Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kraftwerk: The Best & Worst LivePA I have seen

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On April 21st I had the opportunity to see Kraftwerk, the legendary German electronic group that has pioneered so much for electronic music. They are doing a small US tour and just happened to be in Milwaukee. I figured when is the next time I am going to see these guys, they might retire at anytime. So I paid my $30 ($50 after Ticketmaster fees) and made the drive up from Chicago.

Now as my post title sort of indicates, this show was great, but also at the same time horrible. We have discussed on this blog and over there many avenues the issues surrounding LivePA. One of the most common issues that always come up in discussions is the laptop debate. Along with that is the artist who just sits there staring at their laptop through and entire show. That is exactly what Kraftwerk did. Stared at their laptops, all four of them and didn’t move. Now I know this is sort of their schtick, and in many respects many of the stereotypes of electronic music and musicians have been formed based off of Kraftwerk, but seeing them really do this in person is a rather unnerving experience. You can also see the crowd not knowing exactly what they should be doing during the music because of the stiffness of the artists on stage. At only a few points throughout the entire show did I see anyone really get dancing.

Overall though I don’t want to totally rag on the show. The music was very tight and well done. The visuals were spot on and I can only speculate that one of the four on stage was controlling the visuals. This tightness in their set however leads me to believe that they have a very choreographed performance, with little room for improvisation. Are they checking their email on state? I can’t tell. Heck, I can barely tell that the performers are still alive.

When all said and done though the show was an ejoyable with a very tight set (maybe too tight) and great visuals. Worth the effort for the rare opportunity to see them in the U.S.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monosylabik Liveset 01/03/08

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.:Monosylabik Liveset 01/03/08:.

Alright, I am back after a nice spring break and with my return I am bring a new liveset for everyone to check out. It has been a little while since we have featured a liveset for the podcast here and it is time to get things running again. This week's liveset comes from Monosylabik and is a short but sweet little acid set from this past January.

For more information on Monosylabik check out his website over at: msbkonline.com

Hifana: Fresh Push Breakin'

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The incomparable breakbeat duo Hifana, proving that livePA-style performance isn't just for nerdy obscure basement producers like myself.

Over the past few years the waves they have created have spread beyond the borders of their native Japan, rippling across the world and gaining strength as they go. Their genre-bending mix of live percussion, crisp sampler-driven breakbeats, and turntablism incorporate everything from robot voices to traditional Japanese music, creating a blend that is exotic while still danceworthy, approachable and groovy enough for a casual listener while clever and complex enough for more discerning audiences. While the video is a professionally produced music video rather than a recording of a live performance, the reason I posted it here is to show that the art of livePA is slowly but surely working its way into the public mindset and gaining mass appeal. Bonus points go to anyone who can tell me what the electronic hand drum instrument is called.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Etienne de Crecy @ Transmusicales de Rennes

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Etienne De Crecy Live 2007 Transmusicales de Rennes from Clement bournat on Vimeo.

More from France with artist Etienne de Crecy rocking the Transmusicales de Rennes festival back in December '07. Visuals were done by Exyzt of Paris.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Technasia live @ The Wire, Yokohama

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A nice clip of Technasia getting down proper during their first appearance in Japan. The weird flute solo is my favourite part.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wii remote as a controller

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While this video is a bit slow to start, it shows the potential versatility of the Nintendo Wii controller's uses as a MIDI controller. Personally, I'm excited as heck that these days, even a game controller can be absorbed into the livePA musician's arsenal.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Under The Influence @ Retrophuture

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How funky can the French be? LivePA artist Under The Influence of Rennes, France sheds some light on the subject. Check his his myspace blog for more video and photos, as well as lots of things written in French.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Where Have I Been?

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Wow, I guess it has been quite a while since I have posted on the blog. A couple of people have sent me emails and PM's asking what is up. Basically not much is up. I am sort of taking an informal sabbatical you could say, but fear not. I have no intentions of throwing in the towel or anything like that. I think I am sort of just taking a month or so off for the moment to let my brain rest and recharge. The months after NAMM and Musikmesse are sort of down times anyways (not to mention Messe was boring this year), I figure I might just take some time to be a little hands off from music. You should see me on the blog in the next couple of weeks though, and I have to say that Digital Giest and J. Wells have done a nice job of picking up my slack as of late.


Now with respect to my own music creation I think I am also going to take 2008 off for music writing as a sort of year to acquire some new music equipment, fiddle with my gear setup and music concepts. I think I want to sort of finalize how I want to setup my studio before really writing anything new because I don't want to get into a project and then add new gear half way through it. I am also looking at picking up one of the Micro-Laptops with the use of Milkytracker or perhaps Nanoloop to experiment on some side projects. Be sure look to see some reviews on how that works out if I pick those up.

I definitely am going to pick the blog back up though in a couple of weeks or so. So just hold on a little while.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Futuristic Design Challenge Gets Going

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In the prior entry covering the Kromatron, I made a passing reference (with linkage) to the fact that it was being entered in a control surface design challenge being put on by Yuri and company of Create Digital Media. Well, the entrants have been registered and assembled, and likewise the judging roster has been released. Included on the panel are the venerable Roger Linn, synthpop maven Liz Enthusiasm of Freezepop, Create Digital Music progenitor Peter Kirn, and sound design instructor Matt Ganucheau of Expression College for Digital Arts.

Included among the entrants are the Kromatron, a whacked-out sawblade, an audio device made from a deconstructed bicycle and a tape player, and more. In addition to Komega's device, Evan Morris of LivePA.org fame has also entered "The Box", a visually reactive custom device built to control Reaktor, while also eliminating the need to look at the computer screen. Another exciting entrant is Ammo Box, the brainchild of Nathan Ramella, also known as the guy who hacked Ableton Live-- an under-described turntable/midi hybrid setup that's short on specs, but has an impressive youtube video. An altogether ecclectic mix of homebrew hardware, each of these devices seems to explore and exploit answers to fundamental questions about how music is controlled, and how it could be controlled. To put it simply, the manufacturers of music hardware simply never exhibit the kind of raw creativity seen among the entrants of this contest. Built by a mix of established semi-pros and previously unheard of garage wunderkinds, none of them are "safe" enough in terms of marketability to ever see the light of day under any other circumstances.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Past Gets Futuristic Again: Atari STeem and Dr.T's KCS

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The Past Gets Futuristic Again: Atari STeem and Dr.T's KCS
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Here we explore the nebulous place where the cutting edge meets low-tech minimalism.

In 1987, the Atari 1040 hit the market, sporting an 8mhz processor and a then unheard-of 4 megabytes of RAM. Its integrated MIDI ports made it a contender against the other popular music computer of the time, the Commodore 64, and the operating system (called TOS, which stands for... The Operating System) was so microscopically small that it fit onto a single chip, making a hard drive optional. Much of the MIDI software written for this no-frills skeleton of a system followed suit, offering stark, eye-gouging interfaces that were packed with cryptic but highly efficient functions often hidden in plain sight. Of these, C-Lab's Notator software reigned supreme, offering an amazing array of MIDI editing the likes of which I have never seen anywhere else.

My 1040ste unit has seen some hard times over the years of daily use. I've repaired it many times, gone through two monitors, and given it more than its fair share of pounding and overheating. Thankfully, the engineers at Atari were bright enough to encase most of the unit's internal components under removable metal shells. Nothing lasts forever, though, and each passing day of suspiciously flawless performance makes me wonder: how long will this machine last? It's nearly as old as I am, and replacement parts are hard to come by. If WHEN it bites the dust, the heart of my studio will be ripped out. So, I went searching for a modern solution.

Of the of Atari emulators I tested on my laptop (an HP Pavillion) the best was Atari STeem. Not only does it faithfully emulate any of the 1040 series, the software can also run much, much faster than the hardware unit, allowing virtual overclocking and RAM expansion up to an otherwise impossible 14mb. Unfortunately, the program also brings some stability issues to the table that were never present in the hardware unit, but with modest performance settings this are easily managed. Unfortunately, C-Lab Notator cannot run under STeem, because nobody has managed to emulate Notator's hardware lock. Consensus among Atari MIDI buffs says that it could theoretically be done, but it would technically be illegal, and also heinously difficult. As I am no Atari guru, I went in search of another solution to my MIDI needs.

The answer came in the form of Dr. Emile Tobenfeld's KCS Omega II software, a visionary MIDI editing suite completely unlike any other I have ever seen. The last official release was in 1993, but the software is easily had online at Tim's Atari Midi World. It is, as the documentation states a combination of several midi programs that work together under a multitasking environment called the Multi Program Environment, or MPE. Packed inside are programs like the Programmable Variation Generator, the TIGER graphical editor, a MIDI automation mixer, song mode, and a score editor. Each of these is complex and can be used as a program of its own, or in concert with the other programs. The main attraction for me is the Keyboard Controlled Sequencer for which the program is named. It runs in two modes, Open mode and Track mode. In Track mode, the program offers 48 MIDI tracks controlled with tape-style transport controls and a host of editing functions. Open mode allows the user to independently loop and playback 128 separate sequences via keyboard-mapped MIDI phrases, for a kind of live, hands-on approach to MIDI composition one might not expect from such an old program. That's right, it's an Atari sequencer that can be used live, quite possibly to great effect. Both modes offer extremely in-depth programming and a few unexpected functions.

Even better, STeem's MIDI faculties handled information to and from my MOTU Fastlane USB/MIDI box without any latency issues. In fact, setting up MIDI under STeem was far easier than under Reason, Cubase, Adobe Audition or any of the other modern software I use. The clock is solid and the stability is absolutely amazing, especially considering that Windows Vista can't get that kind of stability out of any other program. The KCS software's learning curve is somewhat steep, and could potentially throw off the modern user who has been spoiled by dumbed-down functionality and slick graphical interfaces. It is greatly worth learning, however, because the depth of MIDI programming capability offered by KCS is astounding.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

New from Komega-The Kromatron!

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While it's a custom piece that's unavailable to the general public, the Kromatron (built by its namesake, top notch livepa performer and all-around cool cat Komega) is one of those one-off projects that deserves a bit of spotlight. While Komega's been working on it for some time now, the plans are now finalized and given a name. Komega's goal for the device is actually to enter it in a midi controller design challenge that features a brand new Tenori-On controller as its grand prize. From the Kromatron blog:

The Kromatron is a dynamic MIDI controller built specifically to interface with modern audio performance software such as Ableton Live. It has 4 knobs, 2 faders, a two-axis joystick, and 8 buttons. The device is 100% configurable and can change settings while the user is playing it. I call it a Meta-Instrument, because it holds 128 performance presets that can be activated by a simple MIDI patch change or program change signal.


Pretty close up photos, complete with explanations, are available at the blog. And as if Komega wasn't busy enough with that project, be sure to check out his other device, the Komegatone-- a modified PAIA Fatman synth transplanted into an old suitcase with a wicked custom face. What's next for Komega? We'll do our best to keep you posted.