AF’s Weblog

September 14, 2012

Basic Concepts in Electronic Music Production

To read the full detailed article see:  Basic Concepts in EDM

If you’re reading this article you might already know that EDM stands for Electronic Dance Music. The styles range over a wide gammet of musics, from House to Dubstep, Drum-n-Bass, and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). While the specifics of each style are extremely diverse (even within different styles there are dozens of sub-styles) – certain attributes remain consistent.

If you are just getting into EDM, or just want a fresh perspective on it, this article should offer some great food-for-thought.


The purpose of EDM is to make people dance. Period. The rhythmic elements and the movement of the record are sacrosanct. Once you find the pulse of the record, you make that as clear as possible. That means pushing the rhythm elements way up, exaggerating any kind of pumping movement and articulating the attacks of anything that is outlining that rhythm.

In addition, it’s best when people not only hear what they want to dance to, but feel it as well. One of the biggest challenges with EDM is packing that heavy bass into the mix. The first key is to remember that physical bass is a much wider range than just the sub. In fact, club systems tend to be very unreliable when it comes to the sub range. Pay special attention to what’s happening between 80 Hz and below 300 Hz. There’s a still a lot of physical bass there, and a little love in that zone can go a long way.

In fact, most instruments have “physical” ranges. For a snare, you might be looking at 300 Hz – 500Hz. For a hi-hat you might be looking at 1 kHz. To say exactly where the physicality of a certain sound exists is almost pointless – it varies widely. But when you feel it, you know.


The difficulty in physical sound, and I know a lot of engineers are going to shoot me for saying this, but the difficulty is that club music needs to be loud. Only so much energy can fit into a limited space, so picking and choosing how to maximize your bang-for-the-buck in terms of headroom is one of the biggest challenges in EDM.

Sometimes it’s a lot more productive to trigger a sine wave or use a bass enhancer on a kick drum, rather than simply boosting the low end – as you can get a little more “perceived” bass without running the headroom. And equally over extending compression or distortion to gain perceived size is also worth experimenting with. Ideally all club systems would have tons of clean amps with DJs who know how to not overload the speakers, who could then turn the club amps up and keep there mixers down. But that’s not the world we live in. So until then, club music does fall under the jurisdiction of the loudness police.

Let’s take a look now at some other concepts…



This article is very stream of consciousness. I hope people comment and ask questions below as there is probably a million more things that could be said on this subject. But in the mean time, this should provide a few basic concepts that will step up your game when producing EDM.

To read the full detailed article see:  Basic Concepts in EDM

May 2, 2009

Percussa Audiocubes: The Test

Audio Cubism
Percussa Audiocubes: The Test

Out of the blue, it just appeared in my office, like the megalith from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A cube: 7.5 cm long, as white and smooth as paraffin, with a pair of LEDs on four of its six sides, two ¼ inch jack inputs, a USB connector…and a button … … that I press … Let there be Light, as someone once said: the cube shines!


So what is it? A new age light to go with one’s lava lamp? Or the latest cutting-edge technology in light-therapy? Not at all; a small sticker tells me that I am in the presence of an AudioCube 1.0, a device by Percussa designed to revolutionize our approach to music. Let’s see about that…


The AudioCubes are charged in 3 hours via a USB cable for use from 3 to 5 hours …

The AudioCubes are, you guessed it, cubes that have a communication port on 4 of their sides capable of transmitting and receiving digital or analog signals, using infrared light, to and from other cubes nearby. As for using them as MIDI controllers, they can be used in two ways: in Sensor mode or Sender/Receiver modes, which involves at least two cubes. They generate two types of MIDI messages: either Note-on (triggering a note), or continuous controllers which are useful for progressively changing MIDI parameters.

Sensor Mode: In this mode the cube senses the distance to a nearby object, such as another cube or your hands: so you’ll be able, just by making gestures around the cube, to control the frequency cutoff and/or resonance of a filter, or modify the ADSR of an envelope…


Sender/Receiver Mode: this is also interesting because it’s based on interaction between cubes. How does it work? Each AudioCube has 4 sides that can send and receive infrared signals to and from other cubes. 4 sides per cube gives you 16 combinations (each can be a MIDI command such as triggering samples) with only two cubes …

Far from being merely a MIDI controller, the AudioCube is also a lo-fi instrument. This means that it has a signal generator/processor with a 32 kHz/9 bit audio resolution… the sound goes through the same infrared ports as the MIDI or through jack cables. Each cube has a ¼ inch jack input and output.

Lastly, the icing on the cake, the AudioCubes are also lights. For each cube, there are three colors (red, green and blue) whose intensity can be controlled via MIDI and a sequencer. By mixing those 3 fundamental colors you can get just about any color. Some will consider these cubes a gadget, if they’re only interested in their controller features, while others, who see all the opportunities these AudioCubes offer in a live show, will find them essential…

It works in theory. Let’s see if it also works in practice…


The Cubes are on a roll !

Inventor of AudioCubes, Bert Schiettecatte, received the Qwartz Max Mathews award of technological innovation applied to the field of music from the hands of Enki Bilal (President of the 5 ° edition) April 3, at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris.

The AudioCubes idea is excellent, but there’s still much room for improvement, both in terms of hardware and software. Of course, for around €649 for a set of 4 cubes, AudioCubes are amongst the most accessible of futuristic controllers. But it would have been nice if they had both more sensor responsiveness and accuracy on the one hand, as well as more ‘user friendly’ software on the other. But that doesn’t hinder these Percussa devices from being usable and even from causing a stir (see the box), but they will no doubt appeal more to musicians in search of original live accessories than those who really want to revolutionize their way of making music.

This brings us back to the famous debate about whether the latest inventions in the field of musical ergonomics, or even ergonomics in general, make a difference. Take the case of the Wiimote, which, after all, didn’t change anything in terms of the gamedesign of video games despite the frenzy it provoked in the media… Just like the Tenori-on, the Reactable, or Jean-Michel Jarre’s famous laser-harp, the AudioCubes are fascinating in their concept and visually attractive, but you’re never sure if you’re dealing with a ‘design’ object used for music, or a real instrument that’s also esthetically pleasing. You be the judge, but in any event Max/MSP developers will probably be paying close attention to this product, while others may just pass it by. However, the ‘AudioCube 1.0’ on each cube suggests that the story is to be continued …

The concept!
The different performance modes
Well-designed manual

Sensors lack precision
‘Lo-Fi’ audio not very interesting
Software is user-unfriendly …

To read the full detailed article see Percussa Audiocubes review

March 2, 2009

Test: Clavia Nord Wave Synthesis Review

Filed under: Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:09 am
Multifaceted Synthesis
Clavia Nord Wave: The Test

Integrating analog modeling, FM synthesis, digital waveforms, and sample reading, the Nord Wave positions itself as a versatile multi-synthesis specialist. Focusing on immediate programming as opposed to navigating through endless menu pages, does it have what it takes to stand out from the rest?

In 1995, Clavia introduced the Nord Lead, a small red bomb modeling polyphonic analog synths of yesteryear. The machine also came with a sound bank from the original Prophet-5. In the following 10 years, it gave birth to gifted offspring, exploring FM synthesis on the way, with the Nord Lead 3 and its fancy luminous interface. The Swedish manufacturer was quick to explore the world of virtual modular synths, with a family just as gifted that allowed it to model many signal processing tools. The only thing missing was sample reading, something which Clavia was soon to develop in order to generate some of the sounds of its keyboards destined for playing live. The Nord Wave therefore has profited form the know-how of the brand. Now at maturity, with a stable OS (1.08) and coming with an additional bank of 250 MB of Mellotron samples, a test was called for …

Getting Started

Clavia Nord Wave

True to Clavia tradition, the Nord Wave synth is both lightweight and solidly built. Weighing in at 6 kg on the scale in a red and black frame all in metal the machine was made for live gigs. Controls (33 knobs, 3 notched endless encoders, 33 buttons) are firmly attached to the front panel (they won’t be going anywhere!). As usual, they’re all grouped together on the left half of the machine. You either like it or you don’t. In any event, the controls are too crowded and too small for tired eyes and trembling hands. In addition, the screen is on the extreme left, which isn’t practical for reading. All parameters except for global/Midi settings are accessible directly from the front panel. Some buttons have an alternate function which is accessible by pressing “Shift”. The sections are pretty clear, with (from left to right): modulations (portamento, LFO, assignable envelope), 2 oscillators, a filter with its envelope, the volume with its envelope and its effects. Work flow and ease of use are strong points of this machine. The LCD screen (2 x 16 characters) completes the picture: in addition to the names of programs, the LCD screen shows the value of all parameters while editing, especially the names of multi-samples and digital waveforms. Note that the value of certain parameters is shown in its true unit of measurement: frequency in Hz, time in seconds, intervals in semitones … nice! A dedicated “Panic” button can cut all notes and is ideal for gigs. Some small shortcomings: there’s no “compare” button and rotary knobs only function in “jump” mode.

Connectique dépouillée

As for its keyboard action, the Nord Wave offers a lightweight 4-octave keyboard (49 keys) that’s sensitive to both velocity and pressure. Its feel and dynamic response are comfortable and responsive to nuances, however, the pressure control is very abrupt and not very expressive. It’s a shame that Clavia hasn’t switched to the standard 5 octaves, especially to play multi-samples. To overcome the lack of octaves, there are buttons that quickly transpose, plus or minus 2 octaves, near the cool pitch stick without a central position and the modulation wheel. On closer examination, the back panel proves to be a disappointment (picture on the left): one pair of audio outputs, a headphone jack, a duo Midi, 2 Pedal outputs, and a USB socket (see box on sample management). So goodbye multiple outputs, digital audio, MIDI Through … There’s only internal power to console us, which is surprising from a machine of this level and price.

Now let’s take a closer look…


In the end, the Nord Wave is a concentration of synthesis types with excellent musicality. User friendly, robust, and lightweight, it’s made for live situations, like all Clavia products. Its range of sounds is surprising, with very different and perfectly complementary timbres within easy reach. If you add to that the intermodulation of oscillators, the excellent library of Mellotron samples, you should be satisfied… except, that for this level, some aspects just barely cut it, especially the keyboard, multi-timbrality, connections, computer dependence for sample management, and certain sections that aren’t sufficiently developed. In any event, for those who put sound quality at the top of their priority list, as well as the variety of sounds and ease of use, it’s hard to beat the Nord Wave at the moment.

Both solid and light, ideal for using live
Easy to use and quick results
Wide and excellent sound range
Beautiful 250 MB Mellotron bank
Quality effects, especially the chorus
Oscillator inter-modulation
Filters are varied and musical
Envelopes very responsive
Morphing between 2 sounds
A lot of FlashRam to load samples

Only bi-timbral
No Split or dynamic layers
Keyboard only 4 octaves
Aftertouch limited to vibrato and difficult to control
Knobs, dials, and buttons are small and crowded
Limited effects section
No Midi sync for the LFOs/delays
No arpeggiator
Not autonomous in the management of samples
No multi-layered samples
No audio input
No Midi Through

To read the full, detailed article see:  Clavia Nord Wave review

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