Hifana Hardware Up Close

Japanese turntablist duo Hifana have some pretty good finger drumming chops of their own as they show in their live sets made up of MPC’s, turntables, and CDJ’s.  They keep Korg Kaoss Pads around for effects and even some live drums and drum pads to splash organic sounds into the mix.  The only MIDI specific controller in this setup is the padKontrol though it’s likely triggering samples off their MPC, a popular move if your pads are worn out or you want to double your playing surface. This video from their last DVD takes you up close and personal with their gear via spy cams mounted on their hats and fingers!

For their new DVD and album 24H which dropped this past July it looks like they’ve embraced their MIDI controllers and USB capabilities.  Wonder what software they’re using…?

See more hardware mastery by searching Hifana on Youtube and check the links below to see the specs on some of the gear they use.

Two of the Best Finger Drummers on the Planet

Are the days of the drum kit numbered? Probably not. But samplers and drum machines have become instruments all their own and some musicians have gotten pretty craft at playing them live without sequencing. Here are two guys that are amazing at working within the limit of 16 buttons:

Justin Aswell from the group Mr. Invisible has some of the illest MPC routines I’ve ever seen. Pretty incredible what he’s able to get done inside the box without a laptop. Recently though Native Instruments threw the Maschine at him to see what he could do with it. Results Below:

Drummer David “Fingers” Haynes focuses more on triggering organic drum sounds on a laptop. Oddly enough his controller of choice is an Alesis HR-16 drum machine in a lot of his early videos. Amazed he’s able to get this expressive with this 80’s drum machine.

Korg stepped to Haynes with their nanoPAD and and his playing is equally as astounding on this entry level controller:

Guess 16 pads is more than enough!

Birdy Nam Nam Making Turntablism Listenable and Cool Again?

The DMC team competition produces some of the most musically rich material with up to four DJ’s creating multilayered battle routines in the tradition of The X-ecutioners and Invisibl Skratch Piklz. But DMC has become a fairly insular community where only other DJ’s and breakbeat/scratch fans follow the contest and seek out the cream of the crop in the turntablist community. Birdy Nam Nam seeks to break out beyond that.

Their initial approach to the Team DMC format was rooted in song writing with parts from their songs spread across custom made records. Listening to their studio album you might not even know it was composed using turntable techniques, and a lot of their songs are pretty damn catchy. Playing live Birdy Nam Nam is instantly accessible as you can see them performing every sound you hear, avoiding the plague of a boring laptop show.

It’s looks like over time they’ve has adopted Serato and Midi controllers, but they still stick to the same ideals when playing live by having each member perform parts of a greater song. They’ve also infused their sound with some more upbeat dance tunes (like the one in the video above featuring great animation from Will Sweeny) seating them nicely in France’s electro scene. Here are some vids of them pleasing both beat heads and electro kids in the live setting:

What’s Up with Virtual DJ?

In their final DJ Expo update ScratchWorx revealed big changes to the upcoming version of Virtual DJ that will let it mix on “up to 99 decks.” This is meant to come in handy for controller users who want to mix on four decks (the American Audio for instance or some Denon controllers ship with light versions of Virtual DJ).

But wait hold on UP TO 99 DECKS?  Hearing this made me curious about Virtual DJ. Who’s using it a who’s it really meant for?  Here’s what I found out:

Virtual DJ may not be seen as the flashiest software, but it has a huge user base around the world and an active community online. It’s compatibility with many audio files (including karaoke files) made it popular among mobile DJ’s early on in the laptop game. The LE version of the software also gets you mixing internally at a pretty low price which may have gotten the attention of laptop DJ’s just starting out.   Poking around the Virtual DJ website a bit I found out the Pro version has some interesting open features built in. I can’t attest to the performance as I haven’t used Virtual DJ but it boasts some pretty heady ideas. Perhaps people would want to see this stuff in Serato or Traktor? Here’s what grabbed my attention:

Plugins: There’s a sizable library of effects plugins you can download from Virtual DJ. Users can also program their own plugins in C++ and submit them for download. Pretty neat for programmer heads and keeps the effects section expandable for users.

Skins: Being able to select your on screen interface would really appeal to DJ’s who want max comfort and usability. Skin’s again are programable and thereby customizable for the programming savvy.

Video: The native version of this software does video. No additional plug ins or purchases needed. And you can download or program your own plug ins for video as well.

So in review, this software mixes on 4 (or more) decks WITH video and has customizable skins and audio effects. Throw in the Numark Virtual Vinyl for turntablists and this software surpases Traktor, ITCH, and Scratch live as far as features doesn’t it? Serato and Native Instruments will presumably catch up in the video department but perhaps retain the additional costs (Sratch-SL comes at a heavy price tag for the add on alone). The changeable skins and expandable effects are interesting ideas, but I imagine downloading and programming mods for your DJ software comes at the expense of stability.

And it’s all about stability isn’t it? Serato and Traktor users often stick by the product because it’s what they are used to and it works. Numark hasn’t done a particularly good job marketing Virtual Vinyl as a viable scratch control option (the video above showing the total control plus DJ mixer PLUS interface as the setup seems cumbersome and counter intuitive). Numark has also jumped ship in some ways by endorsing ITCH and the NS7 as their next gen controller. Yet while staying out of the realm of club and scratch DJ’s Virtual DJ maintains a loyal fan base. Without experiencing the program for myself it’s tough for me to comment on VDJ further, but I’ll stand by the old adage that it’s not about the software you use, it’s about the end result and your performance and creativity as a DJ.  It’s cool to see new controller and scratch options coming out to help users of this program take their game to the next level as well.

Any VDJ users out there?  I want to hear from you as to why this is your software.  Leave your comments below!

Taking It Back Back: Galang vs Galang

The 2009 Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll ranked Vijay Iyer’s Historicity as the finest jazz album of the year.  I’m sure you’re all aware of the media attention that MIA has similarly received over the years.  Both artists have performed a song entitled Galang, composed by MIA.  DJ Wayne and Wax decided to see how loyal to the original the Iyer Trio take was, so he got on the Ableton and made a mashup of the two.  It’s kind of awesome, and possibly better than either of the individual versions are alone.  Check the vid to see and hear for yourself.

galangs from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

Flying Lotus Controller Rig

While checking out the line up for this year’s Decibel Festival I found this cool picture of Flying Lotus in what looks like his home studio.  I remember seeing a photo on his myspace with some synths and other noisemakers as well, but when working with his software of choice Ableton Live it looks like he’s got an Akai MPD24, a Novation ReMOTE 25 SL MKII, and a Monome (see prior post on how these are similar to the Novation Launchpad). Not sure how up to date this is but some great gear and a great photo by Evan Hurd!

If you’re not familiar with the king of space beats check this interview he did with XLR8R a few years ago.  Jump off from there to check his music videos and production. He’s sure to blow your mind!

Going to the gig with Chris Devlin

Caught up with my Jamaica Plain cohort Chris Devlin in my travels this week. He wasn’t on the way to any gigs but I got a quick glimpse at what he usually throws in the bag over his home setup. Here’s what he carries:

  • Macbook laptop
  • Serato SL1 box
  • 4 Shure m44-7 needles
  • Line 6 Echo Park delay pedal
  • Boss SP-202 Dr. Sample
  • Lacey external hard drive
  • assorted records and Serato vinyl

Chris likes to get creative when DJing solo with a Line 6 delay pedal and the original Boss SP-202 Dr. Sample. He also holds down a rock solid set behind rappers Spank Rock and Amanda Blank and carries two pairs of Shure m44-7’s to be extra fail safe.  His external hard drive holds Logic sessions for working on the road.  Chris doesn’t use a midi controller when he DJ’s but has sort of “customized” his Macbook keyboard, painting and trading out keys over time to put the controls he needs in plain view.  Pretty neat!

Catch up with Chris’s production and bloggage at FullyFitted.com.  And send me what’s in your bag if you’ve got the makings of cable pasta in there!

HID vs. MIDI: What’s the difference?

Do you use a Midi controller when you DJ? Do you notice lag when moving sliders or working with jog wheels? Have you wondered why when using the mouse or keyboard to control these same controls there is no lag? If so, the difference may be between HID and MIDI control. HID is what’s commonly used to read your mouse and keyboard movements. Read on and I’ll try to explain the differences between HID and MIDI the best I can here:

MIDI stands for Music Instrument Digital Interface. It was adopted in the 1980’s by instrument makers to let hardware synthesizers, drum machines, and sequencers communicate with each other regardless of their manufacturer. MIDI works by pushing a series of messages to a the device receiving them like note number, note on, note off, note velocity, and values for slider and knobs known as continuous controller messages. With this digital interface already in place, when computer sequencing and synthesis entered the scene it embraced MIDI as a means of interfacing with keyboards and controllers already out there. The signals coming in from a MIDI instrument can be adapted for different purposes. Note number and on/off messages can control the transport features of your DJ software for instance, but you’re going to be limited by the speed at which your computer is able to break down those midi messages and translate them to your DJ software. This can vary based on your processor and USB port speed. Most software is now optimized to work with MIDI controllers and respond great for pushing buttons. The detailed and expressive continuous controller messages needed for jog wheel and faders may not be as responsive from MIDI devices and you may notice more lag time between your controller movements and computer response due to latency in the midi signal. Even small amounts of latency are noticeable when you’re trying to play your controller as intended while being expressive and in time with the music. For these functions HID may be a more responsive solution.

HID stands for Human Interface Device, which is a protocol used by USB devices like a mice, keyboards, and game controllers. The state of your HID device is constantly being monitored by your computer, and button pushes or mouse clicks are seen as changes in it’s state which are read right away. Rather then wait for a message to arrive from a MIDI controller to process in real time, HID protocol lets your DJ software keep constant tabs on your controller and see movements of a fader or a jog wheel the way your OS can see movements of the mouse.

Controllers using HID first came to my attention in the description I read of the Traktor Kontrol S4 and how it’s jog wheels would be more responsive because of it. Come to find out that there are a few controllers taking advantage of HID, but this may be where companies are finding new ways to make these controllers software specific. The VCI-300 for instance, sends MIDI that can be mapped to any software, but sends HID control specifically for it’s accompanying software Serato ITCH. I imagine the afore mentioned Kontrol S4’s HID features will only work with Traktor.

It seems about time we move on from MIDI. Being used to old school MIDI cables and interfaces, I remember plugging in the first USB controller I got and thinking “Why send MIDI through a USB cable, shouldn’t there be a more efficient way?” HID may present that way, but because the protocol is more sophisticated and largely device specific, it may be a while before we see it used as a middle man for user assignable control interfaces. For now though Serato and Traktor users can look to these devices for better feel and response from a controller.

Check below to see some of the controllers we carry featuring HID control of their specified software!

The Bridge for Serato / Ableton now in Public Beta

Dj buzz of the day is that the long talked about Bridge feature that connects your Ableton sets to Serato rig and vice versa is now in public beta for anyone to download. You need to run new beta versions of both Ableton AND Scratch Live or ITCH so if you’re down for the beta fest hit up the Serato Forum to get started. You need to be a registered user of both softwares to get it working but it appears the demo of Ableton live should work as well for non Ableton folks.

Check out the vid from Scratchworx below to see the new features: