DSI Tempest Users Appeal for an Update

DSI Tempest 2016

The Tempest from Dave Smith Instruments is a monstrous drum machine designed in collaboration between Dave Smith and Roger Linn. The feature set that DSI took on for this beast is beyond ambitious and five years since its release it is still missing some features and suffers from a few significant bugs.

By no means does this make the Tempest unuseable. I constantly use my Tempest for live performances and in the studio and I love its capabilities. The problems arise under specific circumstances. For example, a legato mode with glide for monosynth sounds has yet to be implemented, so I can’t use it play bendy lead lines with portamento as I am wont to do. For me this isn’t so bad because I can play those lines on another synth and focus on using the Tempest as a very flexible drum machine.

However, we all use the Tempest in different ways. Because I have many approaches to it I often have to jump through hoops or find alternatives. Other users have found that it doesn’t live up to its potential and either sell the machine or shelve it in hope for an update. A community of users at DSI Forums have created a petition to DSI for an update. If you own a Tempest please follow the link below to participate in the petition. The Tempest is a great machine that’s still in production, so it makes sense for DSI to invest in a little bit of fine tuning.

Help make the Tempest a priority for Dave Smith Instruments

Solo Hardware Set Thursday with DSI, Elektron, and Moog

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I will be performing an all hardware set using the DSI Tempest drum machine, the Elektron Analog 4, and the Moog Sub 37 this Thursday, October 22, 2015. Fellow music technology wizard, Robert Luna, will start off the evening drumming with his band Houseluna at 7:00pm followed by my set at 8:30pm. The event is being held at The Pourhouse at 10 S 5th St, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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I’ll be playing a similar set to my last solo event, The Taming of the CPU, but with enough variations to keep it interesting if you happened to catch that show. Listen to the track below to get a brief sample of what I’ll be performing. We hope to see you there!

MNKINO Film Fest: Familiar Pavement with Aaron Marx

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On August 13 I had the pleasure of performing an original film score to picture at the Landmark Center in St. Paul for MNKINO Film Fest 2015. The event featured more than twenty short films with original scores. Most of the scores were performed to the films by a talented orchestra assembled for the event. I wrote and performed the music for the film Familiar Pavement by Aaron Marx.

Performing my four minutes of electronic to the film in real time was quite challenging. I did not use any time lock, relying on the original BPM and finding a good starting point to get the timing right. What made the timing critical (and a little tricky) was that I had processed the original film audio with filters and reverb so that it sat well within the arrangement. However, once I found a good marker in the film and practiced it several times I was well prepared.

The original score used the DSI Tempest for all the drums and the Elektron Analog Four for bass, pads, and an arpeggio. The melody line was sequenced on the Analog Four control voltage track and played on a Korg Monotribe (if you didn’t know that was possible read this). At the event I added the Moog Sub 37 to the setup so I could harmonize and embellish the melody lines.

How Do You Do Your Live MIDI Sequencing?

Arturia BeatStep Pro

While advancements in music technology have led to amazing new instruments, some popular musical devices and applications fail to accommodate musicians with rudimentary to advanced skills in traditional techniques. Don’t get me wrong! I am all for making music technology accessible to the masses. However, with the inclusion of a few key features these devices and applications could not only be good fun for those without formal music education, but also useful for those with it. Furthermore, including those features would encourage non-traditional musicians to develop new techniques and expand their capabilities, knowledge, range, and interaction with other musicians.

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One example of this is the step sequencer. Once again, don’t get me wrong! I love step sequencing. I even built a rudimentary step sequencer in Max back in 2009. Later on I made it into a Max for Live device that you can download here. Step sequencers are everywhere these days. At one point I remarked that it’s hard to buy a toaster without a step sequencer in it. To date that’s hyperbole, but step sequencers have become ubiquitous in MIDI controllers, iPad apps, synths, drum machines, and modular systems.

I love step sequencers because they encourage us to do things differently and embrace chance. However, for pragmatic music making anyone with some basic keyboard technique will agree that being able to record notes in real time is faster, more efficient, and more expressive than pressing them in via buttons, mouse clicks, or touch screen taps. Simply including a real time record mode in addition to the step sequencing functionality would improve the demographic range and usability of these devices and applications. Many instruments already do this. Elektron machines all have real time recording, as does the DSI Tempest (although it lacks polyphonic recording). Arturia has gone a step (pun intended) in the right direction with the BeatStep Pro allowing for real time recording, also without polyphony. Also, most DAWs handle real time MIDI recording beautifully. So if all of these solutions exist, what’s the problem?

For the last five years I have been developing ways to perform as a soloist without the use of a laptop computer. Q: Wait a minute, don’t all those machines you’re using have computers in them? A: Yes, but they are designed as musical instruments with tactile controls and feedback. They also rarely crash and don’t let you check Facebook (yes, that’s an advantage). There’s a whole series of arguments both for and against using laptops for live performance. Let it be known that I have no problem with anyone using laptops to make music! I do it in the studio all the time. I may do it again live at some point, but currently I have been enjoying developing techniques to work around the limitations that performing without a dedicated computer presents.

Cirklon courtesy of Sequentix

These performances include two to five synchronized MIDI devices with sequencing capabilities, buttons, knobs, pads, and/or a keyboard. I may start with some pre-recorded sequences or improvise the material, but usually it’s a combination of the two. As a musician, producer, and sound designer I have been collecting synthesizers for years and have no shortage of sound making machines. What I am lacking is a way to effectively and inexpensively manage sequencing my existing hardware in real time and with polyphony for live performances. Solutions that do more than I need and therefore cost more than I’d like to spend include the Sequentix Cirklon and Elektron Octatrack. There are also vintage hardware solutions like the EM-U Command Station or Yamaha RS7000. This is something I’ll investigate further, but usually they are bulky and difficult to program on the fly.

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What I’d like to see more of are small, modern devices that push the capabilities of live sequencing into new realms while maintaining the practical workflow techniques trained musicians rely on. It’s happening to an extent and internally on the Teenage Engineering OP-1 with their frequent firmware updates. It’s happening on a few iPad apps, but most of the MIDI sequencing apps still lack real time recording and/or polyphonic recording. The Pyramid by Squarp is the most promising development I have seen in this department recently (more about Pyramid at a later date, but for now read this from CDM). Have you found a device or app that handles all your MIDI needs? Do you know about something on the horizon that will make all your MIDI dreams possible? What devices do you use manage your live MIDI performances?

The Taming of the CPU Part 2 at Honey

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On Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 10pm (in other words, tomorrow) Taming of the CPU is happening at Honey in Minneapolis. I’ll be performing a set of new material using the DSI Tempest, Elektron Analog Four, and Moog Sub 37. This set was only played once before last January. Live coding artist, Mike Hodnick (Kindohm), and Ableton guru, Lucas Melchior (MKR) are also on the bill. All three of us are recipients of the Minnesota Emerging Composers Award (MECA) for electronic music.

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Chris LeBlanc will be performing live visuals at the show in response to the musical performances. This time he will be driving projections and a CRT video wall with an LZX modular video synthesizer hooked up to receive audio, MIDI notes, and/or gate clock in order to respond to the rhythms and amplitude of our sets.

Please visit the Facebook Event Page for additional details.