User interface case study: Propellerheads Figure

As I contemplate my masters thesis, I’m looking for good examples of beginner-centric musical user interface design. Propellerhead’s new Figure app has been a source of inspiration for me. It’s mostly wonderful, and even its design flaws are instructive.

Figure drum programming interface

I have a long history with Propellerhead’s software, beginning with Rebirth in 1998. I’ve made a lot of good music with their stuff, but have also experienced a lot of frustration, mostly due to their insistence on slathering everything with unhelpfully “realistic” design.

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Why do people like Girl Talk?

I don’t enjoy Girl Talk’s music all that much — I find it overwhelming, like watching someone flip channels on a TV. But I think he’s really important, and anyone who cares about music, technology, originality and ownership should be paying close attention. Adam Bossy raised an intriguing idea in his answer — describing an unlikely pairing of Black Sabbath and Ludacris, he observes: “It sounds as though each song was originally written with the other in mind.” At his best, Girl Talk finds connections between seemingly distant genres and styles, and shows that maybe the commonalities run deeper than the differences. This is a big idea, and an exciting one.

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Anna and I caught one of the best performances we’ve seen in years the other night by Tune-Yards.

My friend Andrew, who was at the show, said this afterwards: “I can’t decide whether hearing the president say ‘This is not class warfare, it’s math’ or the fact that this band could become popular makes me feel more optimistic about the possibilities of life in America.”

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White people and hip-hop

A little while back I went to a screening and discussion at NYU of Blacking Up: Hip-Hop’s Remix of Race and Identity, a documentary about the wigger phenomenon by Robert Clift. I’m a very white person who has been heavily involved with “black” music over the years, like for example rapping an Ice Cube song in public on more than one occasion. So this is an issue close to my heart. Here’s the trailer:

And here are the first three minutes of the film:

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Björk thought she could organize freedom, how Scandinavian of her

I revere Björk above most other musicians. She knows how to balance the coldness of electronic production with hotly unpredictable vocals and instrumental textures. Not everybody loves Björk as much as I do; her approach is eccentric and her sound gets on some people’s nerves. It took me a couple years to be convinced by her. I’m glad I hung in there, because she’s been one of my best teachers in the art of making music with computers.

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