Abbey Road Innovation night

Abbey Road Studios’ Jon Eades announced new Abbey Road Red innovation and incubator scheme earlier this year, at Music Tech Fest in Sweden. Ahead of the official launch of Red this month, he held a showcase that included Tim Exile.

Tim Exile - pic Terry Tyldesley

Groundbreaking technologies

Abbey Road Studios opened in 1931, and has been a place of many firsts from purpose built recording studios to the first digital recordings. Jon Eades talked about getting inspiration from startups, academics and the maker/hacker community for Abbey Road Red, and introduced a range of groundbreaking technologies.

The theme was ‘assisted music production’ - technologies that augment or assist in the music creation process. They are tools that can help anyone from professionals to the skilled amateur, or someone with disabilities.

Abbey Road Studio 2

Centre for Digital Music - autonomous mixing

First up was Dr Joshua Reiss, Head of Audio Engineering at the Centre For Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London, who talked about his research group’s work on autonomous mixing, and gave some fascinating examples of automated mixing in progress.

He said the group’s starting point was that audio production devices don’t have an ‘auto-focus’ in the same way a phone camera does. “They are essentially deaf”.

C4DM technology

At C4DM they began their project by building an 8-channel system for live sound, that acts in real time. Dr Reiss said it was challenging, as you have to try and define what ‘good production’ means.

They followed on by building a system for post-production, again a demanding task. “Something can be technically correct and dull, and another mix can make you laugh and cry”. C4DM have been doing psycho-acoustic studies, looking at what sound engineers do, and trying to turn that into algorithms.

Dr Reiss said that he doesn’t see the system as replacing sound or mastering engineers, but something that can assist amateur musicians who can’t afford studio production, or a sound engineer in a practice session for example. Another application could be to use the system for game audio.

Zoundio - musicality app

Jussi Bergman from Norwegian start up Zoundio talked about his ‘augmented musicality’ app that makes it easy for unskilled people to start playing and learning music. “ You can play above your skill level if you have a musical idea”, he said, and the demo video he showed went down a storm.

The app is designed to give a computer the ‘concept of harmony’. You can follow the harmony of something that is pre recorded, improve vocals, adjust the level of dissonance/tension, and more besides. The team’s goal is to get it used in education.

Heart n Soul

Ashley Elsdon from Palm Sounds, Justin Spooner and Lily talked about getting creative with new tech at a Make Your SoundLab project called Heart n Soul, that recently featured in a BBC Radio 1 documentary.

The project sets out to help people with learning disabilities make music. “We’re interested in technologies that help people express themselves”, said Ashley, with collaboration also being a key component, using readily available musical technologies.

Ashley and Lily talk Heart n Soul - pic Terry Tyldesley

They wanted to find out what technologies work for which people and in which environment, and companies like Moog and Little Bits supplied them with instruments and apps. It’s very much a two-way thing and the companies found the info they got back on interaction, very valuable.

Lily had been in one of the workshops and said:

“You were made to feel whatever your ability you could make music, and good music - fast, uptempo, today’s music, made our way. It’s fun”.

Tim Exile - Flow Machine

Tim Exile’s Flow Machine - pic Terry Tyldesley

Producer, musician, and innovator Tim Exile introduced his Flow Machine and give an incredible performance, with sounds built from scratch. He started work on his Machine six years ago as he wanted to be able to make music in the moment, that was spontaneous. He was originally a violinist, then moved into electronic music.

“You can create a wall of sound in seconds. It doesn’t have to be like practising scales or endlessly tweaking compression settings”.

Tim Exile’s Flow Machine - pic Terry Tyldesley

The Machine consists of a series of units including USB/MIDI Controllers with Rotary Encoders, plus specially-programmed software, and Tim uses pad controllers including Ableton Push. The Flow has simple levelling and multi-channel compression.

The result is truly liberating for a musician said Tim, who sampled his voice and built layers and loops to create a shimmering new piece of music. “I didn’t design Flow Machine to behave myself,” he told us.

  • For more on new music tech, check our reports from Music Tech Fest Scandi Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3, plus Tom Fox’s blog on Music Tech Fest in Slovenia.