Empathy for the Revel(ation)

So the Masthead Pic is the original, Old Skool MPC – Roger Linn’s Linn 9000. More info at Roger’s Museum Page.

I had one of these way back in the day, and it was a great combination of quality drum samples (with optional Sampling capability) and MIDI Sequencing in a fairly portable box that didn’t require you to lug around a computer to gigs. It also had a nasty tendency to crash at the most inopportune moments – usually right in the middle of a tracking session – and happily took all of your work with it unless you had managed to remember to save everything to floppy disk. The technology was so new at the time that the bugs killed Linn Electronics as a company. Roger was enticed by Akai to take his technology there to let their massive R&D Department work out the issues – the MPC 60 was the lovechild of this relationship.

I mostly used mine for traveling programming jobs, relying on my trusty Mac Plus running Passport’s Master Tracks Pro for everything else where the 9000 got relegated to ‘MIDI Triggered Drum Unit’. The Linn and the MPC’s that followed used Event List editing (single line text and gobbledegook for each MIDI note or function) to correct mistakes that the real-time Quantizing didn’t catch. It was slow and tedious compared to the linear sequencing that MTP gave me. If you use Logic or Cubase, or Pro Tools you are absolutely familiar with linear sequencing – it’s that common today for a majority of DAW’s. It also used the Pattern/Chain/Song technique for creating and organizing parts and fleshing them out into complete works. MPC’s still work like that to this day. I’m not a fan of this construction method having dealt with pre-MIDI (and even post-MIDI) sequencers and drum machines. Just not my speed when linear works so much better for me.

When the latest batch of MPC’s came out I took another (more on this shortly) shot at trying them out. I opted for the MPC One since it seemed to tick all the boxes (h/t AudioPilz) and then some. I also found it in great condition for a decent price on The Bay.

I don’t do reviews (that’s what The Tube of Yous is for) but compared to the MPC’s I’ve owned in the past (in numerical order: 60v2, 500, 1000, 2000, 2500) the One just looked like they had finally evolved: big color touchscreen, CV/Gate outs, USB MIDI, network capability, Virtual Effects and Instruments, and a matching (at additional cost) software version that would allow you to move and edit projects easily between machines.

There’s just one big problem – that big, bright, colorful touchscreen.

It provides a lot of information, yes. It makes using the sequencer so much easier, indeed. And it makes tracks and sample manipulation a joy compared to its older siblings. But it’s not like using an iPad or decent Android Tablet. You will make mistakes – a lot of them – because it doesn’t have the screen resolution haptics of those devices you are probably used to. Typing names always misses a character or three. Trying to edit a short note (or a single note out of a cluster of them) will drive you to a lengthy stream of cursing. Clicking on a box to change the value will have you pressing multiple times to ensure its selected. Yes, it’s a big leap above the multiple button presses and Data Knob twirling the older ones had, but it’s a real slowdown when you’re in the middle of The Creative Process. From what I’ve researched this is common across the entire One/Live/X range. You can connect a USB computer keyboard to alleviate the typing process, but it doesn’t allow for any other input device to select or choose things – plus I’m not giving up my lone USB port for this ‘convenience’ (yes, I know USB Hubs can be used but the potential for noise and interference increases with ’stacking’ USB devices).

So after a year of toying around with it I kind of gave up – until I had a revelation about a week ago: yeah, the sequencer is crap (to this day I still can’t find the damned Event List Editor on the thing), but the rest of it is actually very, very usable if you think about it as a ‘MIDI Triggered Sound Unit’ and ignore the internal Sequencing.

To accomplish this I initially thought to set it I could just drag Josephine over and just use Reaper or Logic to sequence it. But then the light bulbs started heating up as I realized that the thing I bought an iPad to do might actually be this thing… At first, the MPC as the centerpiece of my ‘analog setup’ triggering an ARP Odyssey module and a Behringer Pro-1 as sound sources while the MPC handled drums, sequencing, sampling, and audio inputs from the modules. Unfortunately, my small space here at APITE Labs meant I either had to get rid of things at the ‘Analog Station’ to make everything fit or rebuild my main ‘DAWspace’ to accommodate. The Odyssey got relegated to the back of the Junk Closet as I was not about to tackle redoing my main Workspace. Then the Pro-1 joined it as more light bulbs began arcing up. Yes, the iPad would be serviceable as a MIDI Sequencer based on the numerous Apps I had purchased over the years (certainly one of them would do the trick here) and the MPC would be the sole MIDI Sound Module. Simplicity at its finest…

Again, the MPC has built-in Virtual Instruments as well as Sampling and Multisampling (and Auto Sampling!) capabilities. It has an Odyssey, a Solina String Synth, a Mellotron, and it also has a really nice Drum Synth… So everything got relegated to the Junk Closet except the MPC, a MIDI Controller keyboard, and the iPad. The iPad is running a basic MIDI Sequencer (no AUV3’s or Audio Tracks to complicate things). A single $15 ‘1 In/1 Out’ MIDI Interface connects the MIDI Controller to the iPad to input MIDI notes into the Sequencer and sends the MIDI Data out to the MPC. In essence the MPC is a Multi-timbral MIDI Sound Module. I’ve set up Templates on both the Sequencer and MPC so all I need to do if fire them up, load the Templates into each and start creating. I also have a surprising amount of space left for future ‘expansion’ or dragging out a synth to use/sample.

Okay. Yeah, I hear you – that ‘Analog Station’ isn’t so Analog anymore, is it?

This whole experiment is part of that ‘Old School DAW’ concept I was talking about a while back. I had planned to use a few synth/drum modules with a simple Sequencer to see if there was anything to be had by going back several decades in music tech. I poked around with a few Arturia devices (both Beatstep and Keystep Pros) and the Analog modules and a Eurorack system. I didn’t take long for my little setup to become a mess of wires and teetering hardware and I was spending more time connecting things (and preventing them from falling over) than actually making anything useful. Argh.

I next decided to use the old Daniel Miller ‘one or two mono synths’ technique. That’s where the Odyssey and Pro-1 became the main focus for sound creation. The Arturia’s did the job well enough I guess (it’s that Pattern-based structure I don’t care for), but now I required a mixer to sum the audio, and getting anything usable off the Arturia’s into a DAW was cumbersome at best. The MPC was ushered back in to fill that void. It not only could sequence the modules, but record parts as audio or samples that could be saved to its SD Card and easily transferred to a computer. The first problem popped up when the MPC couldn’t be prized into mono-summing its audio inputs for monitoring (it’s just a stereo in and something plugged into the left channel will always be heard on the left – and ditto for the right channel) and after that the whole slew of inanity I ranted on above reared its ugly faces again, leading me to look to a more simplistic setup…

So this is where I’ve stopped, and for the time being I’m happy with it. When I can find time to build/modify the setup to hold more toys I will probably expand this into what I envisaged the ‘OLD Skool AnALoG DreAM SEtuP’ to be. But there are no real answers here at the moment. This is just cataloguing my continual Experiment Fail Learn Repeat method of breaking paradigms and trying new things, even if I’m robbing from the past to get there.

Everyone has a preferred way of creating and working, and this work in progress here might never come to to its true fruition. The winding road of finding simplicity has many a fork in it, although I still think it’s worth exploring as many of them as helps you find the path you need. That old Proverb of ‘It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop’ will be your guide. Keep searching.

Until next time!

Edit: as I was just about to post this WordPress is continually telling me that a cadre of Redditors has somehow found the last post on ‘Everything’s Been Done Already’ – crazy! A welcome to all and hope each and every one of you finds something thought-provoking and useful to your art scattered around here somewhere. Stay creative! 🙂

New Mothership® Shiny-Shiny (the Update)

So Charles and Mike over at Space Javelin did a nice little addendum Audiocast talking about all the Apple products from yesterday. They (mostly) echo my impressions and it’s a great little listen if you want some more info.

In the flurry of news, banter, and vitriol post-presentation I found out that the new Mac Mini’s SSD cannot be replaced. It’s still a great update, so if you’re thinking of grabbing one, I would recommend getting the fastest processor and biggest SSD you can afford and go the 3rd Party route for memory. Other World Computing (MacSales) and Crucial have both announced memory upgrades for the Mini much cheaper that what Apple charges.

And there’s one more thing I wanted to mention about the new iPad Pro. Apple showed external display capability over USB-C, but there is (still) no capability for any kind of external input device other than a keyboard or the Pencil. They continually touted this as a ‘computer’ (which it obviously is, and they tried enforcing this naming convention a few years back as well), but having external display functionality with no external input other than a keyboard, finger, or Pencil is a bit odd to me. 

It could still be coming in the next iteration of iOS or just another hotly contested possible feature bandied about Jonny Ives’ lab, but if you can use an on-screen Spacebar as a Trackpad (of sorts) it’s not heresy to ask for a physical one too.

This is yet another reason that I’ll wait a bit before upgrading…

 

New Mothership® Shiny-Shiny

As predicted by the Punditry, Apple bowed a bevy of new toys today. (and when did I suddenly start writing like Pro Sound News?)

I won’t dazzle you with pictures or descriptions – head right on over to Apple Insider for the all the goodies.

But I will talk about the Great, the Good, and the Meh.

Great: new Mac Mini. My 2012 Quad-core has been juiced up to it’s max of 16 gig of RAM and has one and a half Terabytes of SSD’s internally. And after 6 long years, it’s still an awesome little machine. Runs just about everything I need and rarely breaks a sweat doing it. The new one isn’t going to replace it any time soon, but it’s nice to know I will be able to add RAM as I need to. My only question is can the SSD be replaced as well, because Apple’s site isn’t very clear about it.

Am I getting one? No, but if you love the form factor this is a great update.

Good: the new iPad Pro. My original 12.9 from about 3 years ago is still an amazing machine and I was looking forward to updating to the new one. More RAM, crazy-blazing fast A12X chipset, Face ID, Liquid Retina display, new Apple Pencil, and USB-C makes for a compelling upgrade, but I’m going to wait.

Why you ask? Because I need to see what is going to be made for this new ‘Desktop-Class’ processor.

As a Musician and an Engineer, I need someone to step up and make a Pro-class DAW for the iPad Pro.

If Apple steps up soon and drops Logic Pro for it, I’m buying one 10 seconds after they do.

If Avid makes a version of Pro Tools that works on it then I might wait a minute or so, but I’ll take the plunge.

Adobe has promised Photoshop for the Graphic Designers – I (and many others like me) want a ‘Desktop-Class’ Digital Audio Workstation for the Audio Pros. Auria is nice. BeatMaker3 is damned cool, and Steinberg’s Cubasis is the one that comes the closest, but there are three big DAW’s out there – Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and Ableton Live. I have to have pretty seamless interoperability with those – easy File Import and Export, same available Plugins, and a familiar Feature Set and workflow.

Yeah, I know that GarageBand is technically Logic Pro, but navigating it is a different animal altogether. And Auria again is nice, but I just don’t have time to learn another workflow. Cubasis is probably the most DAW-like of the litter, but I haven’t used Cubase on a desktop for about two decades…

To be honest I’d go so far as to totally make the switch to Reaper if they made a version for iOS that worked like the desktop version, but c’mon Apple or Avid – I know you can do this…

Okay with rant over let’s move to the Meh: the new MacBook Air. Yeah, the ‘Executive Class’ will love it. Bloggers and current ‘MacBook Adorable’ owners will happily fork over their life savings to be the first ones to plop one down on a coffeeshop table to show their cred to the rest of the Bourgeoisie, but it’s expensive and too underpowered for ‘pro’ work. Cough up a few shekels more and get a proper MacBook Pro.

As usual, your mileage may vary here. Remember that I’m coming at this from the Audio Professional side, so your needs are very likely completely different.

Apple as usual delights and amazes us with great design and forward-thinking (if sometimes a bit late on the delivery), and today’s announcements are certainly worth perusing if you’re looking for (or desperately need to replace) a computer or tablet. Just take a moment to consider what you truly need as well as what that need is worth before you go bonkers and spend a bunch of cash because it’s the new Shiny-Shiny.

Until next time…

All Your Base Belongs to TC Electronic…

A few posts back I talked about the TC Electronics DVR250-DT Software reverb with a hardware controller. Again it’s an interesting concept, although one I find a bit pointless in today’s desktop production workflow.

Apparently TC Electronics wants to take up all your precious desktop real estate because they’ve released two more hybrid devices – the TC1210-DT Spacial Expander and the TC8210-DT ‘Classic Mixing Reverb’

TC1210 DT P0DE6 Right XL

TC8210 DT P0DCS Right XL

 

Look pretty similar, don’t they?

The DVR250-DT had a bit of character in that it at least tried to model the original hardware somewhat, and I guess these do resemble the old TC hardware, but I’m still wondering why they think that having a bunch of different controllers scattered on your workspace is a good idea. Wouldn’t it be better to make a ‘generic’ effects controller that would operate many TC plugins both current and future? Maybe come up with a clever way to use an iPad as the control surface? Maybe just concentrate on the software?

(And to repeat part of my last post on this, what these control are not things that you automate very often and when you do they are very easy to work with in a DAW.)

I’m not knocking TC here. I have a couple of their older firewire audio interfaces and I think they work and sound great. I have a few of their plugins that I will happily say the same thing about. But this kind of thinking is just idiotic. Not all of us have consoles. Most of us have small setups to do our production and tracking and mixing. 

The era of the ‘big studio with lots of twinkly lights and twisty knobs’ has been replaced by systems we can fit in a backpack and work just about anywhere for over a decade now, so these are not marketed at the big studios – they are being pushed to the masses. I don’t have (or want) a bunch of controllers at my desk. Your mileage may vary, but this concept is cool and forward-thinking in a twisted way and apparently with no end…

C’mon TC – give me a great DAW controller that will handle channels and effects in an ‘all-in-one’ small package. And since you’re now owned by Behringer, aim it around their X-Touch One – I have one and it’s about the perfect size for a small setup – and doesn’t need a 50-port USB hub.

Moog One

Moog going Apple?

Just think about that for a minute…

The new Moog One looks amazing, and has the specs to back it up. For a $6000 starting price, it had better!

This is a high-end machine for players who can afford it.

It’s the 512 Gigabyte iPhone XS Max or the iMac Pro for the hardcore analog synthesis set.

It’s the updated Memorymoog – hopefully without all the hardware issues.

Nothing wrong with that.

But the rest of us will make due with our virtual analog VST’s or our Euroracks or our Behringer Model D’s.

And maybe perhaps one day we’ll be able to pick one of these up on the used market for a decent price.

Only to realize that it didn’t make our music any better or the hit come any quicker.

And there’s nothing wrong with that either.

I’d love to have one, but I can buy a lot of things with six grand.

Gearnews has the skinny here.