stars is a collection of my favorite solos from previous releases, with some of the original tracks shortened and most of them mastered for an enhanced listening experience. As usual these live Animoog, Model 15, Seaboard and Minimoog improvisations are downloadable for free on Bandcamp and available thought most music services including Apple Music and Spotify.
On stars you get selected solos starting with Animoog tracks from my Unanimoog, escape inside the music and Pianimoog •• discoverY albums, then Moog Model 15 tracks from the album of the same name, followed by my ROLI Seaboard tracks from the RISE 42 album. The last track is a Minimoog Model D solo. In the respective announcements you’ll find which presets was used for each improvisation. Here’s one of the Animoog tracks on stars, une vision pour notre futur.
The Minimoog is celebrating 50 years in 2020! Our family trip to the Canary Islands coincided with the beta testing timeframe for the iOS Minimoog Model D synth. The following montage shows photos from Cesar Manrique’s Jardin de Cactus in Lanzarote along with the Seaboard track ‘Thinking about it‘. It is a Strobe2 synth solo with preset ‘AR Stranger Arp 5D‘ improvised on the ROLI Seaboard RISE 49, available on stars. The album’s cover art is also a picture from these gorgeous islands.
Current automated online audio mastering services are appealing with their ease of use and 5-minutes delivery time ; upload your track, select a few options and download the resulting mastered track. CloudBounce and LANDR offer such services for a reasonable fee. I haven’t worked with professional audio engineers yet but consider these services did a pretty good job at enhancing the enjoyment of the stars tracks. On the album you get a mix of tracks mastered by CloudBounce and LANDR, as well as a few unmastered tracks given the algorithms had a hard time handling some of the synthesized sounds.
a limitless sonic universe
Our beloved award-winning Animoog was released in 2011 and so much happened since the first wave of mature mobile music apps. Anyone with a tablet or smartphone has access to these ‘appstruments’ and lots of them are sophisticated musical instruments, far from being toy apps on a touch screen.
« I play the synthesizer the same way somebody else would play cello or violin » — Suzanne Ciani, Patch & Tweak
On the hardware realm, on top of the resurgence of modular synthesizers, the past few years brought plentiful new synths, controllers and other tools. The ROLI Seaboard and its ‘5 dimensions of touch’ is one of them I’ve been lucky to get familiar with. Moreover since RISE 42, I usually play synths with Audiofront’s hands-liberating MIDI Expression interfaces, which I wholeheartedly recommend – I’m slowly preparing a post explaining how I’m leveraging these devices.
On the software side, there are tens of new worthwhile synths and music apps launched yearly. In addition to unmatched mobility, those appstruments are diverse and affordable. If you’re curious to discover what’s available, I recommend Jakob Haq’s music apps top lists and his outstanding reviews. We even have access to an excellent open source and free mobile synth, AudioKit’s Synth One.
a universe of digital musical instruments to explore
Sincere thanks to all of you for listening to my music and your support. Special kudos to the ones amongst you whom directly contributed to my projects through Bandcamp contributions or other means. For instance I recently got contacted by Eli Schwanz, the third nice person whom created a video with one of my Animoog tracks ; his FORESTSSS FORTRESSS video with the ‘and dance‘ track from the ‘Unanimoog, escape into the music‘ album (track not available on stars though). Thanks Eli!
I hope you’ll enjoy stars dear synth enthusiasts. It took a while in the making and I’m readying myself to dive into new sonic dimensions.
These stars are where I come from, I’m eager to show you where I’m going. The stars are where we’re coming from, I’m eager to discover where we’re going.
I’ll also try to complete and publish some Animoog-related posts, I accumulated lots I’d like to share with you :-)
I recently turned 43 and I am proud to give you —= RISE 42 =— , my fifth music album. It entirely consists of improvised solos played live on the innovative and multiple award-winning ROLI Seaboard RISE 49 keyboard. I particularly enjoyed the freedom it provides for exploring and playing with soundscapes in new ways.
I acquired my Seaboard near my 42th birthday. Over the past year, about once in a week when the girls were asleep, I recorded these 42 tracks for ‘RISE 42’ — showcasing for an hour and a half what this modern keyboard can sound like
I’m rather happy with the result of these explorations, especially given it’s pure freetronica; electronic music improvised live in a single take, just like my three previous albums made of Animoog and Model 15 solos. Here’s the album cover for RISE 42, leveraging a fortunate photo I took while traveling and getting started with the album.
The Seaboard RISE is a controller and needs a synth to make sound. I leveraged a diversity of presets from ROLI’s Equator synth as well as FXpansion’s Strobe2 synth, the two being bundled with the Seaboard.
Both Equator and Strobe2 offer many impressive presets which provide a wealth of sonic expressivity when connected to a MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) -capable controller such as the Seaboard RISE
Here’s one of my favorite tracks on the album named ‘Snow falling slowly‘, improvised live on March 14th with the Equator Broomstick preset during a significant snow storm in Montreal. Just like for Animoog tracks, quality headphones are required to fully enjoy the depth of those sounds.
The saturated audio segments present on some of the tracks are a good example that these are indeed live improvisations in multiple sound dimensions, where exploring the edges of live sound manipulation can lead to sound saturation.
At some point I inadvertently had the standalone Equator synth launched at the same time as the Equator Audio Unit plugin version. This unplanned but happy combination resulted in tracks which showcase two presets simultaneously. The RISE 42 track list provided below indicates which presets has been used.
The following track named ‘Confiance’ has been improvised June 17th with Equator’s Little Master Synth preset. It shows how precise the control we have on the Seaboard RISE can be.
The Seaboard RISE’s keys, named keywaves, are made of silicon and are very sensitive to multidimensional pressure, allowing you to glide your fingers not only left and right, but up and down while varying the downward pressure at the mean time. Each finger expression is considered individually, a significant evolution over the classic MIDI standard. MPE-compatible synths and presets take advantage of this potential of expressivity at the tip of our fingers. You’ve been witness of the decision process before I bought my Seaboard RISE 49 when I published last year the article on two popular MPE-compatible controllers, the LinnStrument and the ROLI Seaboard.
At the time I wondered if I would like the Seaboard after trying it, now I know the answer’s yes!
Since then I’ve been lucky to have experimented with the Haken Continuum fingerboard at MUTEK 2017 and I felt it’s quite different to play and full of potential as well.
The next track, ‘Empire‘ has been improvised with Equator’s Dark Hall Synth Lead preset on March 8.
I owe immense gratitude to my wife and daughters for having supported the making of this album, on top of our crowded family schedule. The next picture is work from one of my wonderful daughters who knows well her dad, showcasing a doll with the music gear I play with and love — you’ll recognize Animoog and the Seaboard :-)
The following track named ‘Field trip‘ has been played on February 4th with the preset named TX Saturated Tremolo Texture 5D, the day I started recording FXpansion’s Strobe2 tracks with my Seaboard RISE.
If you like my music, get all my albums for free and do what you want with them! They’re all released under a Creative Commons license. Immense thanks in advance for any support and I hope you’ll enjoy listening and discovering what the Seaboard RISE and those presets have to offer. The CC-BY Creative Commons license means the tracks are free to anyone to copy, use and transform. Let me know if you mix or use RISE 42 tracks for your projects, I’m eager to hear the results!
In addition to being free on Bandcamp, the album is available on all major streaming services and digital stores such as…
I hope you’ll enjoy RISE 42, thanks for listening :-) — Alex / Satri
RISE 42 tracks
improvisation recording date
played with preset
Equator Faeries Synth
Coming back to share
Equator Granular Flute & Analog Funk Lead
Raise the castle
Welcome dead year
Equator CLAPS Analog Splash
Equator Analog Funk Lead & Mono Razor Lead
Equator Little Master Synth & Press Control Overtone Series
Better expression is one of my main goals as an electronic musician. Most recently we have witnessed terrific advancements in this arena. Moog Animoog began a big step in that direction with a whole new way of playing expressive electronic music, taking full advantage of the possibilities offered by the multi-touch screen on an Apple iPad (or later, the iPhone). This was a big inspiration for me, and I set about creating a bank of custom presets to take advantage of this new dimension of touch (the “Song-Haven bank” is currently sold right here on “Animoog.org”). This revelation eventually led me towards purchasing a ROLI Seaboard GRAND, which took a similar approach, but with a much larger 3D playing surface entirely different from a standard keyboard. Unfortunately, these two products were not directly compatible. That has very recently changed, with both the Animoog and Seaboard adapting the new MPE protocol. MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) is an extension of the MIDI 1.0 specification. Basically, it allows for multi-channel communication within a single instrument without having to make a lot of settings. Response on multiple MIDI channels is how it becomes possible to have expression independent for each note played, making for a much more organic sound than was previously possible.
Besides the ROLI Seaboard models, MPE can now be found on other new types of MIDI controller devices, such as the LinnStrument from Roger Linn Design, the Eigenharp from Eigenlabs, and others, with more to come. With the MPE setting, I can now successfully play Animoog from my ROLI Seaboard, which as you might expect, is quite a joy! It did however, suggest that I needed to tweak my custom presets to take a bit better advantage of this new marriage. Initially, I had created the Song-Haven bank to primarily take advantage of the polyphonic aftertouch, pitch gliding and other touch mods made available on the iPad screen. Velocity settings were mostly left out of my sound design because they did not translate using the iPad screen (The latest Animoog 2.4.3 update also added velocity support in the form of initial vertical touch on the iPad screen). Of course Animoog can also be played on a regular keyboard via a MIDI interface as well, but with very limited touch response.
Video showcasing the new MPE version of the Song-Haven presets:
All this has prompted me to create a slightly revised version of my Song-Haven bank, to better accommodate the velocity touch factor. But as with most everything, there are limitations. The Animoog has only four modulation slots. I had used all of these slots in most of my presets for various modulations, mostly relating to touch. As such, for this new MPE friendly preset bank version, it has been necessary for me to replace some of these slots in order to make velocity control settings. A small number of these settings, such as Mod Wheel control over LFO created vibrato were first among those I chose to remove, because they are unnecessary with MPE instruments, which are capable of natural vibrato playing instead. Otherwise, I would try to choose what I felt were the least important mod routings to replace. As such, this new version is necessarily a little bit of a compromise. Whether to use this newly revised preset bank version would depend on your playing preferences and what instruments you may have to play it. Animoog may seem to take on a different character when played from an MPE enabled controller, because of the different way of playing it (such as downward pressure for aftertouch, instead of vertical finger placement). It may take a bit of getting used to. I also found that many of the presets had a better playable range if I transposed the Seaboard controller down an octave. A greater emphasis on velocity control also make many of these presets more responsive on a regular MIDI keyboard as well.
Here’s an improvised Animoog solo by Satri, using the original (non-MPE) ‘Nebula Vector’ preset of the Song-Haven pack:
As the new MPE version of the “Song-Haven bank” involves some tradeoffs, there are some things to consider. On the Animoog, velocity control over volume requires that the “volume control” (to the right of the key controller) be set for the minimum velocity value. You may notice that in many of the presets in my new versions, the volume control seems to be set rather low, which is specifically for this purpose. Therefore, changing this control (whether from the iPad screen, or from an external controller) will override this setting, which will change or even eliminate this programmed velocity response. As such, an alternative for master volume control should be considered. But if you primarily play the Animoog from an iPad/iPhone screen, this newer MPE/keyboard version is not really recommended, because since the initial velocity position also controls poly-pressure (as mentioned above), the results are a compromise and may restrict playability.
For those who have purchased my Song-Haven Animoog bank, I’m offering this new MPE and keyboard friendly version free of charge, and will be offering both versions for those considering a purchase.
To new owners, the Song-Haven bank is available for $6,99 by sending money directly to Steffen via Paypal. There’s a total of 50 new presets, with some of them requiring that you already purchased the Acoustic and R. Devine packs in order to access their timbres.
To use Animoog with an MPE equipped instrument, go to the “Setup” tab in Animoog. In the MIDI section, set the CH. parameter to “MPE”. The pitch bend range can be changed also, but the most instantly compatible setting of 48 will give you a very desirable four octave glide range! Make sure that your MPE equipped controller is also set to transmit MPE and that the pitch bend range on both devices match. That’s all there is to it! Enjoy your new found musical freedom of expression!
One of my ongoing quests is to find an alternative controller for Animoog that would suit my playing style. This post focuses on the compatibility and capabilities of the Linnstrument and the ROLI Seaboard with Animoog now that Animoog supports MPE, aka Expressive MIDI.
Animoog MIDI MPE Support
Animoog 2.4.0 released about a month ago brought support for MPE input with note-per-channel MIDI controllers. This changes everything. Everything when it comes for Animoog to support sophisticated MIDI controllers.
What is MPE and why it matters so much? MPE is an extension of the MIDI standard that stands for the Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression specification. It is also known as ‘Expressive MIDI’. You’ll learn a lot more in this previous post a year ago about MIDI MPE’s development and its technical specification.
In short, this new way of leveraging MIDI messages makes it possible to control the multiple expressive parameters of a single Animoog note over the same old MIDI cables. The ‘core MIDI specification’ wasn’t built to handle multiple dimensions per note. Dimensions in Animoog? Think of modulations such as the different polypressures or orbit rates for every note played.
The advent of MIDI MPE significantly reduces the limitations external controllers had when it comes to controlling advanced sound synthesis instruments such as Animoog and Model 15. If I’m not mistaken, it also enables better means to record Animoog performances over MIDI (I haven’t made experimentations myself yet, but I plan to — and of course, I’ll publish my findings on this very site). Expect more and more controllers and apps to support MIDI MPE over time. And be happy, thanks to Moog developers, Animoog now supports it! :-)
The LinnStrument by Roger Linn Design is one of the alternative controllers for serious players. Yes, it’s different from the MIDI controllers we’re used to, but don’t be afraid by this grid of lights, just look at how others play with it and you’ll understand why it attracts that much interest. Every cell will reacts to z-axis pressure as well as x / y-axises for vibrato and modulation. Pitch slides are easily performed on the LinnStrument’s x-axis. The Sonic Lab video below will show this to you.
The LinnStrument also happens to be built and played by incredibly friendly people! I wanted to try the LinnStrument and Roger Linn himself nicely arranged a meeting with a LinnStrument owner in my home city of Montreal. That’s how I met with the wonderful Nathanaël last April. Nathanaël happens to work for the famous Moment Factory studio. He generously spent time with me on his LinnStrument, testing not only Animoog (which at the time didn’t support MIDI MPE) but also let me test how it feels to actually play on the LinnStrument. Thanks a lot Nathanaël!
Unrelated to the LinnStrument, here’s a short video by Nathanaël showing Animoog controlling LED lights with note velocity and polyphonic aftertouch.
Sonic Lab just released a 22-minutes video review of the Linnstrument, and guess what, it extensively features Animoog! :-) This video not only gives you an idea of the capabilities of the LinnStrument, Gaz Williams goes into the details of many of its features. This is a must-see video to anyone looking for an alternative controller for Animoog.
After trying the LinnStrument last April, there’s one question I asked the LinnStrument developers: can we select playable notes ourselves, just like we can select which Animoog keys show up on the iPad? The answer is essentially no. From their FAQ:
Q: LinnStrument's rows always contain consecutive semitones (chromatic scales). Is it possible to set it so that the rows contain consecutive notes of a specific scale, for example only major scale notes while skipping over the accidentals?
A: It is fundamental to LinnStrument’s design that each of the eight rows always contain only chromatic scales. While it is true that some controllers (like our Tempest drum machine) permit you to set consecutive pads to play only scale notes (for example, only major scale notes, skipping accidentals), this is really only useful for controllers with few pads like drum pad controllers or Ableton Push. However, LinnStrument has 200 note pads so it is not necessary to delete any notes of the chromatic scale. The problem with removing the notes outside of the scale is that you can't play them, which is useful in all but very simple music. There are other problems with non-chromatic scales: 1) you must always change the scales to play in different musical modes so you never get a chance to develop any playing skills because the notes are always moving. 2) Pitch slides will no longer be consistent, with larger jumps between note pads that are a whole tone apart than between those that are a semitone apart. 3) Vibratos on a pad with a semitone interval on one side and a whole tone interval on the other will be asymmetrical, bending twice as much on the whole tone side than on the semitone side. Instead of preventing you from playing accidentals, LinnStrument borrows an idea similar to the piano keyboard's black and white keys: it provides access to all the notes but highlights the naturals. By default, it highlights the natural notes (C, D, E, F, G, A and B) in green lights and highlights all “C” notes in light blue lights, but you can change it to highlight any scale and in any of 6 colors (red, green, blue, cyan, magenta or yellow). This is done in Global Settings / Note Lights.
While I understand their valid arguments, I still think that it’s the single absent feature that stops me from purchasing a LinnStrument. The good news is that the LinnStrument firmware is open source, anyone can modify the LinnStrument’s software. Enthusiastic players could thus implement this features themselves. I thought of crowdfunding this feature with Bountysource for everyone to benefit from it. I went as far as creating this little explanation of what I was looking for.
My recent discussions with the main LinnStrument firmware developer highlighted the following: “there are physical spacers between the rows of LinnStrument that prevent smooth transitions across cells in the vertical axis.” Despite this limitation, I still foresee this LinnStrument keys layout as valuable and being a useful way to play Animoog on it, similar to how we can configure Animoog’s keys on the iPad. At this point, the LinnStrument developers aren’t interested in even maintaining this feature if we successfully implemented it. I of course respect their decision and it made sense to me to postpone working on crowdfunding this feature.
But don’t stop yourself at my sentiment regarding this feature absent from the LinnStrument, the LinnStrument is clearly an excellent alternative controller and it usually pleases bass and guitar players because of its keys layout, Gaz Williams explains why in his extensive review. Here’s a nice LinnStrument track from Geert Bevin to give you a sense of how it can be played.
If you haven’t seen the ROLI Seaboard yet, I’m glad you’re reading this. One could dare think this keyboard came to existence to be Animoog’s companion. Let’s first have a quick look at what the Seaboard can do — notice the x & y gliding effects in the video, akin to the slides our fingers do on the Animoog keys on the iPad.
The following impressive video successfully demonstrate the Seaboard capabilities with human-like voice. No wonder why the ROLI Seaboard won several awards!
Ok, but how does this the ROLI Seaboard sounds with Animoog? We’re very lucky, Steffen Presley, the sound designer who created the Song Haven pack of presets for Animoog, recorded the following video showcasing Animoog on the ROLI Seaboard Grand.
The ROLI Seaboard has the scales physically locked to the piano scale, meaning my main reticence to adopt the LinnStrument is also valid for the Seaboard. Steffen Presley also warns us that playing micro-tonally, which was possible on the GRAND but never the RISE, is not an option anymore. Steffen provide the details in the description of the following video. Those interested in having access to this feature again should request it to ROLI directly.
Can I have a ROLI Seaboard? You can and you have multiple options. The smaller ROLI Seaboard version available is named the Seaboard RISE, the 25-keys is priced at $799 and the 49-keys is $1,199. The latter is currently out of stock. I haven’t found a comparison of the RISE and its bigger brother the Seaboard GRAND, but the GRAND features more inputs and outputs and has different keywaves. It also costs more, the 37-keywaves GRAND Studio is $1,999, the 61-keywaves GRAND Stage is $2,999 and the ultimate Limited First Edition version featuring 88 keywaves is $8,888.
For such an expense, you’ll probably want to try how a Seaboard feels like and sounds like before purchasing one. Here’s the worldwide map of ROLI Seaboard retailers. Trying one is the next step for me — despite the fixed scale, will I fall in love with it?
Expect more surprises
We’re just at the beginning of a new era of controllers and advances like the LinnStrument and the ROLI Seaboard are pretty exciting. Combined with Animoog, the most popular iPad synth, there’s certainly lots of wonderful explorations ahead! And expect even more surprises in the future, hey, synths are even making it to the augmented and virtual worlds. You got that right and this is nicely demonstrated by the Behringer DeepMind 12, which crosses the chasm and dives into augmented reality. The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed ;-)