Not long ago, I learned a sobering lesson about pet hates and how they can trip you up. I initially dismissed the 1010music BlackBox because it was tiny and had minijacks and a touchscreen. In my head, I wrote it off as a simplified MPC for the iPhone generation. Fortunately, a wise friend suggested I should take a closer look and, if possible, get my hands on one. Thank goodness I listened, because it has completely transformed the way I work.
Winding back a little, I’ll admit I make life generally more difficult for myself because I don’t involve a computer in my music‑making — and also because I clog up when presented with too many choices. I tackled the latter issue by splitting the studio into three discrete hardware setups, each with a sequencer, mixer, some effects and a few synths. But I still hankered for at least some of the advantages of a DAW, not least the ability to capture any worthwhile noise or musical idea, no matter how long, then take it further. It was usually the length thing that caused the most difficulties — but not for the BlackBox.
As I slip slowly into dotage, I tend to go on a bit, spending many happy hours gratuitously oozing ambient music. My lightbulb moment came when I realised the BlackBox is, at its heart, a non‑linear recorder ideal for grabbing, triggering and arranging audio, no matter how long and indulgent it might be, and without multitrack restrictions about lining it all up.
At a stroke, my endless Synthi wails, shuffling granular clouds and reverby piano plinks had a home! And since recordings can be synchronised to an incoming MIDI Clock, I can layer drum‑machine or step‑sequencer performances just as easily. Before I knew it, none of my setups — ambient or rhythmic — felt right without a BlackBox plumbed in ready to glue everything together. I’ve now got three!
I believe the best version of any idea happens when it’s freshly born, and the BlackBox puts the smallest distance I can imagine between that initial ‘wow’ moment and a complete mix.
In the dim and distant past, I always recorded in complete takes, usually with effects, and returning to this level of commitment seems incredibly healthy and refreshing. I have absolutely no desire to ever return to tweaking individual notes or stacking up decisions to be made later. Deep down, I believe the best version of any idea happens when it’s freshly born, and the BlackBox puts the smallest distance I can imagine between that initial ‘wow’ moment and a complete mix.
Some of its limitations even seem to be useful, for example the ‘restriction’ that just 16 samples/recordings are immediately accessible. This forces you to become very picky about which elements are essential. From the perspective of someone who frequently added way, way too much of everything, this is a godsend.
OK, this has been a substantial gush about just one feature of a device that, apparently, has lots of others. Maybe I’ll explore some of them one day, but for now I’m having more fun than I have in years.