JazzMutant's remarkable Dexter is a compelling digital audio workstation controller that showcases the future of computer music mixing.
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January is a big month for new music technology, we uncover the latest trends and hottest gear from CES, MacWorld and NAMM.
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Beat Freak celebrates 10 years with a retrospective of choice cuts from D-Formation, Chus, Dimas, Simon & Shaker, J. Velarde and others. This 30 track anthology,
compiled by Sergio Fernandez, is the quintessential way to end 2007 in pure, progressive tribal bliss. 10 Years Of Beat Freak is not only a commemoration of the label, and
the Iberian sound they've been championing, but also a showcase of exciting things to come... LISTEN!
Anyone who follows electronic music cannot deny the talent of Anders Trentemøller. His provocative original tracks, and electric remixes
have established the Danish producer and DJ as one who blazing his own path through the frontier of me-too dance music, not an ordinary feat these days.
Fans of Trentemøller will be ecstatic over the release of The Trentemøller Chronicles, a seamless mix of original tracks on the
first CD and remixes on the second CD that narrate his work to date. On the first CD, you'll find a couple of choice cuts from his Poker Flats and
Audiomatique r'epertoire, "Killer Kat", and "Physical Fraction", as well as "Moan," a fan favorite. Second CD finds Anders wobbly rerub
of "You and I" by Filur and the obligatory inclusion of his remix of Moby's "Go." If you're looking for a savvy gift for a hipster friend this
holiday season, drop this in their Christmas stocking...
The title of Annie Lenox's fifth solo record, Songs Of Mass Destruction, evokes apocalypse, or worse, but it is a little heavy-handed and overblown for the well-crafted,
multi-dimensional tracks found on this release. Songs Of Mass Destruction could almost be labeled a Best Of... compilation of new material since it showcases her mastery of
a wide variety of genres. Songs range on Destruction from smokey ballads, to driving power pop that recalls some of her best work with Dave Stewart. Glen Ballard's production
gives Lenox a grainy, rougher sound that recalls some of his work with Alanis Morissette, and creates a new depth that contrasts with her undeniable vocal in profound ways.
Look for the album's remixes, which could be this year's standouts. LISTEN!
The three CD Balance platform is the perfect vehicle to showcase Lee Burridge's taste in wonky music, and his measured mixing style. Instead of packing
20 or more tracks on each CD, Burridge chose to flow about 12 groggy cuts that accurately demonstrate what it's like to see him spin at a venue. Lee, who along with
his partner-in-crime Craig Richards, officially broke into the electronic music scene by hosting the famed Tryant parties in London, has been fine-tuning his DJing
lately by embarking on what he dubbed the 365 tour. Instead of bouncing from city to city for one-off, Burridge would move into a town for a month for a number of
play dates, before moving onto the next spot. This approach allowed him to get to know, and understand, a city and its electronic music community more intimately.
For fans of Burridge and his deep, dark tech-house sound, at least one of these CDs will transport you back to a sweaty, dank night in your past, for the uninitiated,
you'll be privy to a very personal experience with the man and his music... LISTEN!
January 30, 2008
../ 2008 FutureMusic Technology Report
Music Technology Trends From CES, MacWorld & NAMM
Now that the whirlwind of CES, MacWorld and NAMM is over, we're able to look
back with some perspective at the three conferences that generally shape the technology landscape for the coming year. Being a music technology publication
devoted to electronic music, we'll take a special look at the world of digital DJing.
XtremeMac's gorgeous Luna2 was a standout at CES
Although, audio is a significant part of CES, the real action is on the video frontier,
and the show was a pivotal turning point in the HD DVD VS. Blu-Ray battle. HD DVD had scheduled a press conference during the show, but was severely
rattled by the sudden announcement by Universal that it was ending their exclusive agreement with the technology and would be selling Blu-Ray discs in
the near future. The news was then further punctuated with Warner chiming in that they too would be offering Blu-Ray discs. The one-two punch buckled
the knees of HD DVD who abruptly cancelled their press conference. A terrible decision. The press perceived the cancellation as a TKO, and declared
Blu-Ray to be the winner of the HD format war. What HD DVD should have done was proceeded with their press conference without blinking. Either announce
a special price cut on a new hardware/disc package, or trot out film industry experts to do a side-by-side comparison of the formats. Tired, but even
if the announcements were "the same old story," it would not have appeared like the format had thrown in the towel. Shortly after the conference, HD
DVD did announce price cuts, but again, the perception was that the format was having a final desperate fire sale, and purchases of HD DVD players
plummeted. Blu-Ray is now officially the HD format winner.
It would be unfathomable to report on the thousands of new iPod products that debuted
at the show. The sheer amount of new docks was dumbfounding, and had us wondering in jest if there were now more docks in the marketplace than actual
iPods. XtremeMac's Luna2, the sequel to their excellent Luna iPod Dock/Alarm clock, stood out from the rest with its new sexy, all-black design, new
features and enhancements. A lot of manufacturers touted their hi-fidelity iPod docks, which we found to be the most amusing oxymoron of the show.
"So you mean to tell me that you've got Class-A circuitry and tube amplification to play a compressed MP3 file??" The real dock winners are the
units that have a forward design married to sound quality that doesn't reveal the limits of MP3 audio. Even after all the new gear at CES, we still
think that the stand-alone mStation 2.1 system is the best value right now for fans of electronic music and hip-hop, while the Logitech Pure-Fi Elite
is an excellent choice for general music tastes who want a unit that fits on a desk or shelf.
The Apple MacBook Air — Thin is in...
As expected, MacWorld provided plenty of action for Apple aficionados. The biggest
wow factor came in the form of the MacBook Air, which actually elicited screaming from the press corps attending the "Steve Show." Scary, we
know, but Apple has got serious mojo right now. We all knew that an Apple sub-notebook (laptop under 3 pounds) was coming, but no-one was expecting
Jobs to pull out a laptop from a large envelope. The Air is a thing of beauty and technological sophistication, incredibly thin and light with a
full-size keyboard and 13 inch screen. However, upon further inspection, this is not high-powered portable that creatives are craving. Apple sacrificed
too many features to make the Air a viable option for professionals on the move. The most notable omission is the Air's battery is self contained within
the unit and cannot be removed or swapped out when power is running low. Apple claims the battery life is five hours, but that probably translates into
four hours of real-world usage, and four hours is not going to cut it if you're on a productive tear with no power outlets in sight.
The Air also lacks a DVD drive, which many users relish to enjoy movies while on the move.
Apple does provide a cunning "remote" DVD solution that allows the Air to utilize another networked computer's DVD for software installation, but that's
not the point. The other drawback is that the Air only provides one USB port. No Ethernet, no modem, no FireWire. Thus, after the initial rush of purchases
by Mac technophiles, the Air is going to most likely disappoint Apple in the long run.
There's a solid market out there for a compact laptop with professional performance.
Apple is rumored to be readying a refresh of their MacBook Pro lineup for debut in the next few weeks. A fully-blown out 13" Pro model with an eye
towards the creative professional will provide the Pro line-up with the shot in the arm it sorely needs.
Akai aims to reclaim the Hip-Hop production crown with the new MPC5000
CES and MacWorld are wonderful conferences, but for us, they're really just a warm up
for NAMM. There were a number of significant announcements at the show, but the real action for gearheads was at the Spectrasonics booth. Eric Persing
and company showcased their new Omnisphere synth that actually drew cheers from the crowd during the demonstration. The possibilities for electronic
musicians are staggering, not just for the incredible sound quality, but also because you can apply rhythmic grooves from RMX to the Omnisphere's
arpeggiator. Omnisphere's engine utilizes both synthesis and samples to create jaw dropping sonic landscapes that seem to take on a life of their own.
The only bad news is that we're going to have to wait until September 15th to get in on the action.
Akai geared up for the big game by dropping the MPC5000, their new flagship MIDI Production
Studio that now features a virtual analog synthesis engine. The announcement took some of the wind out of the Dave Smith / Roger Lynn collaboration, now
dubbed the LinnDrumII Analog. The innards of the MPC have been completely revamped with a new sampling engine, the aforementioned 20-voice, 3-oscillator
analog synthesizer with arpeggiator, a new sequencing engine with 960 ppq resolution, and a new effects processor. At $3500 bills, it's a lot of bread
to drop on a all-in-one production box, but to fans of the concern it stated in a big way that Akai is back.
Serato, hedging its bets, unveiled a new software mixing program dubbed Itch. The software
was designed from the ground up to work specifically with hardware DJ controllers, specifically Numark's new NS7 (see below) and Vestax's VCI-300, and
is not meant to be utilized with turntables or CD decks. Serato hopes to leverage their brand name, Scratch's reliability, and their significant user
base to continue their market dominance among professional DJs.
The biggest trend of the show was again DJ controllers. Just when you thought that the market
was completely saturated with MIDI controllers aimed at mixing, a half-dozen new models were announced by Vestax, Stanton, Numark, EKS and others. If one stands
back and looks at the MIDI DJ controller market from afar, you can gain an interesting perspective into where the industry is headed.
Stanton's SC System is a work of art, but lacks groundbreaking innovation
Every one of the new controllers subscribes to the turntable/mixer metaphor, which is fascinating
considering that with all the technological advancements over the last several years, very few manufacturers are willing to part ways with this antiquated mixing
paradigm. What we're left with is who is going to break away from the pack and introduce a new system that pushes the boundaries of what it means to mix music.
For obvious reasons, manufacturers are still clinging to the "wheel" parable. But does it have to be a wheel? Why not an infrared controller? Why not a multi-touch
track pad that can emulate the push-brake of a turntable? Why not a trackball? With all the exciting new interface technology do we really need, yet another, digital
turntable/mixer. The answer is no. (see Snyaptic's ChiralMotion &
Momentum Trackpad technologies, as well as Denny Jaeger's Universal Interface Panel for additional interface
Yet, several manufacturers chose to trot out the same tired design. The SC System by Stanton pretty
much sums up what we're talking about here. Stanton's new system is sleek and well designed, but it's anything but groundbreaking. In fact, the company embarrassed
themselves by stating publicly that their new SC system was in development for four years. Four years to develop a wheel and a mixer? This is the new millennium
kids. If a company the size of Stanton takes four years to drop, what in essence is a product that falls short to what already exists in the marketplace, then
they should get out of the game.
Numark displayed, behind glass, their beautiful new NS7, a full-size, dual-deck MIDI DJ controller.
Again, amazing execution, but when your iDJ2 iPod mixing deck garners more attention than the NS7, you've got to wonder if the emperor is wearing no clothes?
EKS, a small concern from Finland who made a small splash a number of years ago with their XP10 mini
controller/soundcards, but failed to gain major mixing software support, showcased a mockup of their new OTUS DJ controller that points the turntable analogy into
the future. Now the product is still vaporware, basically a nice plastic model, but it does demonstrate that at least some companies are doing some forward thinking.
Preliminary features include: a quality built-in sound card, one main turntable wheel, 4 mini jog wheels, a track pad, a ribbon controller, and Wii-like motion
sensors. Even the chassis was something different. Exciting stuff for sure.
The EKS OTUS DJ Controller garnered a lot of attention at NAMM with its forward design
One thing the industry hasn't addressed is the obvious problems of using these new controllers to
play out. In the beginning, if you wanted to be a DJ, all you had to do is sashay down to your local retailer and pick up a pair of 1200's and a mixer. Practically
every club had 1200s installed, and even if they had a competitor's model, it wasn't hard to decipher the interface: put the needle on the record and manipulate
the pitch control. However, with all the radically different DJ controller designs in the market, there's no way that a digital DJ can just flip open his laptop
and jack in. So now he's forced to make a choice. Which digital DJ rig should I commit to? Which system is going to stand the test of time and make my investment
pay off? It's no longer a simple choice.
Not only do you have to decide what controller to use, but also what software works best for the
type of mixing you perform. Each platform/interface has its advantages and disadvantages, but one thing is for sure, if you're looking to rock a club, you want
portability. Seems like a no-brainer, but if you look at some of the controllers out there, this obviously wasn't high on the list of priorities. In addition,
no one is offering a comprehensive protective case solution. If you're a manufacturer like Numark, and you're about to drop a sweet little NS7 setup into the
market, then you sure as hell should offer the sexiest case alive. Inspiration? If "Q" from James Bond fame was going to design your case, what would he do?
When you walk into a club with a case that looks like it came from the future, punters are going to take notice. The case should come with the rig, not cost
extra, feature illumination, so you can see what you're doing in a dark club, and have a prominent, yet not overwhelming glowing logo on the outside.
Perception is reality.
The other thing we were left wondering is how the clubs are going to react to all these new
controllers. Clearly it doesn't make sense to invest in one brand or another like they did with Technics turntables and later Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD players, and
Serato Scratch. Clubs are going to have to provide analog, and in some cases, digital inputs to their sound systems with significant signal conditioning and
limiting. A whole new ball game.
DJing, as we know it, is experiencing a paradigm shift. Sure there will always be stalwarts
who will only mix using turntables and vinyl, but the real action is in the digital realm. Serato's Scratch was the perfect "bridge" from the vinyl world to
the digital, but even Serato knows that the future lies in software and controllers. So where does this leave the consumer?
Confused. If you're a consumer surveying the digital DJing landscape at this point in time,
your choices are daunting. And questions about your approach could end up paralyzing your decision making process. Should I honor the history and the art of
traditional mixing by purchasing turntables and a mixer? Or should I look to the future and jump into purely digital mixing?
So what's going to be the determining factor?
Price. In the end, the consumer's decision is going to be based on price with feature set,
perceived value and brand allegiance as trailing factors. Many of the aforementioned manufacturers didn't release official pricing on their systems, probably
a good thing since sticker shock is not a reaction you want at a convention for retailers, but the reality is, none of them will come cheap. 2008 will be a
pivotal year, ultimately determining who becomes a star, who stays in the game and who is reduced to a footnote in the history of DJing.
Technology Backlash: Vinyl Rules!
One interesting outcome of all this new digital DJing technology, is the backlash
from older DJs who view the new generation of Serato and other digital DJ users as unmusical. Many complain about the sound quality of MP3 files, which can
sound thin and cold on quality club systems, and the mixing styles of digital DJs who often mix visually instead of really listening. David Azzoni, who works
on the front lines at the respected Turntable Lab store in New York City, finds the mixing skills of many of the new-gen DJs come up wanting. "I can always
tell if a newer DJ is using Serato," Azzoni reveals, "they just don't have the listening skills that a DJ, who learned on real turntables and vinyl, has acquired."
Besides the lack of mixing craft and mechanics, Azzoni also feels that due to the playlist format in mixing software "DJs are forcing a lot of mixes by putting
together tracks solely on tempo and not on what really works together."
Azzoni, and many like him, also perceive the new digital systems to be aimed at
commercial and event DJs, and not for mixing connoisseurs. This observation is clearly another hurdle that the manufacturers will have to leap in order to
get the influential club DJ set to adopt these new technologies.