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EMIX is the magazine for reviews, features & interviews on the latest music technology and media, iOS apps, movies, photo/video and high-tech gadgetry.

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Editor MARK JENKINS has written major reviews, tutorials, interviews and features for MELODY MAKER, NME, SOUNDS, MUSIC WEEK, MUSIC TECHNOLOGY, SOUND ON SOUND, MAC FORMAT, MAC USER, FUTURE MUSIC, KEYBOARD PLAYER (UK), KEYBOARD (USA), VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS and many of the world’s leading media and high-tech publications, as well as several books on music technology.

In the magazine you’ll find reviews, features and interviews on;

* Musical Instruments

* Music Software and iOS apps

* Video and Photo hardware

* Portable Media Players and Audio devices

* New and back-catalogue CD & DVD releases

* New cinema releases and concerts

* Stage and Studio Equipment

Xmas Gifts from Digital Winter

The recent DIGITAL WINTER event in London featured plenty of new hi-tech ideas perfect for the holiday season.

From Octa comes the Monkey Kit “tablet positioning system”. More sophisticated than an ordinary tablet stand, this flexible “tail” allows your iPad or similar tablet to sit on a table, on a desk, curled under a mattress so you can view while in bed, hang from a shelf, or sit in almost any position you can imagine.

The Monkey Kit from Octa.com

The Monkey Kit from Octa.com

A heavy-duty sucker make sure the tablet is firmly attached and the solid construction of the tail means it’s stable in almost any position.

Octa also makes a smaller “fishtail” version for desktop use and the product’s available in loads of retail stores as well as direct from the company’s website.

http://www.octa.com

Maxell has been promoting lines of wireless Bluetooth speakers for Christmas. The BT03 in various fetching colours – my review sample was an eye-catching baby blue – is lightweight, compact, but packs a punch. Charge the speaker up via USB then pair it to your smartphone or other playback device with a simple click, and you have enough volume to fill a room.

Maxell's BT03 Bluetooth speaker

Maxell’s BT03 Bluetooth speaker

The BT03’s playback time on a single charge is impressive – I got around 10 hours out of it – and the speaker’s small enough to slip in a pocket so your smartphone can become an outdoor entertainment device when you’re on your travels. Price is typically under £40 and the model compares well with products like the Jawbone and MiniJamBox at sometimes two to three times the price.

Maxell SX300

If you need even more compact size Maxell’s Mini Bluetooth at under £30 could be the solution – producing 2W of power you could strew a few of these around the room and get solid sound coverage. Again available in a range of colours, my review model in icy white matched well with MacBook style products.

Both ranges  of speakers are available from a wide selection of online and high street outlets, more information from Maxell’s website.

http://www.maxell.eu 

DIGITAL WINTER 2013

London’s DIGITAL WINTER new product event as usual previewed a whole slew of exciting media technology.

CYGNETT showed padded cases, Bluetooth keyboards and accessories for the iPad, iPhone and other smartphones.

PHILIPS showed new computer monitors.

MAXELL showed Bluetooth rechargeable speakers, and storage devices.

OCTA showed the clever “Monkey Tail” positioning systems for all sorts of tablet devices

AYEGEAR launched their hoodie-style multi-pocket jacket.

Much more detail and pics to come…

New iOS Music Apps

2013 has been an amazing time for iOS music apps, quite apart from the long-expected launch of the iPad Mini and iPad [4] which give the device even greater potential as a musical instrument.

My recent book “iPad Music” (Taylor & Francis Focal Press, USA) summarises the huge range of hardware options available for the iPad. Some of these are still awaiting updating following the introduction of the new Lightning digital dock connector.

As regards apps – some highlights have included the eventual appearance of Auria, the 24-channel multitrack recorder, and of PPG Wave Generator, the latest from Wolfgang Palm the designer of the Wave keyboards played by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Jan Hammer and Gary Numan.

Wave Generator harks right back to the days of the earliest PPG hardware designs while at the same time offering wave sequencing abilities similar to those of the recently released AniMoog app. Moog launched AniMoog for the iPhone, and had some competition in the form of Cube from VirSyn, which has translated well from the Mac to the iPad.

More detailed reviews of Wave Generator, Cube and other apps to follow…

REASON PREMIUM EDITION software

Propellerhead Reason Premium Edition

Mark Jenkins looks at a powerful sequencer package and its new keyboard sounds.reason-pe-box

Choosing a sequencer is a major undertaking in the process of moving over to computer-based music, and whether you go for Cubase or Logic, Mac or PC systems and loop or timeline based software will make a major difference to the way you work on your next compositions or arrangements.

Reason has always been seen as a loop-style sequencer; it never had the same tape-based approach as Logic or Cubase, but put a lot more emphasis on providing very flexible racks of instruments which could be programmed exactly as you desired before starting a composition.

That’s why the main display of Reason never looked like an elaborate tape machine as did those of Logic and Cubase. No, Reason in operation looks more like a 19-inch rack of studio equipment and synth modules, with the actual composition area reduced to a very small display across the bottom of the screen, if present at all. So why is Reason of any interest to keyboard players?

Well, the different approach to its screen layout doesn’t prevent Reason from creating some very complex compositions, and in its latest incarnation, Reason Premium Edition, there are four new instrumnt packages included of which two are completely keyboard based. Reason Pianos records three different pianos from multiple angles using six sets of microphones, while Abbey Road Keyboards was recorded on location and features electric keyboards such as pianos and Mellotrons. Reason Pianos plays through a software module known as the Combinator, so let’s take a look at this and some of the other modules available in the package.

Rack ‘Em Up

reason-combinator

As mentioned above, Reason’s screen display takes the form of a simulated 19-inch rack of sound generation and effects units, and you can add these and push them around on the screen to arrange your rack any way you want. The sound generation modules including analog-style synths and sample players, effects units include delays, reverbs and distortion, and controllers including step sequencers and simple tape-style sequencers. The Premium Edition also includes Reason Drum Kits,  set of sampled sounds known as a ReFill, and Reason Electric Bass, which includes the sounds of eight different bass guitars. It’s possible to save a whole setup along with any composing you’ve done, so the appearance of the system is completely customisable from one job to the next.

As with a real 19-inch rack, the system has to be wried up at the back depending on what controllers you want to link to what sounds sources, and what effects you want to use to process them. Spinning the display around causes the virtual patch cables to flop around in an entertaining manner, but as soon as they’ve settled down you can quickly connect or disconnect any modules you require, and of course many of them operate in stereo or with multiple channel which can be patched in different directions.

So for example you could play your new Reason Pianos sounds through a phaser module and an echo delay module directly from your master keyboard, while running drums from a tape-style sequencer through a bit of reverb, and bass guitar from a repeating step sequencer adding some auto-wah and flanging effects.

There are lots of other synth-style modules to choose from with wacky names like Thor, Subtractor and Malstrom, including one referred to as “graintable” which is really a wavetable synth with much more control over the content of the basic waveform, plus basic analog synths, the drum machines ReDrum and Dr Rex, samplers including NNXT and NN19 which can load anything from sound effects to orchestral instrument sounds to loops, and various sequencers and arpeggiators to control them. In terms of effects there are vocoders so you can use your voice to modulate keyboard or other sounds, compressors, equalisation and much more, and of course there’s an overall mixer to finally balance the sounds.

Install and Enjoy

Reason Premium Edition arrives as a set of DVD’s which will install on Mac or on PC’s including Vista operating systems, and some of the sounds are available in 24-bit or more compact 16-bit versions, so you don’t have to install both if you want to save hard disk space. There’s no dongle, but you do need to license the package on the internet for continued operation, and recommended systems are Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz with 2GB RAM on a PC, or Intel Macs with 2GB RAM, though lower specified systems will work also. 

In Version 4 of Reason, which is what you’re getting in the Premium Edition package, the tape-style sequencer is “fully grown and matured” as they say, and rather than a simple strip of events now presents a multitrack display of every instrumental part. The styling is somewhere between that of Cubase and Ableton Live, allowing the use to get at MIDI events and edit bar-by-bar, or change volumes and effects levels at will (or automate them). Its step edit mode presents a piano roll display vertically down the left hand side, and bar graph displays of velocity and other parameters along the bottom, just like most other tape-style sequencers. The only problem is that if you open the sequencer display up to fill a very large part of the screen, then you can no longer see the 19-inch rack modules which are Reason’s main point of appeal, but there’s no getting over that on a single display – maybe a dual monitor setup would help.

 But what type of keyboard player would enjoy using Reason? Well, in its earlier incarnations the package was very much oriented towards loop-based dance music and experimental soundscapes, since the sequencers were rudimentary and the emphasis was very much on the synth modules and very extensive sound processing. But now the sequencer is quite complex – a halfway house between Cubase and Ableton Live, both of which are capable of long and complex compositions as well as more spontaneous, jamming-style work – and the Abbey Road Keyboards, piano, drums and bass packages are available as part of the deal, then Reason is looking like a more direct contender for Cubase, Logic and other more studio-oritned composition packages.

The Propellerheads website has some excellent demos of Reason in action, so it’s worth checking out to see whether its style of working would suit your temperament. Certainly if you enjoy sonic exploration, chaining effects together in random orders just to see what they’ll do, then the fascination afforded by playing with Reason’s rack and its virtual patch cables can be endless. And if you’re into more conventional composition – well, the package has now been tamed a little by its inclusion of a more conventional sequencer and a wider library of more bread and butter sounds, so may well be your solution of choice even if you’re not all that daring.   

Reason’s Premium Edition is currently priced at 499 Euros and can be ordered directly from the company’s website. Versions of Reason 4 and upgrades from earlier versions are also available.

http://www.propellerheads.se

M-Audio Pro Keys Sono

M-Audio Pro Keys Sono 88 £319 /ProKeys Sono 61 £259/ KeyStudio 49i £179

MARK JENKINS with a new studio and stage piano that’s an audio/MIDI interface too…

prokeys-sono-88

 

M-Audio have for some years been leading innovators in the fields of computer-compatible keyboards and audio interfaces, and it didn’t take long for their series of small, plastic-keyed studio-oriented products to bloom into a full range of professionally styled controllers. As a user myself of the big hammer-action KeyStation Pro88, which I’ve found by far the most impressive and economical of all the larger controller keyboards available on the UK market, I’ve kept a keen eye on developments from the company, and of course they’re ringing the changes as far as possible with new combinations of facilities and price points.

There are really four main musical tasks an electronic keyboard can potentially carry out at the moment – make noises, play or edit sounds on your computer, and act as a MIDI and an audio interface into the same computer. Well the big KeyStation Pro88 doesn’t make any noises, while M-Audio already offer two stage pianos which have no audio interface. The idea of the Sono range is to restore the audio interface abilities, while retaining the built-in sounds and omitting many of the slider and rotary editing controls so as to create the most compact products possible of their type.

We’re looking here at the Sono88 which has a full seven and a quarter octaves of weighted piano action keys, but most of the comments will also apply to the 5-octave, synth style Sono61. Although both models do have competition – in the case of the latter, from Korg’s very similar K61P for example – they have certainly encapsulated M-Audio’s aim of making them as compact and lightweight as possible. The 88 for example can be picked up in one hand, weighing only 8kg (I had to put it on the old bathroom scales, as I couldn’t actually find that figure anywhere) and is powered up from your computer’s USB socket. An external power supply (with either a DC or a USB plug) can also be used, but isn’t provided; most of the manual is on a CDR too, but you are given a USB cable and a generous software package, of which, more later.

Rear of the Year

The rear panel of the Sono88 is comprehensively equipped – apart from that USB socket which carries both power from and audio to your computer, you’ll find the socket for the optional power supply, a MIDI Out which you’ll use if you’re playing modules on stage, audio inputs in the form of one XLR (microphone) and one jack socket plus an RCA phono pair of auxiliary audio inputs (for a source such as a CD player, for which there’s no volume control), and a socket for an optional sustain footswitch. Two stereo headphone sockets are sensibly placed on a front panel and will be handy for a teacher and student situation.

On the top panel are volume controls for the audio inputs (with overload lights), direct monitoring of the audio inputs (not through your computer) and for the internal sounds, master volume slider, seven buttons to select internal sounds plus Reverb and Chorus, Edit and Data Up/Down buttons (which double as semitone Transpose buttons, no octave transposing initially since you have 88 keys available), and nice rubbery pitch bend and modulation wheels. Everything’s laid out very accessibly, though many functions are “hidden” including a complete set of 128 General MIDI sounds. From the top panel buttons you can access Grand Piano, Bright Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Strings, Clavinet and Choir, and can layer any two of these by holding two buttons together. So though many other sounds are available, the success of the Sono88 is very much going to stand or fall on the quality of these basic sounds (which you can return to at any time by pressing the Piano Reset button).

So what are the internal sounds like? The basic Grand Piano is described as a “premium stereo-sampled Steinway” and it’s pretty impressive. The low end is sonorous and there’s very little evidence of artefacts like artificial looping. At the high end the Grand Piano sound is very thin and precise, but how often do you play as high as C7? The Bright Piano is extremely bright and I can’t really imagine what it’s sampled from – some Kawai pianos have this brightness but maybe not to the same extent. Electric Piano is more readily identifiable – it’s meant to be a Fender Rhodes and captures the sound well, though without any of the distinctive overdriving when you play harder, and nothing imaginative is done with the Modulation on this sound, which is a vibrato completely unconnected to anything any genuine Fender Rhodes has ever done. Similarly with the Organ sound, this is a Hammond imitation with a good deal of rotary chorus in place, and the Mod wheel doesn’t do anything imaginative like speeding or slowing the rotary effect.

Strings are good – a rich, thick ensemble sound – while the Clav is a bit dissapointing with no real guts, which I can write with some conviction as Stevie Wonder comes on the TV wresting some amazing effects from his original Clavinet D6…finally the Choir, which is basically a softish female choir, again missing an opportunity to put in something really striking like a version of the Mellotron male choir sound which was plastered all over the early albums of the Moody Blues, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and many others.

Soft Options

You shouldn’t really need to install software to use the Sono either with a Mac or a PC (Windows/Vista) as it’s Class Compliant, but you’ll have to load the included CD to read the flipping handbook…otherwise you’d have no clue about accessing the GM sounds or many of the programable functions. Unfortunately after reading the handbook you’re not much the wiser either, since accessing these sounds involves holding Edit Mode and Fsharp6 then “white keys between G5 and B6”. None of these keys has alternative labelling, so finding new sounds is something of a stab in the dark. You can re-configure the Data buttons to step up and down through all 128 GM sounds instead, but then they no longer work as Transpose buttons. And you can select MIDI channels, modulation type from the Mod wheel, Local Keyboard On/Off and many other hidden functions, but without printing the relevant page from the handbook you’d be clueless as to where they lie. Hopeless on stage then, but easier to access if you have fired up the Sono88 in conjunction with your own computer software or with the provided package including Ableton Live Lite V7, which is a capable enough, rather loop-oriented stage and studio sequencer. The supplied drivers also make it possible to route the Sono88’s MIDI and Audio inputs and outputs in various ways, so you can play the internal sounds more freely, record them on your computer, record audio through the Sono88 or any one of a number of other configurations.

So you could imagine using the Sono88 in two major settings – either in the studio interfaced to your computer, or on stage playing its internal sounds or those from connected MIDI modules. Let’s look at the studio situation. The Sono88 needs a good wide desk to set it up, but needs almost no depth as it’s barely deeper than its own keys. The keyboard feel is good, in fact it’s extremely firm and heavier that that of some genuine wooden weighted keyboards. The rubberised Pitch and Mod wheels feel great and the placement of connection sockets is sensible. How you interface the Sono 88 to your own software or that supplied with it is up to you. The keyboard provides almost no facilities for editing soft synth sounds as do some of the other M-Audio products like the KeyStation Pro88, but you could usefully assign one parameter of interest – like Filter Cutoff or Release Time – to the Mod Wheel.

On stage, the Sono 88 has the advantage of being lightweight, compact and apparently well constructed, with quick access to the basic sounds of pianos, organ, strings and choir. But if you’re playing connected modules it doesn’t have fast access to keyboard splits, MIDI channel changing and so on. The smaller Sono61 model is identical, but with a semi-weighted 5-octave keyboard and five sounds (no strings or choir, but the full GM set is still there), while the synth weighted four-octave KeyStudio 49i has just the sampled grand sound in 20-note polyphony, with software to give a full GM set of sounds on a computer.

In Conclusion

M-Audio continue to ring the changes on the available facilities and price points for controller and stage keyboards, and have plenty of competition in their attempt to do so, leading to the inevitable conclusion that you’ll have to think very carefully before making a purchasing decision in this area. To want a Sono88, you have to need a good stage piano sound, but not to need fast access to many other sounds unless you’re at home with your computer, and to want audio interface capabilities while in the studio while not needing any significant edit controller facilities for soft synths.

If you fall into this category (even if you need to get down on the floor and draw one of those big Venn diagrams to find out that this is the case), then the Sono88 will suit you very nicely, thank you, and if not, you might want to do the diagram all over again and see if one of M-Audio’s other models will very happily meet your needs…

M-Audio ProKeys Sono88 £319.00

88 keys weighted

Grand Piano, Bright Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Clav, Strings, Choir

128 GM sounds + drums and percussion

Reverb and Chorus effects

Layer mode

40-note (maximum) polyphony

Built-in USB audio interface;

 2-in/2-out audio interface

 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD-quality) audio

 XLR microphone, 1/4″ instrument and RCA inputs

 1/4″ jacks for stereo line output

 Dual front-mounted headphone jacks

 Hardware direct monitoring

Assignable modulation wheel and voice volume control

Pitch bend wheel

Transpose +/- buttons (can also alter octave, transpose,

    program, Bank LSB, Bank MSB, MIDI channel or master tune

Edit Mode button

MIDI Out from USB (keyboard acts as MIDI interface)

Audio and power via USB

Class-compliant MIDI (requires no additional drivers)

Low-latency drivers for high audio performance included

DC power socket

Sustain pedal jack

MIDI Out jack

On/Off switch

Piano Reset button to restores settings to piano sound

Optional Accessories;

Power Supply 9V DC 500mA

SP-1 Sustain Pedal

www.maudio.co.uk

Ueberschall Score FX

Ueberschall ScoreFX

MARK JENKINS looks at a new software package specifically aimed at film soundtrack design.

This review is all about sound, not music. If all you’re interested in is notes on a page, then Ueberschall’s ScoreFX is probably not for you. But if you’re writing pop or rock music which might make use of unusual sound textures, or if you’re composing for films or theatre or have any other reason for wanting more unusual sonic textures in your music, then it’s a rather fascinating package.

scorefx

 

ScoreFX arrives as a Mac and PC compatible DVD with some 7GB of compressed content on it, capable of installing as a stand-alone instrument or as a plug-in for VST, ADU, RTAS or DirectX format software sequencers. So you can play ScoreFX sounds from your computer or laptop and controlling keyboard without needing any other software running, or can use the package as a sound source within the Cubase, Logic and other popular sequencers. While the software can be installed on your system disk, the library can be located on an external hard disk without any problem, and runs for two days before needing to be registered on the internet.

 

Produced by Ilya Kaplan, a Canadian Composer and musical sound designer working in the field of TV and Film drama, animation and documentary, the ScoreFX engine manifests itself as a rather plain silver and greenish rectangle called the Liquid Instrument, which also runs other packages from Ueberschall including among many others, Bass Guitar and Drums packages. Once you have one Liquid Instrument, you can run any assortment of Liquid library files through it. ScoreFX comprises four files offering between them Beds, Kits, Accents, Vocal Bits and Rhythms; each one loads up to offer 10 to 20 categories, each category including a dozen or two dozen sounds. So the total complement is 954 Accents, 198 beds and 362 Rhythms arranged in 28 Construction Kits, and ranging from very short percussive sounds to very long background effects.

Sound of the Crowd

Describing this quantity of conventional sounds is difficult enough, but when the entire content is intentionally abstract we’re facing an uphill struggle. Suffice it to say though that Ueberschall’s chosen method of categorising sounds is pretty effective. You can go for “Concern”, “Mysterious”, “Pleasing” and many other categories, finding many variations upon each description. Every sound appears in visual form as a tiny waveform arranged in a column to the right of the name descriptors, and can be auditioned by clicking on a small Play button. Each waveform can then be dragged into a third column representing MIDI notes on a vertically presented keyboard, at which point it becomes playable from your keyboard.

 

So what sort of sounds can you now access from your keyboard? “Anticipation/Tension 03” sounds like a looping burst on a panpipe, given a metallic edge as if being banged against an oil drum. “Not Safe 08” sounds like a tabla loop processed through a synthesizer filter, while “Vocal Bits” is a bending male “aaah” with a long looping echo. “Kaduk 01-25” are all wailing Eastern vocals, while “Dark 04” from the “Beds” category is a smooth, low drone which could easily find a place in any sci-fi or vampire movie.

scorefx-box

So we’ve looked at how easy it is to select ScoreFX sounds and assign them to your keyboard, but the package has a lot more to offer hidden beneath the surface. It actually runs using a processing engine created by music software company Celemony for use in their vocal pitch shifting package Melodyne. As a versatile digital pitch shifter, the Melodyne engine is capable of re-editing ScoreFX loops in minute detail, pitch shifting entire loops or section of loops to change their length or the tempo of any time dependent element.

Hum A Little Melodyne

The Melodyne engine wasn’t familiar to me, but couldn’t be easier to use as it turns out. Switch to the Editor display and loops are divided into sections on a matrix, and any section can be pushed up and down the matrix to change its pitch. You can also change the length of sections, but they can’t be overlapped since it’s a monotimbral playback system. But taking a drum pattern already existing in ScoreFX, and turning it into a melodic tuned percussion loop more like a set of marimbas or steel pans (the soundtrack for George Clooney’s recent re-make of Solaris used the latter to great atmospheric effect) is terrifically easy. The third page display in ScoreFX is Automation, and any MIDI controller such as your pitch bend or modulation wheel can be set to adjust the overall Volume, Pitch or Formant of each sound. Pitch is readily enough understood, and the Melodyne playback engine makes real strides towards minimising the “munchkinisation” which sometime occurs when sounds are substantially pitch shifted.

 

But Formant modification is less easy to understand, having more to do with the tonal difference between (say) a typical male and female voice rather than their actual pitch. Anyway, Formant alteration is quickly found to be more useful on some sounds than on others, but along with other variable parameters offers an enormous degree of variation over the ScoreFX sounds. For sounds with a rhythmic element, the Tempo can be quickly halved or doubled, or varied 1BPM at a time, and events can be Quantised to fall exactly on the beat from 0% to 100%. It’s also possible to Transpose the pitch of a sound completely, regardless of what MIDI key it’s assigned to, and to Lock it to a specific scale for playback – from C all the way up to B and from Major and Minor to Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Major and Minor Pentatonic, Oriental, Japanese and many other scales. ScoreFX then couldn’t be easier to use on a basic level, and if you have more specific needs in terms of pushing the rhythmic elements of a sound to match a beat, or moving elements of a sound to meet a “hit point” in an accompanying movie, is also terrifically straightforward. The sonic content as mentioned before is massive – all sorts of atmospheric bloops and burbles, layered voices, percussive sounds and electronic textures, and the designers quite justifiably recommend the package for use in film scores, computer game audio, adverts, trailers, websites, business logos, training videos and more.

 

UK suppliers Time & Space have many other Ueberschall products on offer as well as a vast range of other sampling and software instruments. Ten years ago, gaining access to sounds like these would mean buying a new module, or at the very least an expensive set of CD-ROM’s to load into a large hardware sampler. Ueberschall’s website includes several video demos of the package in action, and as these amply demonstrate, to be able to obtain this degree of power over a new means of composition, using a simple to operate software instrument which has no fear of key, pitch or tempo variations, is power indeed.

Ueberschall Score FX Accents, Beds & Rhythms – Cinematic Sound Design £115.00

http://www.ueberschall.com

http://www.timespace.com