using people like fedbymachines, a truly nuanced, clever artist whose Abyss EP is his best yet – equal parts atmosphere and bass-y shimmer that’s surprisingly good to dance to.


So check out Cut Records and give your thoughts about subscription services in the comments.

The post New FedByMachines EP is Haunting – As Cut Recs Label is Going Subscription appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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If You Use Kontakt, Get Cool Bleep and Bass Instruments for Free


Bleeping amazing.

There’s some great stuff you can get for free for Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler. This week, two new instruments are available.

First up, a device that makes chip music bleep sounds, and includes sophisticated sound controls and step-sequencing LFOs. The creator, Zombie Queen, describes it thusly:

I’m assembling new bleeping device in Kontakt, last one was so twisting complicated, I’ve been getting lost in it myself. I wanted to re-utilize the engine, but simplify things a lot and add some new twists. I’ve got working ‘beta’ version, if you’d like to try it out. It’s focused more on oldie videogames kind of sounds and it has the same step sequenced LFOs as previous bleeper. There’s no manual and no help hints; what I’d like to learn, is if it’s intuitive enough to get around by twist random knobs approach.

The lovely Bedroom Producers has a nice write-up, and you can grab the download for yourself on a KVR thread. The final release should be free, too.

There’s a video out, too:

But, wait – there’s more.

Node is the latest of a set of free Kontakt instruments from Audiomodern, the sound shop created by sound designer and developer Max Million. (There’s not even a word yet to describe this new hybrid job — developer, sound designer, composer, musician. But you increasingly see shops that make music, make sounds, and make tools that make music and sounds.)

Node joins a family of free stuff for Kontakt (there are free Ableton goodies and paid Kontakt and Ableton offerings, too).

  • Node: custom, “low end” analog synth with Sub Bass. Mono mode, portamento, unison with detune.
  • Echotone: multi-layered sampled analog synth, recorded “raw”.
  • Statique: a “glitch & cuts rhythm generator.” Sequence-based pattern maker.

No real catches here, either. You don’t even have to sign up for the mailing list for the Audiomodern stuff. (You need the email for the download, but the mailing list signup is a separate step and can be skipped. Well, except I think I will sign up, actually!)

Got favorite Kontakt instruments (free or paid)? What’s your sampler of choice? We’d love to hear.

The post If You Use Kontakt, Get Cool Bleep and Bass Instruments for Free appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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