It looks like I may have chosen the right time to step away from Maschine. Credible-ish rumors and Glassdoor posts are saying that Native Instruments has been gradually letting people go for a few months and just a couple of days ago, laid off 100 people (about 50%) from its Berlin office, including the “product owners” of Maschine and Traktor and “almost all hardware teams.” Former employees wrote about management incompetence and lack of direction. Behringer has apparently offered to hire some people.

There’s also a claim that a new standalone Maschine unit was killed off one day before it was scheduled to go into production. That sounds a bit less credible to me, but who knows?

From the outside looking in, it’s felt like NI lost some of their previous vitality, in recent years. To some extent I thought that was just my perspective changing, but there’s more to it than that. Massive X was released in a not-quite-finished state and was a letdown to many people, Maschine Mikro mk3 has some weird omissions in features, and overall their focus has seemed… just not on.

There’s no official confirmation or denial of anything, but it does sound like there’s still a team working on Maschine. For all anyone outside of NI knows it’s a skeleton crew at this point though? And it’s not as if the pace of updates was rapid or the direction was in things that people were asking for.

Update: here’s some official word.

Their emphasis on “consuming and accessing creative goods and services” makes me think their primary goal is going to be selling loops and samples, and the means to “consume” them (Traktor, Maschine, Kontakt etc.). A lot of people think it could be a subscription service. Whatever. It signals to me they don’t want to be instrument builders anymore. My method of making music isn’t to “consume and access” other peoples’ sounds.

wiggling the wiggy bits

I went through a highly recommended video course for Bitwig beginners, by Thavius Beck. It walks you through creating a… frankly pretty awful tune, but it’s a good demonstration of navigating around the software and using many of its features, and by the time it wrapped up and I slapped together another couple of quick, bad songs it felt pretty comfortable to use.

I really like Bitwig’s flexibility. For audio/effects routing, there are usually multiple ways to achieve any particular goal, and you can pick the one that makes the most sense at the time. For recording and sequencing, there’s a linear arranger as well as a clip-based, loop-oriented one, and you can transfer material between them or record from one to the other. The interface itself has multiple different layout options and it’s easy to switch them as you switch tasks. Several different hardware devices can be used for controlling it (though sadly not the Maschine mk2). And I appreciate that it can run brand new VST3 plugins right alongside 32-bit VST plugins from 2003 with no fuss whatsoever.

I’m confident this will work better for me than Maschine, though I’m holding onto the hardware for a while to make sure. I’m not as confident it can also replace Sound Forge entirely, but I’ll probably do at least some of the post-processing work in Bitwig.

This weekend I briefly poked around the Grid device — modular building blocks to create instruments or effects. Rather easily, I put together exactly the kind of additive oscillator, controlled by the 16n Faderbank, that I had used on the ER-301 on Passing Through. And then I phase modulated it with the Hertz Donut for some fantastic growling tones. That was about 90% of my motive for wanting the SMR, SWN or Just Friends.

Grid also has a whole set of phase-related modules, including a sine lookup module… so I could implement a lot of the stuff I wrote about in “Sine Shaping and You” as well as phase distortion, etc. And they all apply to audio signals too; like Eurorack, Bitwig Grid doesn’t actually care whether any given signal was supposed to be audio, a pitch CV, a gate or whatever.

So the new way of things for me is going to be to keep a core of awesome modules in Eurorack, and throw open the borders between hardware and software. One of Expert Sleepers’ ADAT interfaces will be perfect for this, giving me plenty of inputs and outputs for CV and audio at Eurorack levels with minimal latency.

That gives me a new focus for checking things out at KnobCon, because a lot of situational or utility modules could be handled by Bitwig instead.

Synthesis Technology has “pre-announced” the E520 Hyperion Stereo Effects Processor, about which Paul Schreiber says “we are focusing on FFT/spectral/frequency domain transforms that have not been done 600 times in the past.” Frequency domain effects are nearly nonexistent in Eurorack and other hardware, and rare enough in VST plugins. Panharmonium was a bit of a bust for me, but this emphasis on effects processing rather than resynthesis is very promising.