Yes, that’s right, Novation have developed a Twitch! Have you seen it? Do you want a Twitch? Because you could now be the proud owner of a Twitch without even having to perform acupuncture on yourself (Peep Show reference there!) So come on, read on and discover what this new product is all about!
NOVATION TWITCH – THE TWITCHING FREAK… WORKS EVERY TIME!
The Twitch is a brand new DJ controller with a built-in interface from Novation. What makes it different from all the other DJ controllers out there? It’s main unique selling point would be it’s innovative touchstrips, which do away with traditional DJ features, and give you a brand new way to control your mix.
The Twitch has been developed with members of the Serato team (although you can also use it with other DJ software) and comes with Serato’s comprehensive Itch DJ software. Twitch and Itch? They sound more like the main characters in a new children’s cartoon to me…. or perhaps a slang name for a new embarrassing disease… but I guess the name doesn’t really matter, it’s more to do with how it functions…
… but still…
“Hello Mrs. Stachowiak, what did your son get for Christmas?”
“Twitch and Itch.”
Doesn’t have the best ring to it does it! :P
NOVATION TWITCH – REINVENTING THE WHEEL
Let’s begin with the most important feature of a DJ controller… it’s mixing capabilities! As I have already briefly mentioned, the Novation Twitch uses touchstrips as its main control feature. This is a completely different approach to traditional DJ controllers, which tend to use jog wheels, which allow you to nudge or navigate through tracks by spinning the wheel either forwards or backwards. This concept models how traditional vinyl turntables work and you will find it implemented on the majority of CD decks and DJ controllers on the market. However, is the jog wheel really the most innovative way to control a mix now that we have entered the digital era? Why should digital DJs be constrained to the limitations of the ‘wheel’? Yes, it is said to be the greatest invention ever, but digital audio doesn’t need to function in this rotary ‘from start to end’ kind of way, and this is where the touchpads come in…
The new touchpads of the Novation Twitch allow the DJ to perform in a more innovative way than ever before. You could even say that Novation have reinvented the wheel… and turned it into a long LED-filled strip! Whilst it may initially seem strange and unnatural to perform in this way, the touchstrips are actually a whole lot more flexible than standard wheels...
So how do they work?
The answer is, very simply! If you want to beatmatch a track, just swipe your finger back and forth over the touchstrip just like a touchscreen and depending what mode you are in, you will either be able to navigate through the track to find a cue point, or nudge the track to speed it up and slow it down just as if you were pushing or pressing down on a vinyl turntable’s platter (or quickly flicking the pitch fader if you’re trying to be flash!) However, the Novation Twitch can of course simply auto-beatmatch any 2 tracks, completely freeing up the touchstrips for other, more exciting tasks (which I will go into in more detail at later points within this blog)…
NOVATION TWITCH – MIX IT UP
Novation have messed about with the jog wheel, but they’ve left the mixer design untouched, and for good reason! The Novation Twitch follows the tried and tested layout of a conventional DJ mixer, with two vertical channel faders, 3-band EQ on each channel, a ‘trim’ control for each channel (equivalent to the Gain channel dials on a standard mixer), and the all-important cross fader. All very normal… or is it?! As well as giving you complete control of all the effects included within Serato’s Itch software, the Twitch allows you to assign FX to both decks’ faders, as well as rotary knobs in the FX section. This is a really cool feature that allows you to temporarily deactivate the standard level control of the faders, and instead use them to control the assigned effect! So you can perform quick, choppy movements and rhythmic effect patterns, that would be impossible to achieve with a standard effect knob… all very intuitive stuff geared towards fueling your creativity…
NOVATION TWITCH – PERFORMANCE MODES
The Novation Twitch features a number of Performance Modes that allow you to get hands on and utilise some of the most powerful tools included within the Itch software.
When you activate Twitch’s completely unique ‘Slicer Mode’, the unit uses Itch’s powerful ‘Beatgrids’ system to chop sections of the loaded track (based on the current playback position) into eight equal slices. You can then use the eight touchpads on the Novation Twitch to rearrange them on the fly, whilst the Twitch keeps everything playing in time, allowing you to completely mash up an existing song into new and unique forms! You can even adjust the lengths of the slices using two fingers to pinch down on the touchpad! To get a better idea of how this works, it is probably best to watch the video included towards the end of this blog review and see it in action… the slicing portion begins at 2:25.
Slicer Mode isn’t the only performance mode featured on the Novation Twitch though! The Twitch also features ‘Hot Cues’ mode, which you can use to set-up 8 cue points within a track. These cue points can either be saved with the track, or created on-the-fly, and they essentially allow you to jump to any portion of a track at any time you want! You could therefore save cue points at good places to start mixing your track in, or save them at musically important places within a track (e.g. intro, chorus, breakdown, drop, etc) and trigger them when you wish to create a live remix! For example, why not trigger the main drop when everyone is expecting the breakdown to send the crowd mental? Or drop the introduction again when everyone is expecting the chorus, to build up tension? There are no firm rules here apart from to experiment and do what feels right. You can also set up your hot cue points as one shot sample triggers, so you could use each one to trigger a different drum sound and use the pads to play back a unique groove in time with another track… or trigger vocal or scratch samples… or something completely different! The main point to take away is that the Novation Twitch is extremely flexible, and is designed with the creative user in mind.
Finally, the Novation Twitch features two loop performance modes, ‘Auto Loop’ and ‘Loop Roll’. In these modes you can use the pads to trigger loops of different lengths, and you can even save your loop settings with the individual tracks so you can practice at home and then recall them in a live situation. This is also a brilliant feature for creating on-the-fly remixes, and it is similar to how you would load loops into spaces in Ableton Live in the live performance section and trigger them manually… the only difference with the Twitch is that you are limited to 8 pads.
How do these two loop modes differ I hear you asking? Auto Loop mode can be used to set loops whilst you are playing, and each of the pads can be used to set a different loop length, which keeps the track looping around that point until you press the loop pad again, at which point, the track continues to play from the loop point. As with Slice mode, you can also pinch the touchpad with two fingers to make the loop length shorter, or reverse-pinch to make the loop longer.
Loop Roll mode is similar to Auto Loop, but the track continues to run silently in the background when you trigger a loop, and so when you deactivate the loop, instead of continuing to play from the loop point, the track continues to play from a position later on in time, depending on how long you have been triggering the loop for.
One cool feature about these performance modes is that each one lights the pads up a different colour, so it is easy to see which mode you are in without reading any labels. The Novation Twitch illuminates the pads yellow when in Hot Cues mode, red when in Slice mode, and green when in either of the loop modes. If you have ever used a Novation Dicer before, it is a similar principle and as well as brightening up the unit, it’s also extremely useful.
NOVATION TWITCH – THE BUILD
The Novation Twitch is designed for performing and as such it has been built strongly to withstand life on the road, but is also compact to allow you to carry it easily from gig to gig (e.g. in a laptop bag). Gone are the days when it is necessary to lug a massive box of records to every gig… although I personally still prefer doing it the old skool way! The Novation Twitch is built with an aluminium top panel and its modest size means it will fit into tight spaces in the DJ booth or on stage. It can also be powered completely from a USB connection to a laptop so there is no need to take up extra plug sockets!
NOVATION TWITCH – AUDIO INTERFACE
As I mentioned right at the beginning of my blog post (if you can remember that far back), the Novation Twitch also has a built-in 2 in 4 out USB audio interface. This features high-level/low noise stereo main and headphone outputs (all 1/4" jack connections), so you can hook the Twitch directly up to PA speakers or a home audio system, and it will deliver clear 24 bit, 44.1/48 kHz audio. The Twitch also features stereo RCA booth outputs with a Booth Output switch for ‘Main’ or ‘Cue’ (for hooking up a pair of booth monitors). Plus, the Twitch features a microphone input so you can incorporate vocalists and MCs into your sets with extreme ease, and it even features ultra-low latency MIDI drivers! And there’s even stereo Aux RCA inputs, an Aux gain dial, and a direct monitoring toggle switch.
NOVATION TWITCH – SOFTWARE
The Novation Twitch comes with Serato’s powerful Itch DJ software, so you won’t need anything else to get up and running and performing live! However, if you are already a seasoned pro at using another piece of DJ software (e.g. Traktor or Ableton Live), then you will have no trouble incorporating the Twitch into your set-up.
If you are using Traktor Pro, then just head to the Novation website and download their 2 and 4 deck mappings. These mappings automatically assign all the main controls of Traktor to the Touchstrips, knobs, faders and buttons on the Twitch, so you don’t need to worry about spending time doing it manually. Or if you are using it with Ableton Live, the Novation Twitch will allow you to launch clips, control devices, alter channel levels, change the crossfader and more (more comprehensive control for Ableton Live will be available soon)! Just stick the appropriate overlay over the Twitch, and it’s as if the whole thing was designed with another piece of software in mind!
NOVATION TWITCH – SUMMARY
From a DJs perspective I think that the Novation Twitch looks like it’s going to be really fun to play with. I’m not a digital DJ (vinyl all the way!) but I do appreciate the creative flexibility that digital DJing offers and the Twitch seems to offer it in abundance.
I quite like the fact that there seems to be a fair amount of depth to this product… whilst watching the demo video I found myself rewinding on a number of occasions to further analyse what the performer was actually doing and how he was doing it, as he seemed to be doing so much at once! Whilst I wouldn’t describe this product as a complex one, it’s also not something that I would describe as ‘simple’… it seems like one of those products that you could get up and running with straight away, but would take a while longer to learn the ins and outs of all the controls, which is something that makes the Twitch attractive to me. I tend to dislike products that are so simple to use that a monkey could pick it up and rock the crowd at an Ibiza club!
And I can’t finish my summary without mentioning the Itch software, which looks excellent to me and should be all you need to produce highly unique and creative mixes with the Novation Twitch.
So, despite my loyalty to vinyl, the Novation Twitch is definitely something that I am looking forward to having a play with. The Touchstrips seem especially intuitive, and could well be the future of digital DJ controllers… whilst the jog wheel is a trusty feature, it definitely doesn’t offer the flexibility of the Touchstrips. I definitely applaud Novation for trying something different, and I can definitely see this product being a big hit with digital DJs…