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Decisions: Can’t Keep them all (Part 3) (Elektron Digitakt)

(This year, I bought too many drum machines.  This is the third part in a series where I’m thinking out loud about which I should keep and which I should sell.  You can find Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking the links)

Ahh, the Digitakt. Of all my drum machine purchases, this one was the most impulsive.   I had literally *just* bought an MPC Live (the next one in this series) when an open box deal came across my desk that I couldn’t pass up.  I watched a few demo videos on it and, perhaps stupidly, snapped it up.

This is not to say that I am disappointed in the device…far from it.   I really do enjoy working with it…when I actually do work with it.  Which hasn’t been all that much.  Which is very, very unfortunate.

What attracted to me to the Digitakt is that Elektron seemed to be trying to do something I always wish they’d do: Cut out all the bullshit and just make an instrument that was straight forward and fun to use (I love my octatrack, but it’s not really fun).  They all got into a room and just said “Lets make a simple drum machine” and BOOM: digitakt.   But…then they started thinking…hm….maybe we can add some sample inputs….and 8 MIDI tracks…and…and….

Thankfully, the meeting ended and they didn’t add everything and the kitchen sink to it.  What they were left with was still pretty straight forward.

What happened next…eh.  I don’t know.  It seems like the ordered the hardware, started work on the firmware and then let marketing publish the specs and features they hoped to have two years form now.  Why?  Because what arrived on launch day was *not* what everyone had hoped.   To put it mildly, the system was buggy, overbridge wasn’t even implemented and there were a number of issues with the MIDI track.   Oh and, yeah, they didn’t bother to build in a song mode.

Yeah.. Read that again NO SONG MODE.

So…lets get this straight.  They made a great sequencer with great external control that can’t be used to chain those patterns into songs?




Of all the decisions Ive seen developers make, this is the most blisteringly stupid.   A drum machine with out a song mode?  Ok, that’s fine for a Roland TR reissue or maybe some machine trying to emulate an analog workflow…but this was positioning itself as competition for an MPC, and an MPC IS ALL ABOUT MAKING SONGS!!!

I love Elektron..but I will never understand their decision making process.

Back to the question at hand.  Do I keep it?   The answer is…maybe.   Even without song mode, the thing is really, really good : As simple to use as my EMX 1, but with a better sound and a lot of cool slick tricks.   I haven’t sampled with it, but loading samples in was cake (the +drive is Elektron’s best idea ever) and because of that, I’ve got a huge library of sound that’s a button push away from being in a track.  Slaved to the input of the Octatrak, it’s a great sound source.  All of that plus Elektron’s history of great software updates makes me want to hold on to it for a while and just see what develops.  Maybe even it will get a song mode…




Decisions: Can’t keep them all (Part 2)(Synthstrom Audio Deluge)

(I buy to many drum machines / groove boxes.   I’m in love with the concept.  I need to get rid of some.  Lets think out loud to figure out which).

Synthstrom Audio Deluge

In a technical sense, I have not yet bought the Deluge.   I have it on loan from Atomic Shadow on a try-to-buy deal.  As such, I’ve got the least level of experience with it of any of the gear I am presenting here.  These opinions may change radically as I use it, as my opinions on gear often evolve.

When I first heard of the Deluge, I was intrigued by its concept (of course).   Its a sampler, synthesizer and sequencer all in one box that runs on batteries.   Its from a new company, crowed funded, and is an example of the good things that can happen when developers work very closely with their customers.    The unit is in very active development from the manufacturer and new operating systems with bug and features additions are being released regularly.  There is a very active Facebook group dedicated to the product where you can ask questions and get good support.  They also are on twitter, which is where I’ve had a few of my angry rants quite calmly addressed.

This Is all very good because the written manual, frankly, sucks.   Its written in a very conversational sort of way but seems to take for granted that you already know how to use the device.   They don’t publish it as PDF but rather a google doc and forgo having an index because you can just ‘ctrl f’.   This all sounds very good and clever, but in practice its terrible for finding what you want.  They excuse this by putting out training videos you can watch on YouTube.   Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I HATE this.   When I’m working with a piece of hardware, I generally DON’T have my computer screen where I can be staring at it.   Also, the videos aren’t redone every time functionality or features change, so you often stumble across outdated information.   This has created a greater learning curve for the device than I think it deserves (I have started taking notes on all the functions with the intention of creating my own ‘quick start’ guide.  I’ll post it up here when it’s done).

All of that said, I still the deluge is pretty awesome.   With it’s 8×16 grid, it is very easy to get a multitrack pattern going.  Because of it’s lack of a display, I have not done any sampling on it, but loading samples in is easy enough and once you do great things can happen.   I could seriously see this as the bedrock background machine for a live set.  As a test, I loaded the stems to one of my new tracks onto it and I was up and running with simple backing tracks within a few minutes.   No laptop required!

If I could fault it in anyway, I’d say the display is my only complaint.  Yes, I get that all those buttons mean you don’t need to display so much, but a proper OLED would have given it so much more potential with regard to sample editing and other utilities.  As is, it’s like learning a new language with all the indicator lights being used to inform you of state.  Hopefully, some day there will be a Rev II.

Another area of disappointment are the FX.  They aren’t bad, but they aren’t very good either.   It would be nice to be able to have FX blocks you could select and edit like you can on the Octatrack or MPC.  This is particularly important because the Deluge only has one stereo output.   That is, more than anything, a problem for a unit of this type.  Moving work done on it into the DAW for mixing is going to be….laborious.

I guess the final question is if I will buy it.  I am 90% sure that I will.   I think it’s workflow will be very welcome along side the Analogue Keys and Octatrack.   Its small and light which makes it ideal for live use ( and battery powered!).  Once I get past this learning curve, I expect years of productivity out of it.


Ableton Live 10

Hmm…should I bother?

Nope. I think I’ll skip this one. I don’t really use Live much anymore except in specific instances. Those use cases are covered in Live 9.

I have no use for the Max integration. I should probably just export my stems and sell the license. That’s more work than I care for right now.

What do you think? Live 10 worth it?

Decisions: Can’t keep them all (Part 1)(Elektron Octatrack MkI)

I have a tough decision to make in my studio.   I went and did what I always seem to do and overbought on drum machines/samplers.   I have an absolute weakness for these machines, and there have been some NICE machines released recently. Unfortunately, though, this is just too much to have…particularly for someone who’s mainly using software in his workflow these days.   All that and I just don’t have the desk space…so something has to go.

Its a messy work space.

In no particular order, let’s look at each device and what it has to offer.    I’ll break this up over a few posts over the next few days, so if you’re interested in my take on any of the pictured gear, check back in a few days.

Farewell old friend?

I’ve had the Octatrack a LONG time…almost since it was first released.  With the release of the MKII, I’ve not even thought of upgrading.  Why?  Because they didn’t really upgrade it.   It’s got a new coat of paint and a little bit better button layout…but I’m happy with the current unit.

Old, but reliable.

The Octatrack has hung around specifically because it does a lot of things very well.  It does require a certain level of thinking, though, and planning.    In my use, it’s been much better an FX processor / sound looper than it would ever be a drum machine (though, admittedly, I’ve not used it for that much).   Its MIDI sequencing is pretty powerful, though, and I did try once to have it control a bunch of external MIDI synths.   That was…..OK.  I didn’t honestly like the experience much.   Maybe if it had a keyboard connected…

I don’t think I’d get rid of the Octatrack unless I replaced it with a MKII.   It’s made a great simple mixer for live sets and provides FX processing for other gear (which is, actually, my main use for it).   It’s about as close to a DJ Mixer as I think I’d ever get.    Also, familiarity makes it hard to part with.  I *know* what it does and how it works and how I use it.   That counts for something.




Elektron Analog Keys

I got Analog Keys in trade for my V-Synth GT plus some cash. Kind of did it knowing I could always flip the AKeys for a good value.  But, now that I’ve played with it a bit, I think I’ll keep it for a bit.

Having the keyboard attached makes all the difference. And the layout of the controls makes a lot of sense. My only wish, really, were that the display would be larger and that there were a more sophisticated synthesizer engine (if only it had the LFO designer from the Octatrack…). My other grip is the Elektron 4-bar pattern limitation. Conditional triggers help with this a little…but sometimes I like to develop things over an 8 or 16 bar pattern. There are ways to get that, since for my style of music 8th notes is usually sufficient resolution, but still…I’d rather not have the hacks.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not integrated with the rig, but I already have a piece that I started writing on it. I haven’t decided which to move next it first: MPC, DIgitact, Octatrack or the Deluge. All of them would have an interesting place next to it. l’ll detail that decision in a post later today.
I really can’t emphasize enough how much I love the control and button layout.   Having the track selection and mutes on the left with the editing controls on the right is *perfect* for playing (unless you’re left handed…then you may hate it).  The modulation stick is nice, though I wish it wasn’t spring loaded in all directions, though I guess for that kind of modulation there is the performance macros.
Basically, everything about this instrument just makes more sense in this format than the desktop brick format I had before.  She may be a keeper (well, at least until the MKII gets released…if that ever does happen).

Weekend update

Lots of little things I’d like to unpack here…

1. Reason 10. I love it. Absolutely love it. I’m digging it to the point that my hardware studio is starting to suddenly feel like a giant white elephant. I’m feeling rather stupid for my recent investments in hardware since I am just *not* using them. The new instruments Propeller heads added, Plus a few of RE’s Ive added recently, have displaced most of my hardware. My modular is still, obviously, relevant as is my Kronos, but my Virus, V-Synth and, yes, even the DSI instruments feel a bit…limited and inconvenient by comparison. I don’t even know why I have the Octatrack, Digitakt or MPC other than for a possibly live setup I may need to put together next year. Its a weird, weird feeling for me, who was always so anti-software for so long.

2. A big part of number one is my iMac. I don’t at all regret paying the extra for that 5k screen. It makes *all* the difference. The screen geometry is Perfect for Reason and other software instruments. Even though this iMac is a few years old already, and its not even fully maxed with RAM, it’s lightyears ahead of anything I’ve ever used. I could easily see it going another 2 or three years as the center of my studio.

3. The EP has a title, and even a possible cover. I’m going to try to do as much as I can myself since I believe that creatives should be paid for their work and I have zero budget for a graphic designer. Yes, my presentation will probably suffer….but for some reason I also feel like I *have* to DIY this one. Just once.

4. I’ve found a place I can do a short run of CD’s at a reasonable price….so I’ll be doing a short run of physical media for the new EP. A few people have asked for physical media of Dust and…maybe. That album is going on 5 years, so it’s probably not something I’d do with an eye of making a profit (and, really, if you’re in this genre of music and you’re looking for profit, you’re a fucking idiot).

5. Guitar. I kinda want a guitar. And some outboard FX to run it through. We know where this goes…

6. Bacon sandwiches are amazing.

7. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Meanwhile, in Canada…

Over the weekend, someone in Canada must have become either a fan or a stalker.   Almost every blog post I have up was accessed and all of my streaming sites (soundcloud and bandcamp, in particular) showed a huge bump in plays….all from Canada. 

First of all, thank you, Canada.  I needed the morale boost. 

Secondly, Hello!

Falling in Love

I can’t really pinpoint exactly what’s behind my sudden productive surge. I really can’t explain it, since this is usually the part of the year that I curl in on myself and produce nothing whatever. But this year..I find myself alive and energized. I am creating at a pace I haven’t in a long, long time. I am trying to appreciate it as much as I can, knowing full well that it could all dry up in an instant and I find myself back in that dark place. I can’t for the life of me point to anything that’s really that different than past years.

One of the odd aspects of this creative surge is the workflow that’s being adopted. As opposed to the work starting analog and going digital, most of the new tracks started in the digital domain, usually in Reason, and are more than half software based.

I know…to some of you that sentence reads like ‘welcome to 2007’. To me, this is a revolution.

You see, I’ve had software for a long time. I’ve had Reason since version 1.0 – that’s way back when some of my readers will still zipping around the neighborhood on their bikes, trying to see how many mailboxes they could blow up before curfew (I wasn’t the only one!). In that time, though, I’ve seen it go from what felt like a toy to what is decidedly a powerful, powerful tool. In version 10, that’s all just sort of come together, and I feel *excited* to write music with it.

But it’s not just the tool…I think it’s the time. My son has hit that sweet spot between 7 and 14 where he is just somewhat self sufficient not to need constant care but also not yet a teen asshole. We have fun together. In all honesty, that’s struck me with a certain urgency to spend more quality time with him. He won’t *be* this age for long (and neither will I, for that matter).

Work, also, feels good for a change. Part of that is my flurry of productivity. Its not just music Ive been writing. Everything Im doing just feels *better*.

I don’t know why the clouds have lifted at exactly the time the Earth grows cold and dark. I’m not going to question it to far.

An odd thing happened…

Over this last week, I started writing a song…just a simple one. I had no title for it, but I immediately recognized in it that it was the most ‘NoiseTheorem’ thing I’d written in a long time. It was coming along very well, and I really liked where it was going.

Then, yesterday morning, something happened.

I was talking to a friend about the new song, and I realized that elements of it reminded me of another song I’d done…and another. Both of those songs were very ‘NoiseTheorem’ tracks, but also tracks that I’d left in the can because I couldn’t imagine coming up with material they would fit with both sonically and thematically. In fact, those first two are still very different sorts of tracks for me. Somehow, though, the third one tied it all together!

So, now, suddenly, I have almost a 30 minute EP done. I’ve got a title for it, and a cover concept (in my head, anyway…need to find a designer to work with).

Where NoiseTheorem sits on the border between Industrial and Ambient music, this EP is definitely falling more on the Ambient side of things…kind of. I actually think that it’s just like ‘Dust’, but the industrial and ambient elements are just that much more embedded into each other, blending more seamlessly.

I’m not going to announce the title till I have a cover, and I’d like to see if I can keep the momentum going and add another fragment of a track thats running through my mind. Also, I think I’ll hold the release at least until January after the holiday bullshit is all over (I don’t exactly see what I do as xmas music…).

So I have an EP in the works…it kinda snuck up on me, but I’m not going to complain!