Art + Music + Technology

NOTE: This podcast is presented as a collaboration with for the presentation of people working with and creating expressive MIDI controllers. You can listen to the podcast here, on the synthtopia website (in an embedded player) or on iTunes. But you can also read the article as well as search for information by viewing the transcription available here:

Roger Linn is one of my Music Tech heroes. His development of the sampling drum machine has defined a significant portion of my musical life, and I still surround myself with tools that he designed or helped develop.

In this podcast, Roger and I get to chat a little about how he got started (including his design process for the MPC, which is a little mind-blowing!), his current mission to replace on/off switches and how he perceives his own future. He also gives us some real-life example of the value of expressiveness in MIDI controllers, and talks about the musical implications of this effort.

I was blown away by Roger's relaxed attitude about these incredibly genre-altering creations, but he's the first to admit that it's the musicians, not the gear-builders, that make the difference. But in the meantime, he's out there obsessing for the good of us artists, and I couldn't be more excited.


Direct download: podcast_153_RLinn.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

I'll admit it: one of the reasons I moved over to Eurorack systems was because of Make Noise music. I found the Maths module a remarkably musical combination of utility and fun, and the Optomix has the right bump for the money. It also had a kooky look that screamed "fun" instead of "study more"! So yeah, it was a pretty easy transition...

I was pleased to get a little of Tony's time for the podcast, and he didn't disappoint - not only did we dive into the development of his modules and systems, but I also got him to talk a bunch about how he got started in electronics, and what were the influences that drove him forward. We also talk a bit about his manufacturing process, and how he things about running a modular synth business. It's a great interview, and really reveals a lot about how great a person Tony really is.

I hope you enjoy this, and if you aren't familiar with Make Noise, you should check out their work. But in any case, enjoy my chat with Tony!

Direct download: podcast_152_TRolando.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 7:21am CST

Tim Place is one of those amazing guys that, at a fairly young age, has already accomplished so much. He is one of the main designer/programmers behind the Jamoma project, developed the Teabox sensor system (as well as designing and building the best sensors in the business...), created the Hipno plug-in package and has been developing objects and systems for Cycling '74 for almost a decade.

I was anxious to talk to Tim for many reasons, but one of them was to talk about his efforts in getting his doctorate in music, why he sort of stalled out on that process, but how he was also able to leverage that experience into a useful career. And his discussions about career are somewhat familiar to me as I surf the variety of people that make it in music tech: he puts out a lot of feelers, works really hard on a lot of things, and one of them happens to 'hit'.

In Tim's case, a number of these things are still on-going concerns, with the Jamoma package at the forefront. But it's interesting to talk to Tim about his continued interest in C++ coding, his re-entrance into math (a subject he abandoned in high school) and his approach to trying many things in search of The Right Thing.


Direct download: podcast_151_TPlace.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 8:38am CST

Here's one of the great ones.

Tom Erbe is an amazing cat. He's been on my radar for almost as long as I've been serious about electronic music; his early work with Soundhack (subsequently expanded into plug-in and app form) was inspirational, and opened my ears for computer music outside the realm of standard sequencing. He's a serious experimental music engineer and producer, and has implemented a Williams Mix performance and recording (available on his personal website). Most recently, he's garnered a following for his work with Make Noise on the Echophon, Phonogene and Erbe-Verb.

I watch amazed as Tom float from hardware to software, all the while creating head-bending, fun results. With all of that, it's amazing to find that he's the most laid back, easy going person you'll ever talk to. What a great talk!



Direct download: podcast_150_TErbe.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 1:04pm CST

I don't often get to talk to superstars - there are simply too many layers between who I am and what they do. So, generally, gear and creativity talk aren't in the mix for most stars' PR blitzes. However, Jesse Carmichael (Maroon 5) and Jason Lader (pretty much EVERYBODY!) have put out an EP as "The Circuit Jerks", and they reached out to me to talk about the process. This release, called EP1, features some unusual tracks, including two 1:11:11-long tracks that are pretty mind-bending.

What I really enjoyed about this conversation is the recognition that star status doesn't change your passions - and these two guys are rabid modular fans. I'm sorry that this chat is going to disappoint Maroon 5 fans that want to know about Jesse's love life, or train spotters that want to know what kind of shoes Elvis Costello wears in the studio. We talked hard core gear-geek talk, praising Doepfer modules, video performance tools and imagining a future of net-based sync.

Alas, at the end of the chat the real world steps in (the manager hung up on us *exactly* on schedule), and we go on our merry ways. But for a little bit, we really got an insight into the point of passion in your work, and how excitement expresses itself in music-making. This was a lot of fun, and I owe these guys for sharing the time with us.


Direct download: podcast_149_CJerks.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 10:46am CST

Douglas Eck and the Magenta Project first came onto my radar by doing a podcast that was posted on the Web Audio API Weekly email, and I found his discussion about music and machine learning to be compelling and focused. I reached out to him, and things came together quickly: he invited me to Google for a visit with his team, and also got the planning into motion for this podcast. Once it cleared all the hurdles, we were on!

We didn't have a lot of time, but it is clear that Douglas is experienced in presenting the Magenta team's vision "in the time allotted" - whatever that time might be. He certainly packed a lot of information into the small amount of time I was able to talk to him. Trying to understand how machine learning can work within a musical environment - as well as how it can draw musicians in, rather than pushing them away - is something I'd never considered, but it is clear that this is a big part of how the team is imagining their work.

If you are interested in musical machine learning as a concept, you'll want to check out the Magenta project at its website, and also get some basic machine learning education wherever you can find it. Hearing about the successes that Google has had with "deep learning" and "reinforcement training" is pretty interesting, and it is exciting to watch this stuff develop from the ground floor.

Want to get involved? The Magenta project is open-source, and is actively interacting with artists and art-tech folks as they are able. Start by reading their site, test-driving their tooling from Github and learning more along the way.


Direct download: podcast_148_DEck.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 9:47am CST

This one was a bit difficult for me: when I'm talking to people about gear or circuits or code, I have no problem. But when it comes to talking about how our bodies work? I'm generally at a loss. Luckily, El Larson was very helpful as I stumbled through the words to talk about what she does. So when you hear me struggling, there it is.

In any case, it is really cool to hear about El's work with the Tibetan Bowls and a modular synth. She's thoughtful about the way that she integrates the instruments into her practice, and is also willing to talk about it. So finding out how she works, how she prepares for a session and how she deals with the variety of personalities she encounters - it's all in the open.

Additionally, though, it's great to hear about a completely different musical practice, and to find out how sound can be used to physically help people. I've not participated in a session (although now I'm pretty intrigued), but I've heard incredible things from friends, and am very curious.

In addition to the sound practice, El is also an active artist/performer - with a recent high-profile project with Millie Brown being a prime example. Balancing the practice with the artistic urge is at the heart of El's life, and it was really interesting to learn more about it.

You can learn more about El's work at her website. Enjoy!

Direct download: podcast_147_ELarson.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 12:19pm CST

What can be said about Robert Henke that hasn't already been said a thousand times? A tireless inventor, music producer, visual artist and programmer, Robert has been at the front of so much - and for me he's been a constant inspiration. He's also become a good friend over the years, and I can believe it's taken me this long to interview him for the podcast. But I always want to be careful about his time; luckily, he's at a good point for a chat, and you get to listen in!

In this talk, we go over Robert's ideas about music gear, collaboration (he's worked with some amazing people...), balancing different types of work, and choosing areas to explore. He also reveals himself to be an "obsessed pragmatic": he's has a love for detail, but he has to fight his inner voices to make sure that he produces work.

Who can't understand that?

So please enjoy this talk, and if you get a chance, give a listen to the latest Monolake release: VLSI. It's a great combo of analog, digital and hybrid, and makes for some inspirational listening.

Direct download: podcast_146_RHenke.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 8:15am CST

Marielle V Jackobsons has a very interesting practice: she's part of Date Palms, does live work with bassist Chuck Johnson, and has developed an amazing instrument that she calls a "Macro-Cymatic Visual Music Instrument". She actually was a history of building unlikely instruments - and most of them are focused on vibrations in some interesting way.

If you can't quite imagine what I mean, you should start by checking out her website: (click on the big image to get into the site...). You can get a nice tour of her artistic statement as well as a lot of her work; once you see it, you'll want to find a way to see and hear a live show. 

With her recent release on the Thrill Jockey label, Marielle delves deeper into the mix of computers and analog systems, melodies and ambiences. It's an excellent release, and has been on constant play here in my hideout. But diving back into some earlier work (Date Palms, the Glass Canyon release) you can find a variety of styles, influences and even instrument use.

A relaxed and enjoyable chat - it was awesome to find someone with so much comfort talking about their process. Enjoy!

Direct download: podcast_145_MJakobsons.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 10:06am CST

When my friend and coworker Andrew Benson said "Hey, you ought to check out Jonathan Snipes!", I didn't think I'd get what I did. The work that Jonathan is doing with the band clipping is a whirlwind of machine-gun rap magic and bizarre - and amazing - sound design. The use of hand-grabbed samples and handmade synth lines conjures up the best of old-school rap while simultaneously pointing to the most up-to-date sound design and music production techniques. Remarkable.

Then, in talking to Jonathan, I find out that he's got his fingers into movie and TV music as well, and has a history doing show design work with Max, and does all this realtime manipulation during shows, and...


Rather than tell his story here, I'll let him do it on the podcast. But you should also check out his personal website:, and also see him in action, doing the live variation thing in this YouTube:



Direct download: podcast_144_JSnipes.mp3
Category:Performing Arts -- posted at: 8:19am CST