Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
October 23, 2014

On Creativity...

by Chris Randall

Long-time readers will know my fascination with the discussion of creativity, and its care and feeding; in point of fact, many of you come here specifically for that discussion when it rears its head, and not (evidence to the contrary) to make snarky comments about silly synth-nerd gear.

I've been at this (for values of "this" that equal working in the creative fields) for long enough now to recognize my own limitations and strengths vis-a-vis the creative energy, and in general, to know when I'm "in the mood" and can be productive, without having to go full Barton Fink. (There is a time and a place for that, though, it must be said.) In fact, my general impression of the matter is that I'm so good at recognizing that flow-state, or the beginnings of it, that I actually miss out on a lot of good ideas because I don't bother even attempting a creative endeavor if I'm not "feeling it" or whatever. And I can trigger it at will with a couple simple methods, but I don't feel that the flow-state that I purposefully trigger is as productive as one entered in to unwarranted, or even unwanted.

That's my own personal opinion and experience. In this, as all things, your mileage may (and most likely will) vary.

The reason I put that picture of Jackson Pollack up top: he was one of those lucky son--of-bitches that was the recipient of the Bolt Of Lightning. The Mack Daddy of inspiration flow-states. One of those that changes everything. Whether you like his work or not is beside the point. There was before he made Full Fathom Five, and then there was everything after. His bolt was so powerful it touched other forms of art, and it's not often we get a heavy cross-polination. That's something to remark on.

Anyhow, on to the purpose of this post. In Slate this morning, they published a long-forgotten essay from Isaac Asimov entitled On Creativity. It is an excellent read, given in Asimov's usual conversational style. The purpose of the essay is to provide a framework by which a group of scientists may do research for the government, but it easily translates to "band" or any of the other expression forms we're familiar with. It is, it seems to me, largely concerned with control of the flow-state, mostly in the manner I do myself. I came about my method through trial and error, and it's nice to see it codified and given credence by such a luminary.

If you know Jackson Pollock's history, you'll know that he didn't really just happen on Full Fathom Five by accident. In much the same way as Asimov describes the Theory Of Evolution in the preamble to his essay, Pollock attended workshops with other experimental painters, and was actively searching for a new method of expression to convey to the world what was in his mind. He wasn't gifted this method out of whole cloth; it was the result of taking in other people's work, and talking to other people that were also actively searching for new methods of expression. In the same way, Sgt. Pepper's didn't just happen one day. It was the result of heavy competition, both within the Beatles, and with other bands of the day, like the Beach Boys, and actively searching with an open, experimental bent, for a new way of expressing old ideas, by a group of highly skilled musicians.

In short, a nice gift from beyond the grave Dr. Asimov left us today, and some food for thought. Comments? Criticism? Disagreement?

October 8, 2014

Sequencer 1 Now Available...

by Chris Randall

As the title says. We're "soft-launching" Sequencer 1 today, shipping on Friday. We got the first few units in the office today, and we're going to sell this little batch direct before we stock the retailers.

EDIT: SOLD OUT! We're out of direct sales units, sorry. The retailers will be getting theirs soon; you'll have to wait a bit if you want to break off a line of this action.

If you hit up the AD store, you can get a load of the feature list in the shipping v1.0 software. There is a fairly long list of feature additions that will be rolled in over the next couple months. The v1.1 version of the software, which isn't feature-complete or tested yet, has some ludicrously face-melting features that will essentially make this sequencer untouchable. Other than little stuff we've already mentioned, there are two marquee updates in v1.1 that will basically ruin all. I'm loath to talk about them at this point, as we haven't verified their stability yet, but... wow. Even I was amazed when Adam sprung this shit on me.

In any case, Sequencer 1 is, and will be for some time, our flagship product. We basically bet the entire company on this thing, and it needs to do well. If you live near one of our retailers you'll be able to check it out in person as we stock them. The manual will be up in the store by Friday, but honestly, it's pretty self-evident for the most part. If you're familiar with Elektron products, this will be a walk in the park for you.

If you have any questions about functionality or any of the features mentioned on the AD site, here's the place to bring it up.

September 18, 2014

Various Things And Stuff...

by Chris Randall

And now I want to start every sentence with a conjunction, in the hopes that it'll annoy Chris Killer. But that's just petty. Or is it?

Anyhow, this is my usual "here's what we're up to" post that I put up in lieu of having actual editorial. Adam is in Japan for the next few days for a well-deserved break from embedded programming, and I'm doing stress-testing on the (nearly) final software for Sequencer 1, looking for bugs. I made the video above while testing external sync and Seq1->Seq1 slaving. The video isn't meant to demonstrate those features, but rather while I was testing this nice little groove presented itself, and I thought I'd pop off a quick footage-chunk.

Other devs, do you find yourself making music while developing or testing? I do all the time. Most of the "experiments" or whatever I put up are exactly that: something I came across while either researching or bug-hunting. Another example of that very thing:

I wanted to test out the Granz Graf visualizer for M4L, and just threw a big stack of AD plugs in some various channels. Ended up accidentally a music. That's how these things happen, I guess.

As a return to the subject, a status report: Sequencer 1 is in production. It is being built by WMD in Denver. The PCBs have been made; they're waiting on the little octave up/down buttons, which are on back-order. The metalwork for the panels has shipped and should be here tomorrow or Monday. Software is in RC1. Basically, we're in it to win it at this point. Won't be long before you can buy this bad boy.

In other news, in the last few days I've sharted out a bunch of DRM removals and updates on the plug-in line (watch the Audio Damage Feedburner feed in your RSS reader of choice to keep appraised of that situation, or follow me on Twitter). I updated the UI of Automaton to be a little less Gameboy-hokey as well. Dr. Device today (barring unforeseen circumstances.) As with all of these, we're not doing any feature additions, strictly speaking, just bug fixes, DRM removal, minor graphic updates, signed installers, etc. So if you're not experiencing any issues with your particular iteration of one of our plugs, there's no real need to update.

So that's where we're at. tl;dr: Sequencer 1 a-building, will ship soon. Other shit.

August 26, 2014


by Chris Randall

The video above is outstanding. There's no other way to describe it. I'm not a big Goldie fan, being more on the Roni Size side of the fence when it comes to rollers, but the Heritage Orchestra performing Goldie, with that level of musicianship, and the joy the proceedings bring to the table, is a prime example of the Perfect Storm, where everything comes together, and the energy that it gives off is greater than the energy that went in to making it. (And that, in my opinion, is the definition of art, overall.)

I don't really have anything to say about the performance, because it is both objectively and subjectively outstanding. I do have something to say about this, though:

Here's the thing: it is perfectly acceptable to not like something. It's even acceptable to voice that opinion. Music, like anything creative, is a subjective endeavor. But that comment is a prime example of the form of Internet Fuckwittery we've come to learn is a byproduct of making cool shit. The Dunning-Kruger Effect in full force. (The tl;dr version: the Dunning-Kruger effect is a scientific study that proves the old saw that a fool is certain, while a wise man is full of doubt.)

In my various careers, I've run in to this a lot. There's the pedigreed version, in the form of the guy that writes reviews of records and live shows. There's the semi-pro version, where someone has enough knowledge to make music, but not enough to do it well, and becomes a self-taught expert on gear, but not its use. There's the fan version, wherein lyrics that were generally chosen for their ability to fit in to a rhyming scheme become the subject of debate and broad declaratives about an artist's state of mind. There's the Agile version, where stakeholders and user stories substitute for actually having a vision. It goes on and on.

Chris Killer is phrasing his comment in this form: "I am an expert on the live orchestration and performance of 90s drum 'n' bass, and this fellow needs to work at things a little while in order to properly meet my exacting specifications of what, exactly, constitutes same." Chris isn't, however, an expert on anything having to do with this performance. He isn't even a semi-expert. As far as I can tell, the only relationship he might have to this performance is that he bought a Goldie record once.

And there's the rub: it's okay to just say "I don't like this." Leave it at that. "In my opinion, this isn't done the way I like to see Goldie's music done." That's totally fine. Everyone's okay with that. But when you're all "I KNOW EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS THING AND YOU DID THIS THING WRONG EVEN THOUGH IT'S YOUR THING AND NOT MY THING" you're running a serious risk of coming off like a fuckwit.

August 19, 2014

Notes In A Row...

by Chris Randall

The next big hardware product from Audio Damage, Sequencer 1, is about to go in to production (one could argue it has actually already entered that state, as the front panels were ordered and the 1st Article is being made). I've posted about Sequencer 1 previously here, and there is a lengthy thread (at the time of this writing 19 pages of discussion) on the Muff Wiggler forum here. There's no product page in the AD store yet, but that will be coming in the not-too-distant future, as soon as we have panels to do a proper product glamour shot.

Anyhow, the video above is the first of what will no doubt be many missives issuing from my office, now that the software is nearing completion. I wouldn't say we're at RC1 yet, but we're getting close; mostly just little esoteric things left. It is highly usable, and other than one major feature (the ability to update the OS from the SD card), it is actually shippable at this point. In the video, I'm demonstrating four key features: the ability to control Hz/V gear (to wit: the Yamaha CS-5), the live looping feature (functionally identical to the MIDI input feature in Replicant), the live ratcheting feature, and external sync (via Silent Way Sync and an Expert Sleepers ES-4, from Live.)

We wanted to do two things with this sequencer:

1. Take the normal concept of x0x note sequencing in the modular context and make it highly live-playable/tweekable.

2. Make a sequencer that could do the traditional Tangerine Dream/JMJ kinds of things one would expect, yet also be pertinent to modern-day electronic music styles.

That second one was inevitable, as Adam likes more traditional e-music, while I vastly prefer, as is apparent from what I make, modern house, minimal, and IDM. Making a sequencer that would please both of us was a difficult prospect, but we've managed it.

Here's a an ambient piece I did last week. Most of it is live tape manipulation, but the bassline is a four-measure pattern from Sequencer 1, and the percussion sounds are also triggered from the sequencer.

Anyhow, that's where we're at. Sequencer 1 will be US$599.00, and will be available starting in early October, direct from AD or via our many retail partners. This is the most ambitious product we've ever undertaken, and we're very proud of the result.

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