MAGIX Music Maker MX software: Sweet beats on the cheap

As a brand, MAGIX is famous for putting out music creation software that can be messed about with by beginners (for a laugh, this writer tried to make a electro-rap-rock crossover track to help the review, and it sucked) as well as those more advanced musicians. If you’ve always dreamed of making your own sounds, but have no freakin’ idea where to start, or don’t have access to a massive drum kit or expensive guitar, there are more than 1,500 loops and samples to choose from here. Well fit.

Magix-Music-Maker-MX

Anyone who has used previous versions of Music Maker will be aware of how the software can work for them – and contrary to what many people might think, it’s not that complex to deal with (I was a first-time user, and my brain isn’t fried).

What’s cool is that rather than the software needing you to start off with nothing when it comes to starting the actual creative process, as a user, you are gifted a number of building blocks indicating different instruments (with the accompaniment of a fairly simple introductory tutorial and easy-to-manage difficulty modes [with more options available as your progress]). These blocks, made up of different parts (guitar, synth and vocals for example) and genres (including rock, hip-hop and techno) can be pushed together, dragged and dropped – the whole process really does have a sort of Tetris vibe but on-screen it looks similar to many standard editing software programs for film and music.

The software will give you an option of working with real instruments (proper working musicians rejoice…), or plugging in a microphone to record vocal tracks. Used as a personal studio in this way, you can trust in MAGIX to make and use samples played on your own instruments, or  produce diverse instrumental tracks and add special effects and samples.

What is nice as well, is the incorporation of an online sound archive where you’ll get to grab on to  an additional 2,000 sounds, (it’s all in the intro vid, so don’t panic). The program also includes lead synth that can be used to create decent melodies, but the additional effects and filter can be utilised to knock up all manner of interesting, weird and (hopefully) wonderful sonic concoctions. There’s also the ever-useful drum machine (goths rejoice…) on hand to help create a mildly infectious back-beat.

This edition of MAGIX includes a Soundcloud component that can be used to make your music creations available online through social networks if you’re feeling brave (and no, my work will not be inflicted upon the universe ever, or at least until I get very drunk). You can store your material in a secure space and edit them from any computer with a web connection. In addition, you can also share data between other MAGIX applications.

If you’re serious about creating and recording your own songs and tracks to a listenable standard, then MAGIX Music Maker is a pretty good place to begin. Good luck.

The MAGIX Music Maker MX software is available now for £59.99.

For more information visit: http://www.magix.com/gb/music-maker

Gear4 pocketloops: Portable music creation studio review

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m thrilled to live in the future. As someone who has been fiddling with electronic music since I was a teenage with a Atari 1040ST and Cubase, I’ve seen the world of “computer music” undergo sea change after sea change. It used to be pretty incredible that you could make cutting edge music on a laptop. Now it’s mind blowing that you can do it on a phone.

GEAR4-PocketLoops-Portable-Music-Creation-Studio

Gear4’s pocketloops is an interesting example of thinking outside the box in the potential race to the bottom that is app development. Pocketloops is a free app, but is also a dedicated hardware peripheral that has to be purchased separately for magic to happen.

As you can see from the image above, pocketloops is a keyboard with a little dock for an iPhone to the left-hand side. The unit it pretty light and compact so it’s very portable. My first impression when I got my hands on the unit at IFA was that the keys were a little bit square and flat, but this design makes more sense once you dive into the app.

It’s worth noting at this point that pocketloops isn’t really a keyboard peripheral – at least in the conventional sense- so if you were hoping to use it for jamming with other apps then prepare for disappointment. I’m not sure why pocketloops doesn’t play nicely with other apps – it would make it a great tool for travelling musicians as the flat, light design pops easily into most bags.

However, the flat keys are not the most fun to play musically – I wouldn’t want to do lots of scales or chords with them over and extended period of time, which perhaps was the thinking behind the external app-lockout. Once you fire up the free pocket loops app you get why the keys are the way they are. Rather than playing melodies conventionally, pocketloops is much more geared towards remixing and jamming with loops – with the keyboard keys more loop triggers than piano keys. Once you get into this mindset the design of pocketloops is fantastic.

The main app interface is a 4 x 4 grid where you lay down beats or melodic loops. Various instruments are provided including the wonderful Look Around You nod to Synthesiser Patel. Rather than resticting you creatively, the limited palate of tracks and instruments is actually quite liberating and you are innovating within parameters and are able to focus on doing fun things with what you have – rather than staring out at infinite potential. Sounds you play are recorded as loops and you can then switch back and forth DJ style between tracks, mixing and remixing dynamically. This has lots of interesting performance potential as you could build fun little tracks live on stage.

You can also vary your sounds (and have fun in a live environment) by using pocketloops’ built-in effects to tweak echo, chorus or distortion via the XY Filter Pad (remember when plain old ribbon controllers seemed amazing).

Once you’ve made your track, rather than hide it under a bushel (unless it’s awful), you can bake a remix on the spot and email it as an m4a file to all and sundry. Overall, pocketloops is a fast and incredibly fun way to create music on your iPhone and if you like what you see and are ok with using the loop based software it would be hard not to recommend it.

I should note that I struggled to get pocketloops to play nicely with iOS5 and had lots of problems switching instruments or with the app recognising the keyboard after a bout of multitasking or a trip to the notification centre. However I had an older iPhone lying around with a slightly older OS and everything went swimmingly when that was popped in. I expect an update to iOS 5 is around the corner.

Gear4 pocketloops: Portable music creation studio is available from vendors such as Amazon for £49.99

Native Instruments KONTROL S2: DJing on a diet

DJing is a lot lot more than “playing someone else’s records and looking cool in front of a crowd” although admittedly that is a large part of it. Continued innovation in the field has turned DJing into an artform in its own right and it’s very hard to argue with the stance that the turntable is a legitimate musical instrument in it’s own right.

KONTROL-S2

Even more exciting that rocking a crossfader and two 1210s is the possibilities opened up by digital DJing via timecode vinyl systems and hardware controllers. One of the pioneers in this area of DJing is Native Instruments, who have released a slimmed down version of their market-leading KONTROL S4 hardware (which is currently taking up way too much space on my desk). While the S4 has been making waves in the four-deck market, the S2 brings the same build quality to the ‘old-fashioned’ two deck market.

The new KONTROL S2 provides a “2+1” setup with sample decks as well as comprehensive mixing and effect features, all based on the same full-featured TRAKTOR PRO 2 software that you would find on the S4. It provides the same patent-pending high-resolution jog wheels, which have a great weight and feel to them, as well ergonomic controls for cueing, looping and effects – all with the sort of build quality people expect from Native Intruments.

There is an integrated 24bit/96 kHz sound card with dual stereo outputs, which maintains clarity even at high output volume, you you can happily ‘turn it up’ and make the crowd go wild.

In addition to the two full-featured playback decks there are versatile Sample Decks, which can add up to eight simultaneous one-shot samples or beat-synced loops to the mix, making it easier to be musically creative during your set – or even to slowly build tracks yourself.

TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 is available from authorized dealers and in the NI Online Shop for a suggested retail price of $669 / 599 EUR.

Wacom’s wireless interactive Bamboo pen tablets

With people posting the view from their office window, their cat asleep on their pillow, or the plate of food they consumed for breakfast, sharing digital images with others has almost become a national obsession. Given this rapid rise in posting to the world our day’s proceedings, no matter how mundane or exciting, technology manufacturers are increasingly looking for ways us to execute our national obsession more effectively, efficiently and rapidly. Heading the way in making social computer users’ quest to bombard their contacts with posts and tweets that will essentially ‘bore the socks off them’, is Wacom, a Japan-based company with a vision to ‘bring people and technology closer’.

Bamboo-ElevFront

Living up to its goals to fuse the gap between people and technology, Wacom has announced an all-new line-up of its market-leading Bamboo products. This range of interactive tablets promise to be colourful, inventive and creative, and include the Bamboo Fun Pen & Touch (small/medium), the Bamboo Pen & Touch (small) and the Bamboo Pen (small).

For those of you with absolutely no idea what I am talking about – myself included – these lightweight, battery-free, wireless and super-portable ‘pens’, enable fast and easy navigation of PCs and Macs. With a multi-touch functionality the new Bamboo range has 1024 pressure levels that allow users to make accurate cursor movements and handwritten notes. Not only can users imprint their own handwriting on their PC, but they can surf the web, scroll through documents, flick through photo galleries and rotate images, with just the stroke of a finger.

So what’s the difference between the Bamboo Pen & Touch and the Bamboo Fun Pen & Touch? The latter being more fun than the former we presume? Well except being silver as opposed to black, the Bamboo Fun Pen & Touch possesses all the same features as the Bamboo Pen & Touch, but also boast an, Wacom inform us, ‘outstanding’ software bundle that includes Adobe, Photoshop, Elements 8 (for small), ad 9 (for medium) and ArtRage 3. The medium-sized tablet can also double-up into a digital canvas with Corel Painter Essentials 4.

It certainly sounds fun and ideal for fine-tuning and editing creative work!  The Bamboo Pen & Touch is priced at £74.99 and the Bamboo Fun Pen & Touch is priced at £89.99 for the small model and £169.99 for a medium model.

Native Instruments lower barriers to beat making with MASCHINE MIKRO

Like laying down beats? I know I do. One of the classic pieces of kit for beat freaks is an Akai MPC, a wonderful machine that “got out of the way” and let you focus on machine music. Whilst it’s perfectly possible to make lots of wild and interesting music on a range of devices, lots of it intrinsically feels like hardware or software rather than a musical instrument. Native Instrument’s MASCHINE wasn’t the first set of MPC-emulating drum pads on the market but it was the first to really nail the interface – you weren’t flicking between hardware and software as much as you were immersed in a musical instrument, creating.

MASCHINE-MIKRO

Native Instruments have really committed to the platform since its introduction a few years back and have rolled out significant software upgrades. Slowly but surely, Maschine has gone from a beat freaks dream to a fully fledged Digital Audio Workstation.

However the classic MASCHINE controller is far from cheap, so if you’re producing on a budget you’ll be delighted to hear that Native Instruments have release MASCHINE MIKRO an entry level groove production studio. MASCHINE MIKRO significantly reduces the size and cost of the standard controller as it uses on a single display and a dynamically assignable high-resolution master encoder. However the MASCHINE MIKRO retains the 4 x 4 matrix of bright orange (the backlighting is dynamic) pressure sensitive drum pads. As a long-time MASCHINE user I can attest to the build quality and responsiveness.

Almost as important, MASCHINE MIKRO is bundled with the full MASCHINE software so you don’t miss out on pattern-based live and step sequencing, VST and AU plug-in hosting, real-time audio recording, sample editing and advanced multi-effects.

The MIKRO version also contains the full 6 GB MASCHINE sound library (check out the vinyl kit), expandable with the series of MASCHINE EXPANSIONS, as well as the free KOMPLETE ELEMENTS sound collection.

MASCHINE MIKRO will be available in October for a suggested retail price of $399 / 349 EUR.

Additional information on MASCHINE MIKRO is available at
www.native-instruments.com/maschinemikro

Colour Splash Studio Mac review

If you’ve ever wanted to recreate “the little girl in the red jacket” effect from Schindler’s List then a new app has just hit the Mac App Store just for you, and rocketing in at number one you’re apparently not alone in your desire.

Colour-Splash

Whilst not the only app that lets you create colour splash photography, it is the most powerful – at least according to the team behind it – the MacPhun guys who you might remember from the FX Studio Pro app we looked at recently.

If you don’t know colour splash photography – it’s basically desaturating all but certain parts of the image – you’ve probably seen a black and white photo with bright red lipstick left in for example. It used to be a high-end effect for powerful computers. I can now do it on my phone. This makes me feel as old as the Schindler’s List reference I made at the top of this review. I digress.

So how is it to use? Simple to the point where it also beggars belief. You can drag and drop a photo into the workspace, swipe away with the brush and enjoy the results. Obviously the more complex the image, the more work you will have to put in to impress but common sense should apply with all your image choices. Colour Splash plays nice with full screen Lion and it’s great having all that space and a nice clean layout to work with.

What is more, there are enough adjustable parameters that you can work with very complex images, fiddling with brush diameter, opacity and softness to add nuance to your images. You can also tweak the bright, contrast and so on for the colour and greyscale layer and for added creativity you can play with the blur.

The flexibility doesn’t stop there – you can fiddle with a wide range of popular image formats – jpeg, bitmaps, tiffs and even RAW files. Sharing is also easy, and Colour Splash plays nicely with Aperture and iPhoto as well as popular social networks such as Flikr, Twitter and Facebook.

What’s not to like? Well to be honest not that much. If you don’t like Colour Splash images, or can’t imagine ever making more that two, then obviously this is not for you. For the rest of you – check it out.

Colour Splash is out on the Mac App store for the low low price of £1.49 (it’s 60% off for a limited time)