I have been talking about Sufi Plug Ins for awhile now… But before we get to the download of version 1.0, let’s start at the beginning:

What on earth are Sufi Plug Ins?

[screenshot from Sufi Plug Ins’ clapping drum machine, PALMAS]

To understand where the project is coming from, we must rewind a bit: As a DJ, I’ve always been interested in the creative mis-use of technology. The Art of DJing began, quite literally, with kids in the Bronx using vinyl and record players in ways for which they were not designed. The Technics 1200 turntable was built to be robust enough to withstand constant playback at radio stations. Guys like Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore used its toughness and transformed it into a realtime performance tool. Similarly, ‘finished’ songs pressed on wax were treated with a brilliant irreverence (doubling, scratching, blending, etc), accelerated and reshaped to become elements of an improvisational mix.

[Grand Wizard Theodore on left]

The genius of those early hiphoppers remains a huge inspiration. They took devices intended for playback only and taught kids all over the world to think of records and turntables as hackable tools, as fragments of a conversation, as ours to open up and tinker with. This participates in a long tradition of radicality in black American music – but we’ll save that talk for another time. When I started making music with a computer after years of DJing, I approached the software with very much a DJ mentality, that deep impulse to push the gear – as well as ideas about what a song or performance is – beyond its normal limits, to flip and extend the possible. Which brings us to the next stage…

[Nettle: Abdelhak Rahal on left, myself, cellist Brent Arnold]

When I lived in Barcelona, Spain, I worked a lot with Moroccan violinist Abdelhak Rahal. The 4/4 time signature that virtually all music software defaults to was not the norm for Abdel, steeped as he was in the rich polyrhythmic diversity of Maghrebi & Arabic music. I would try to bend the software towards these rhythms and he would attempt to make long, sliding violin melodies make sense over stuff like a looping hiphop beat – ‘monorhythmic’ the way the software intended. It was fun, rewarding work. Here’s an essay I wrote about music-making in those days, more than seven years ago now! I learned a lot about Moroccan music, yes, but I also learned a lot about the many assumptions built into music software, which is written almost exclusively in Germany (Ableton, Native Instruments, Steinberg) and the U.S.

Sufi Plug Ins grew out of those experiences. After more than 10 years of working with music software, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what values the good folks in Berlin, Hamburg, and Silicon Valley believe is important in music software. But what about other groups, people whose music has inspired me from traditions far from the Eurocentric / Western norm?

[screenshot from Sufi Plug Ins’ BAYATI synthesizer]

What if you could make music software with *different* assumptions, limitations, and beliefs built into it? For example, if West African griots were to design music software, what concepts and functionalities would they be most concerned about translating into the digital? Or a Berber muezzin, who performs the call-to-prayer beautifully but frowns upon music – could one make music software for him? This is not a rhetorical question – we did. It’s called Devotion, and it’s one of 7 different plug-ins we built and are giving away for free. They include 4 unique synthesizers, a drone box, and a clapping drum machine. Here is the Instructional Video for Devotion:

So – with all this in mind, let’s return to the question

What on earth are Sufi Plug Ins?

I can offer at least three answers:

The Big Picture Answer. Sufi Plug Ins is a an interdisciplinary project dedicated to exploring non-western & poetic notions of sound in interaction with alternative interfaces. (When we say ‘alternative’, we mean it.) I’m hoping to return to Cairo to do some music software teaching and take requests for further Sufi Plug Ins from some of the talented kids over there. Listen to them, figure out what kind of tool could be useful to their very specific circumstances, then build it.

The Immediate Answer. Sufi Plug Ins v1.0 is a suite of seven free audio tools for Ableton (Max for Live), including include four distinct synthesizers hardwired to North African & Arabic maqam scales with quartertone tuning built-in, a device called Devotion which lowers your computer’s volume 5 times a day during call to prayer (presets include Agnostic, Fervent, Devout), and a drone machine. The interface is written in the Berber language of Tamazigh, using their neo-Tifinaght script. Roll-over info texts provide fragments of Sufi poetry (plus a little Jean Toomer).

The Answer In Which you Find Yourself. As tools, Sufi Plug Ins are what you do with them. We make the synth, you make it sing. Connect it to whatever else you’ve got going on in your toolbox… Plug-ins, by definition, are about interdependency.

You can check out some of the early reactions – here’s a lovely write-up by the wizards of Ableton Live, and a smart article over at Create Digital Music.

The plug-ins themselves have been available individually for over a week, but today we’re doing the full official launch. Ableton Live users equipped with Max For Live, head here to download. Not a producer? Don’t use Ableton? No worries: Even if you don’t make music, you can show your support of Sufi Plug Ins with a nice t-shirt.

White logo on black cotton. $20 for U.S. orders includes shipping, $25 includes airmail shipping to rest of world.

U.S. orders – choose your size

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International orders – choose your size

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I also made artist print versions of the Bayati synth and Palmas drum machine plug-ins, available in an edition of 7.

Let’s close with the Instructional Video for Drone. This should explain everything you need to know about this particular Sufi Plug In, and helps voice the project as a whole:


  1. A dj/producer friend of mine told me last week-end that your plugins are very usable and very well designed.

  2. I’m not a musician or producer, but I enjoyed the videos about the Sufi Plug Ins. Hopefully some kid somewhere gets his or her hands on them & creates something special for us. Tambien, quiero visitar Marruecos.

  3. Congratulations Jace!! This is great art. Generous and unique. Bravo!!

  4. thanks everybody!! we put a lot of love & work into these, so its great to get this feedback.

  5. glad i can finally have a practical application for all those i studied tamarzigh
    it won’t be long before you hear these plugs in my tracks, and that isn’t a joke. thanks!

  6. nice to hear that awesome un-plugged adhan! can’t wait to try out these plugins – many thanks for sharing with us.

  7. oh the clap one is nice, dudes!

    also re: supremacy of euro-centric motivation in computer music software:
    i think about this often
    a) understandings of “swing”

    b)thinking about dilla adjusting 64th notes on his mpc on his death bed, exhausted

    c) i always admired the efforts of the beat kangs for making the beat thang, which always seemed like a very admirable david and goliath situation

    which leads into
    d) wider thought clouds of f.u.b.u. intentions vs bending/hacking standardized/ubiquitous tools to uses the ubber-lord-manufacturers couldn’t have imagined… ala herc or prince paul w the lil sk-5 or these dudes
    perhaps especially those dudes
    and the constant hegelian/marxist thesis/anti-thesis/slow awkward synthesis as instrument development races to catch up with the way things are hacked vs the need to sell shit to suburban kids to ignore in their garages, eventually asking too much for them on (NIB) craigslist

    anyway, nice plugins
    i wish i could afford m4l 4ever, im just demo mode ridin til the wheels fall off or the 30 days are up (whichever comes first)
    and i’m definitely gonna use that clapper

  8. I’m SO impressed, and I’m not a producer either. Actuallu this inspires me to do so much more with music, try producing for starters

  9. Thanks so much for these great plugins. I have been very interested in non-western tunings for a while and started using them on the free Linux only DIN is Noise software which I recommend also. All the best B.

  10. HALP! I’m trying to buy the T-shirt but I haven’t heard back from you yet… Please don’t tell you’re out of stock!

  11. this is very exciting… here I am hoping that they get ported to VST very soon, I’m not an Ableton user but would spend a lot of time with these…

  12. As someone who spent their formative years growing up in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, I’m deeply moved by the art you’ve made in these plug-ins.

    I’m not Muslim, but even the devotion plug serves as a reminder (that many often need) to take a moment of reflection, and consider *why* we are creating the music we choose to create. Devotion serves as an excellent reminder of the importance of cultivating humility as well.

    I’m moved and appreciative that you have taken the time and effort to create these, and humbled by your goal. If there’s anything you ever need help with, I would love to aid you in any way.

    In the meantime, thank you 🙂

  13. I was so excited to download this since I’m working on making digital darbouka, ahidous and gnawa project(s)… This seems like a dream come true… Except I don’t have Max4Live! That’s really too bad.
    I hope a VST version comes soon… I’d love to work with Sufi!

    M3 salaamah

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