Electronic music-making has never been a more accessible pursuit, and 2015 saw a number of fantastic pieces of hardware and software releases. From iOS apps to MIDI controllers and beat machines, here’s some of the best 2015 had to offer.
Ableton Push 2
The new de facto controller for Ableton Live, Push 2 refines the original into an even sleeker, more comprehensive package for Live’s Session View workflow. Conceived and produced entirely by Ableton (the original Push hardware was a collaboration with Akai), the Push 2 sports a colorful new screen to control the software’s many parameters with its touch-sensitive encoders. There’s a fully overhauled Simpler and sampling workflow, improved pad feel, and plenty more. Oh, and if you own the original Push and want to upgrade, you can return it to Ableton for a 30 percent discount on Push 2—returned units will be given to music-education projects for young people.
A portable beat station roughly the size of an iPad, the Circuit is packed full of polysynths, drums, effects, and sequencing capabilities. There are limitations, certainly, but these limitations often serve as a creative inspiration, allowing for a certain level of focus and play that’s difficult to achieve with the blank slate of a DAW. The Circuit is capable of far more than its size and price imply; both as a production sketchpad and a live beat-oriented performance device, it’s simply loads of fun (and it even runs on 6 AA batteries, so grab a pack of rechargables while you’re at it).
ROLI Seaboard Rise
Perhaps the most exciting release of the year, the Seaboard Rise is a bold reimagining of the traditional keyboard in a portable, beautiful, and relatively affordable package. As well as using the surface of the keyboard to trigger notes, the Rise enables gestural commands along the length of its keys as your fingers drag up and down the surface, as well as vibrato effects by moving between them, aftertouch, and note pressure. The Rise feels like a truly 211st-century instrument, and one that brings with it great potential for experimentation and expression.
Arturia BeatStep Pro
The second time is quite often a charm, and the BeatStep Pro is no exception. It features three independent step sequencers, each of which is programmed with 16 velocity-sensitive pads (with aftertouch), 16 step buttons, and 16 rotary knobs. With MIDI over USB, 5-pin DIN MIDI (for connecting to older MIDI hardware) or CV/Gate with eight CV outputs (for even older hardware), you can connect this sequencer to nearly any piece of professional electronic music-making kit, making the BeatStep 2 an excellent way to get you the heck away from that computer screen (once in awhile, anyway).
Apps of Steel
Another year full of great music production apps, 2015 was highlighted by releases including Alexandernaut’s Fugue Machine multi-playhead sequencer, Native Instruments’ iMaschine 2 digital groovebox, and Korg’s iM1 and iDS-10 synthesizers. Fugue Machine and iMaschine 2, in particular, are pretty much essential if you’ve got an iOS device to run them on—these incredibly powerful music-making tools can be had for a tenner apiece.