Logic 9 announced by Apple

 Mac software, Music Technology  Comments Off on Logic 9 announced by Apple
Jul 232009

logic9.jpgApple has at long last announced a new version of its music workstation software: Logic 9 (as before, you can choose between the Logic Studio and Logic Express packages). Shipping time for UK customers is declared as “4 – 6 weeks”.

There was a time when a whole-number release indicated a complete rewrite of a program. Perhaps the test of that will be whether Logic after all these years finally allows the use of long file names.

Those who have requested better multichannel sound support will be disappointed that Apple has ignored their requests. Logic 9 still offers nothing above 7.1 support, so users who need eight channel support (admittedly a small minority) will need to stick to rival products such as Nuendo.

We are told that “now you can quickly perform complex edits, like correcting timing errors and bending time, that took dozens of steps before.” Let’s hope that Arrange page navigation as a whole has been made less fiddly to use.

Logic 9 is likely to be an irresistible upgrade for most Logic 8 users, who will have been reassured of Apple’s commitment to Logic and know that the long-awaited upgrade can be theirs within a month and a half.

Korg’s Nano range

 Music Technology  Comments Off on Korg’s Nano range
Jun 062009

I’ve never been impressed by Korg’s MicroKontrol MIDI controller, with its horrible spongy keyboard and unyielding drum pads, so I was wary of Korg’s Nano controller range. Eventually, however, the weight of positive reviews for the Nano range of compact controllers swayed me, and so I jumped in and ordered a NanoKey, NanoKontrol and NanoPad (which, by the way, are now available in black, in addition to the original blue-and-white colour scheme).

None of these devices make a sound (unless you count the way in which the NanoKey produces quite a loud, yet somehow satisfying, click when you press the keys!) and are intended purely as controllers for use with your MIDI-enabled software. The devices can be plugged into a USB port on your computer (using the sensibly long USB leads supplied) and be used immediately, although Windows users are encouraged by Korg to download and install its drivers (to provide multi-application support for such devices, or some such thing that Microsoft omitted to include in its unmusical OS), and both Mac and Windows users can download software and configuration files that allow the default settings on the units to be tweaked for use with just about any piece of audio software (Linux users would have to supply their own software – just the way they like it). Korg is a big corporation and doesn’t waste its time telling you exactly where you should obtain the software: you are given a URL to a list of its distributors, and then it’s up to you to go to your country’s Korg site and look for it. That won’t be a major task for most computer-savvy musicians, but a single, direct download link would have been courteous.

The NanoKey is a miniature keyboard with two octaves of miniature touch-sensitive keys plus buttons to raise and lower the current octave, nano2.jpgbend the pitch and send modulation. It’s responsive and easy to play, although the keyboard will feel more familiar to typists than to concert pianists. Most users of computer software will be happy enough.

The NanoKontrol features nine faders, 9 knobs, 18 buttons plus transport controls. Korg supplies templates to help you use the device with its Legacy range of software synthesisers, in addition to Logic 8, FL Studio 8, Traktor and Cubase 4: these templates can be written to the NanoKontrol using the software editor available for free download. nano1.jpgAs a Mac user, I tried, as you might have expected, the Logic template, which sets the NanoKontrol up to control volume fader and pan positions. This in itself is rather limited but the NanoKontrol’s many buttons make it very suitable for use with the third-party LC XMU software, which will persuade Logic that it has a Mackie Control attached. I tried it, and found that this little fader box was then even more versatile (yes, of course it lacks motorised faders and other features, but it takes up a lot less desk space!).

The NanoPad has twelve pads for use by those who like to drum using their fingers. Flam and Roll buttons, when used with the track pad, can be used to provide the expected drumming effects and these make the results of triggering drum samples sound just a little more like the real thing. When neither Roll nor Flam are being used, the track pad outputs controller messages when you use it, providing another way to interact with software plug-ins, provided your music software allows you to tell it how to respond to such control messages. Using Logic’s “Learn” function, I quickly assigned the X axis to the cut-off frequency of a low-pass filter on a software synthesiser, and the Y axis to the filter’s resonance. Fun ensued. The track pad won’t compete with more upmarket offerings, but this functionality was an unexpected bonus, and one more reason not to buy a Kaoss Pad.

Korg Nano case.jpgThe three units (one of each type is the only allowed permutation: don’t expect to be able to store three Nano Kontrols this way without risking damage to them) can be stored and carried in an optional fold-up case made by Korg, which is sold together with a neat USB hub which has four ports and a short, integral lead. There is also a pouch in the case which I found could accommodate the three USB cables – but there then seems to be no room to stash away the USB hub too without risking damage to the controllers (the hub would be pressing against the Nano Kontrol’s plastic controls, which I would not expect to be especially robust). You can fit the USB hub in the case if you remove one of the USB cables. What’s the sense in that? If you are going to have great ideas, such as these cases, and then ruin things by lack of attention to detail, you might as well print “Apple” on the case, not “Korg”.

The Nano series is affordable, if not dirt cheap, reflecting perhaps a sensible balancing on Korg’s part of build quality against manufacturing costs. The controllers are pleasing to use and invite experimenting. Laptop owners will find them to be valued travelling companions (provided they don’t forget the USB hub which they will have to pack separately, remember – how stupid), but the units are fun enough to play with on a personal computer of any size.

Bloggers in Biofeedback Baloney Backlash

 Drivel, Music Technology  Comments Off on Bloggers in Biofeedback Baloney Backlash
May 202009


The synthesiser world was sent reeling yesterday (and the day before that, and the day before, and indeed last week) when dozens of music blogs published a photograph of a man wearing a hat.

But this was no ordinary hat: it had electrodes, and its wearer claimed that he would use it to control his synthesiser.

But this was no ordinary synthesiser: it was an old synthesiser, with patch cables.

“Look,” explained the Artist, “at me”.

But last night the synth community reeled in shock from suggestions that they had been the victims of an elaborate hoax.

One heartbroken blogger, who wished not to remain anonymous, was driven to tears.

“The intensely self-satisfied yet faintly ironic look on his face convinced me that this was a serious sound artist who had taken to wearing electrode hats. If this photo is part of a hoax, it is a very cruel and irresponsible one”.


 Communication, Music Technology, Society  Comments Off on Articulation
Nov 012008

Using music to underscore the articulation of speech is nothing new but this piano accompaniment to Sarah Palin’s speech pattern is nicely done.

The articulation used in music often mimics that of speech, but rarely so explicitly as in this installation.

The installation robot tends to repeat itself, so is perhaps particularly suited to mimicking the speech of presidential candidates, who are, understandably, keen to hammer certain scripted points home. Here is a wonderful compilation of “synchronised debating“.

Sometimes politicians and other actors forget their lines and then struggle to work out what the scene is all about. Prompt!

Yamaha announces the Pocketrak CX

 Music Technology  Comments Off on Yamaha announces the Pocketrak CX
Aug 242008

With the Pocketrak 2G, Yamaha succeeded in making a solid-state audio recorder that was so compact and light that it could be carried around habitually by the keen sound-recordist much as a keen photographer might never leave the house without a compact camera. Better recordings can be obtained with larger, heavier devices, but there is much to be said about always being ready to record into a device that is smaller than most mobile telephones.

Yamaha has now announced the Pocketrak CX. Reviews have yet to appear, but judging by the specifications, we should expect better sound fidelity at the expense of increased size. The design is reminiscent of the LS-10 by Olympus, as are the dimensions: the unit is a little chunkier than the 2G and so it’s quite possible that the 2G will remain in production for those who value its small size. The LS-10 can record uncompressed audio at 96 kHz, which the CX cannot: that won’t be a practical issue for many users, but comparisons are invited by the design, and it’s surprising that this sample rate was not matched.

The John Baker Tapes

 Music, Music Technology  Comments Off on The John Baker Tapes
Aug 202008

From the enterprising and unusual Trunk Records comes this pair of CDs celebrating and preserving the music of the late John Baker, covering his work as part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (on The John Baker Tapes – Volume 1) and elsewhere (“Soundtracks / Library / Home Recordings / Electro Ads” on The John Baker Tapes – Volume 2).

Volume 1 promises a “vast spectrum” of sounds but given that Baker overused some of his sound sources – a twanged ruler and a blown bottle feature repeatedly – this is a little charitable. Nevertheless, Baker worked wonders with such limited raw material, using tape recorders to change the playback speed and therefore the pitch of the note, and cutting and rejoining lengths of recording tape to build up tight, syncopated pieces of music. The musical styles include cheery jingles, light jazz and light jazz with cheery jingles – don’t expect much in the way of abstract soundscapes, since much of this music was designed for documentaries and radio station branding purposes.

The tracks are very well documented, with summaries of where the music was used, an illuminating biography by John’s brother Richard and a few photographs.

John-Baker-Tapes-Volume-2.jpgVolume 2 contains a few more photos and an obituary from 1977 which omits details of Baker’s troubles – for those, the biography in Volume 1 is required reading. This second CD covers wider ground, and ranges from piano performances to “electro” pieces for advertising and library music purposes. It’s mostly pleasant listening, but instead of the sound of a ruler being twanged you can almost hear in places the sound of a barrel being scraped. However, that sort of misses the point of both these releases: they are primarily documentation, and the fact that a lot of the tracks are also enjoyable to listen to is really a bonus. The John Baker Tapes mark a time when creating upbeat electronic music for radio and commercials involved a high level of technique and dedication, a time before sampling and sequenced synthesiser lines, a time when electronic music was created with microphones, tape recorders and whatever could be coaxed into making a useful sound. These releases also provide a succinct epitaph (or two) to one musician’s life and work.

More information can be found on Trunk Records’ site. Volume 1 was released in July. Volume 2 is scheduled for release on 25th August.

Theremin workshops in Nottingham

 Music, Music Technology  Comments Off on Theremin workshops in Nottingham
Jul 232008

Hypnotique announces that she will be hosting some theremin workshops in Nottingham (England) on 2nd August. You and your family can learn to play this ancient yet very hip electronic music instrument. There will even be a “Theremin Idol” competition so don’t be idle, waving your hands in the air like you just don’t care; wave them in the air like you do care (that’s how you get to be a Theremin Idol, you know), and pre-book now.

R.I.P: Bebe Barron, Tristram Cary

 Music, Music Technology  Comments Off on R.I.P: Bebe Barron, Tristram Cary
Apr 252008

Bebe Barron died on 20th April, at the age of (most sources say) 82. With her then husband Louis, she created the still stunningly unique electronic soundtrack to the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet. This news item from Variety is refreshingly to the point. Refer to the usual sources for a selection of facts and hype – but the Barrons were genuine pioneers in electronic music, and their legacy of work remains in a class of its own.

Not so widely reported is the fact that just a few days later, on the 24th April, Tristram Cary died, also at the age of 82. He created music using tape, electronics and scores for conventional acoustic instruments, and coincidentally we were enjoying his soundtrack to the original appearance of the Daleks in an episode of vintage Dr Who from 1963 just last week. This posting seems informative although it concerns itself particularly with Tristram Cary’s cartoon soundtracks. Other posts mention his role in the British synthesiser manufacturer EMS, whereas the BBC describes him as “the Murray Gold of his day”, predictably missing the salient points entirely. More helpfully the Music Thing site links to an old but relevant documentary called What the Future Sounded Like. Let’s watch it now. And then we should watch Forbidden Planet yet again, to remind ourselves of what the future used to look like too, back in the days when at least some of the time people looked forward to it!