Why you should practice DJing

I’ve never really been interested in the art of DJing, but lately I’ve started lusting for a Digital DJ Controller. Why? I think the spark came when I visited one of the huge DJ stores in Tokyo a while back. They had rows and rows of beautiful controller lined up, and I have to admit that it was pure looks that pulled me in.

At the time I had only a vague idea of how they work, but I guy in the store was kind enough to give me an overview of the standard controls and he also gave me a quick intro to Traktor and Serato DJ.

As I got home that night I downloaded the demo version of both and started playing around with them. While they are limited they do contain all the basic functionality, and since then I’ve been fooling around with more and more often.

Here are some really cool takeaways, and the reasons why I’m now considering buying an actual controller:

1. Building a library of tracks to practice with has forced me to listen to and buy a lot of new music. This has ben crazy inspirational and a really good kick in the ass to explore and listen to more music! (Especially more mainstream music.)

2. Practicing mixing has taught me a ton of new details about track composition and timing. How long is a typical trance lead in? Lead out?

3. Rhythm practice and appreciation of EQ and frequency bands. Understanding what to take away, what to emphasize and how to adjust speed and tempo to seamlessly blend and mix tracks has forced me to think more about where in the frequency band certain sounds or instruments lie and why.

4. Greater appreciation for sampling. I’ve found myself not just listening to more music (remember 1 above?), but also out in record stores digging through old vinyls and CDs looking for interesting, fun or just unusual loops and sounds to sample.

I think dabbling with DJing (really, I suck but hey…) has gotten me thinking about structure, tempo and sound in new ways. Before I could talk and reason about it, but now I feel like I ‘understand’ and can appreciate it even more.

If you haven’t tried it yet, I really recommend you do!


New Song (Orbit)

I haven’t posted any new tracks in a while due to traveling and other circumstances, but tonight I had some spare time so I sat down with a borrowed laptop and this little thing came out :).

I did not have any other means of input besides the laptop keyboard so forgive some of the rough edges please. Also, all I had for monitoring was my very cheap ear buds. Thus, levels and EQ is probably all over the place. There has been no mastering (yet). If any one feels up to it let me know and I’ll send you the original file.

I have to return this laptop tomorrow so there is no time left to work on this track, but it was fun working with only a (licensed of course) copy of Ableton Live and a laptop. Hope you like it!

BTW, the samples are from a public repo of NASA transmissions. My interpretation of the terms is that this use should be OK but if that’s not the case let me know and I’ll remove them.

Novation Launchkey Mini vs Arturia MiniLab

I have not used the Launchkey Mini yet, the below is based on specs and photos.

launchkeymini_angle-640x412So Novation has announced the Launchkey Mini (sp ~$99). With 25 mini keys, 16 pads, 8 rotary knobs and 2 performance buttons, all assignable of course, it makes for a sweet little MIDI keyboard, not at all unlike the Arturia MiniLab that also launched recently.

I got a chance to play around with the Arturia board for a couple of days and it certainly has the upper hand when it comes to design in my opinion. Of course the two are not entirely comparable given that you get a bloody awesome collection of 5000 analog synth emulation presets with the Arturia board..

My biggest gripe with the Arturia MiniLab was the touch strips. Very poor quality and performance which in the end rendered it almost unusable for me. The keys and the pads though were very nice and responsive. The Launchkey Mini has gone a step further and done away with the traditional modulation / pitch controls entirely. My suspicion is that you can use the two ‘performance buttons’ for this by assigning them your self?

MiniLab_275In terms of connectivity the only difference is that you get a foot switch input on the MiniLab. This could be important to you depending on your playing style. Both are USB powered and class compliant. I for one really wish they had a MIDI out port for connecting straight to some of my older analog gear, but that dear old round connection seems to be an endangered species these days…

Looking at the bundles software (Launchkey Mini: Bassstation, V-Station, Live Lite, Samples, Launchkey app for iPad vs. MiniLab: AnalogLab with 5000 classic synth presets) it really depends on your style of music and workflow. I love the Arturia emulations since they fit very well with the kind of music I make, but the flexibility of the Novation soft synths where you are not limited to presets is also very attractive. In the end it’s up to you.

Check out the rivals at their respective websites below:

Problems with Sound Locks on the Analog Four

While I intend to invest in a Machinedrum from Elektron at some point in the (hopefully near) future, at the moment I’m restricted to only the Analog Four for song production.

# I’m traveling so I do not have access to my full studio. Yep, I miss my modular…

Because of this predicament I have been learning a lot about the A4, and I’m getting really impressed by its feature set. Restricting myself like this has also proven to be a very exciting way to work, but that’s for another post.

Anyway, when you are limited in the number of ‘voices’ and instruments at hand, the Sound Locks of the Analog 4 can be a real killer feature. Essentially it allows you to ‘lock’ a sound to a particular step (or ‘trig’ in the Elektron parlance) in the sequencer. Thus you can use just one of the A4 sequencer tracks to play back for example a Bass Drum, Snare and HiHat, instead of using 3 tracks. Make sense?

However, while this works great for synthesizer lead patches and many other types of sounds, I’ve run into an interesting issue with one of the Bass Drum presets.

The following video actually explains it better than I can with words:

Essentially locking the Bass Drum with any other sound on the same track causes the ‘volume’ of the BD to drop sharply as soon as the other sound plays, only to slowly come back up over time. If patch 2 is continuously triggering on the same track the Bass Drum will never return to audible lands. Note that this behavior only occurs with certain kicks.

There is also a thread on the Elektron forum discussing the same phenomenon. Essentially it would appear to related to the filter, and an effect of kicks constructed by self-oscillating it. Here’s a secondary thread that provides more info and a few other angles.

I will continue to research this but if you have run into this problem, found solutions or have any thoughts on plausible causes please share in the comments!

Pelican cases are amazing!

’nuff said.

Really though, I’m currently in Japan and for the trip I brought the portable setup described below. I checked in the pelican case at the airline counter thinking that it’s content should be well protected by the hard case and the inline foam.

When I picked it up again at the baggage claim in Tokyo there were some serious dents in the case. One of the corners had been shaved down by about 3mm and there were some deep indentations in the protective risings on the lid.

At first I was worried that it might have fallen from some high up place, like the top of a stack of suitcases on a carrier truck, but then again this is exactly the kind of scenario I was imagining when I decided to go with a pelican case.

Once I arrived at the place we are staying I got all the gear set up and connected and it turns out that nothing was damaged and everything sounds and works just fine. I have to say I’m impressed with the fantastic quality of the case and I highly recommend it to anyone planning on traveling with sensitive musical instruments.