Find the perfect present
You might think that buying a Christmas gift for your music-technology-obsessed family member or friend is going to be difficult. How on earth do you go about finding something that they’ll like when you don’t even know what it is that they do?
However, it’s actually very easy. Electronic musos can’t get enough of gadgets, gizmos and other assorted ‘stuff’, y’see, and they’re always convincing themselves that something they merely want is actually something that they absolutely need. Just get them a gift that flashes or makes noise (preferably both) and they’ll be over the moon.
To make things even easier for you, we’ve put together a list of bits and bobs that any self-respecting studio hound would be happy to receive on Christmas Day. And if you haven’t got anyone to buy for, don’t worry: just spend the money on something for yourself.
If someone tells you that they want a modular synth for Christmas, you might be tempted to remind them that greed is one of the seven deadly sins, but hang on, because Bastl’s Kastle is a mini modular that’s also pretty affordable.
Battery-powerable and designed for producing "unique modulations and lo-fi sounds," this tiny marvel can be used on its own or interfaced with other gear. It features a "complex" oscillator and LFO with stepped waveform generator, and a mini patchbay.
Let’s face it: the Christmas TV schedules are mostly filled with repeats and misjudged festive ‘specials’ of shows that you don’t really like anyway. Any synth fan will surely appreciate Bright Sparks, then, a documentary that shines a light on the individuals and companies behind the classic synths we all know and love. It can be purchased standalone or with a concept album by I Monster of the same name.
The film focuses on a selection of key companies - Moog, Buchla, ARP, Chamberlin, Mellotron, EMS, EDP and Freeman - and features interviews with some of their key personnel. These include Peter Zinovieff (EMS), Ken Freeman (Freeman), Herb Deutsch (Moog), Alan Robert Pearlman (ARP) and John Bradley (Mellotron).
If synth porn is a thing, then this is from the top shelf.
Yamaha wireless MIDI adapters
If you know someone who’s been making noises about wanting to transmit MIDI wirelessly over Bluetooth, they might appreciate one of these handy little adapters from Yamaha.
Designed to add wireless capability to pretty much any MIDI instrument/controller, these are the UD-BT01, which connects via a USB port, and the MD-BT01, which plugs into standard MIDI ports.
Once hooked up, these enable you to do the MIDI over Bluetooth thing. The adapters are compatible with iOS and Mac OS X.
ROLI Lightpad Block
As we all know, the true meaning of Christmas is bright and twinkly lights, and you’ll find plenty of those on ROLI’s new Blocks music-making platform for iOS.
Blocks are small, Bluetooth controller devices that clip together magnetically. The idea is that you buy more as you need them, extending the capabilities of your setup as required.
The Lightpad Block sits at the heart of the system and is the place to start. This has a glowing pressure-sensitive interface that you can use to 'shape' your sounds with presses, swipes and other gestures. Used in conjunction with the Noise app, you can play beats, melodies, chords and more.
Cast your mind back to Christmas 1990, when you dodged the in-laws by retreating to your bedroom to play Tetris on your new Nintendo Game Boy.
Now it’s time to rediscover that monochrome masterpiece, as Nanoloop Mono is here. This creative cartridge turns the original Nintendo handheld into an analogue synth that comes complete with its own step sequencer.
"On the original Game Boy models, one pin of the cartridge connector functions as audio input, connected to the built-in amplifier,” says creator Oliver Wittchow. “This unique feature allows you to generate sound on the cart and play it through the headphone output on a completely analogue signal path.”
Nanoloop Mono also sort of works on the Game Boy Pocket and Color models, but if you want the full experience, you need the original.
Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth
There’s a fine tradition of self-building at Christmas - just think of all those Lego, Meccano and Airfix kits you got through when you were a kid - and Modal Electronics’ CRAFTsynth slots into it perfectly.
This is a portable, digital monophonic instrument that comes with two oscillators, a low-pass filter, an LFO and effects. We’re assured that it can be built in 10 minutes and without powering up a soldering iron.
As such, the lucky recipient should have it up and running before the Queen’s speech (unless they’re posh and don’t open their Christmas presents until late afternoon, that is).
deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production Masterclass
Who wouldn’t want to receive the gift of knowledge, especially if that knowledge relates to electronic music production and comes from a sweary pro?
Yep, deadmau5 is on hand to ensure that this is not only the season to be jolly, but also the one to be hunkered down in your studio watching 20 videos of him composing, mixing, mastering and getting a bit angry (probably).
The course kicks off in Winter 2016, we’re told, and there’s a handy ‘give as a gift’ option.
If one of your loved ones happens to be frustrated by their new iPhone 7’s lack of a headphones jack, the plugKey might be their favourite Christmas present of 2016.
Connecting over a Lightning cable, it has a 5-Pin MIDI In port, while L/Mono and R line outs are on 1/4-inch jacks. There's an additional 1/8-inch mini headphones jack and a micro USB port for charging, plus a volume knob.
So, you can listen, charge and plug in a MIDI controller all at the same time. Hallelujah.
Most electronic musicians have a MIDI controller keyboard of some sort, but the KeyStep offers something genuinely different to most of its rivals.
As well as its 32-note mini keyboard and pair of touchstrips, it also features a built-in polyphonic sequencer, arpeggiator and chord mode.
There's a USB connection, for hooking the controller up to a computer, MIDI In and Out ports and CV Pitch, Gate and Mod outputs. There are also mini-jack Sync In/Out ports, which will work with pulse clock devices, such as Korg's Volca range, or can send and receive DIN Sync messages via a (separately purchased) adaptor.
The KeyStep is a flexible little fella, then, and we’d be happy to find one under our tree.
Star Wars Headspace
Plenty of electronic music makers are Star Wars fans, so why not treat the digital tunesmith in your life to an album that’s inspired by goings-on in a galaxy far, far away?
Star Wars Headspace contains samples from the films and was executive-produced and curated by Rick Rubin. The cast of contributing producers includes Flying Lotus, who offers R2 Where R U?, Röyksopp (Bounty Hunters) and Bonobo (Ghomrassen).
You can also hear Rustie's EWOK PUMPP and Breakbot's Star Tripper, while Rubin himself has contributed a track called NR-G7 and a rework of Jabba Flow, one of the tracks written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and J. J. Abrams (AKA Shag Kava) for The Force Awakens.
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators
The PO-20 arcade has a chiptune vibe, the PO-24 office is a noise percussion drum machine, and the PO-28 robot features 8-bit synth engines.
All very retro, then, but what’s Christmas without a bit of nostalgia?
Tiny TS synth
You may have encountered countless promises of ‘making music on the move’ from many a manufacturer, well here's one instrument that comes good on that promise. The Tiny TS synth is one pocket operator you’ll actually be able to get in those skinny jeans.
The synth has Audio/CV/Gate outputs and six synth parameter dials. The keyboard can also turn controller by utilising the CV outputs: 1V/oct and Gate.
You can either buy the Tiny TS ready built, or plump for one of the build-it-yourself options. The more hardcore DIYers among you might want just the PCB only, whereas your average weekend-soldering-junky might want the full kit with all the parts. Either way, get that festive log off the table and steady the nerves - it’s building time!
Vintage Synth Trumps 2
The follow-up to the original Vintage Synth Trumps (we still treasure our well-thumbed set), this classic card game features 52 synths, each of which has been rated in 12 categories.
You can probably guess how the game works: simply divide the cards equally between players, then take it in turns to read a stat from your top card. Everyone else reads the same stat from their top card, and the person with the best result wins the round and takes all the cards that were in play.
You continue in this vein until one person has all the cards and is declared the winner. Vintage Synth Trumps 2 features a slew of famous synths from the likes of ARP, EMS, Korg, Moog, Oberheim, Roland, Sequential Circuits and Yamaha, all of which are represented by specially-commissioned images.
Computer Music or Future Music subscription
If you want to give a gift that lasts throughout the year, a subscription to one of our sister magazines could be just the ticket.
Both come packed with news, reviews, technique features and interviews with the pros, and if you subscribe you’ll save money and guarantee delivery of every issue. Choose from print or digital options or get them both.