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

Tags: Busy Busy Busy

June 25, 2017

Evolution of a Produkt...

by Chris Randall

In early 2008, I got it in my head that Audio Damage needed a multi-band distortion. Like most Audio Damage products, this one came about because of a personal need. I like the general idea of multi-band distortion, but at the time, there was only really one available, Ohmicide. To be clear, Ohmicide is a very good product, one that has stood the test of time. The problem was that it had a very distinctive sound; I could pick it out of a mix from a mile away. And this distinctive sound wasn't really conducive to what I was trying to accomplish at the time.

So after begging and pleading, and much rending of garments, I somehow talked Adam in to making such a product for AD. We decided on a very simple topology, with a multi-selector for each band's algorithm, a simple resonant lowpass filter, and our normal compressor code (as heard in Rough Rider), configured for a one-knob "moar" kind of situation. And Kombinat was born.

This was the first UI we did where there were procedural knobs; this is very much a hybrid UI, where I'm using a fake screen element to display the flat stuff. But you can definitely see how my mind was working at the time.

Anyhow, it did fine, in line with our other products that aren't Eos, Discord, or Dubstation. We weren't going to finally buy that volcano lair or anything, but it sold pretty consistently. Like Ohmicide, it has an unique character that is easy to pick out if you know what you're listening for, but being far less popular than Ohmicide, there wasn't as much of a danger of having That Sound. It worked for what I needed, so I was happy.

Fast forward to 2011. In the intervening three years, screen resolutions had been creeping up, and Kombinat, with its hard-coded selector image maps, was getting difficult to read. I also wanted to experiment with a truly flat user interface, something that, aside from Live, was not common in music software. I'm sure there were other reasons as well for revving Kombinat to a version two, but they aren't coming readily to mind. But the upshot is we decided to rev it, and this is the first UI I did totally flat. It is still image maps, but instead of filmstrips of 3D Studio Max knobs, we're drawing most of the elements procedurally. We named it Kombinat Dva, because "Kombinat" is Russian for "Combination," and "Dva" is Russian for "two."

Kombinat Dva added six more algorithms (including my favorite thing we've ever made, "Nerd Rage"), a second filter topology, and a feedback loop. Since the nature of feeding back on a ridiculous conglomeration of distortion algorithms and resonant filters would result in some fairly hairy tones, I came up with the (I thought) clever idea of giving the feedback loop an envelope, triggered off the input. Which is why it has attack and release controls. Adam was fairly puzzled by this, but he built it, and it works great. The feedback control makes the entire thing fairly unstable, and I'd frequently get customers writing asking could I please make the noise stop and why did I hate them and other such ponderings. I inexplicably decided it needed seventy presets, as well, which is about sixty five more presets than anyone ever uses. Go, me.

Anyhow, Kombinat Dva did significantly better than the first one, but still lived somewhere in the middle of the field as far as our product line goes. Six years on, and Kombinat is now the ripe old age of nine. Time for Kombinat Tri.

Tri is, of course, Russian for "three." So it makes sense and is clever on enough levels that I can feel good about myself. Which is all I really ask at the end of the day.

Anyhow, this version of Kombinat gets the JUCE-ified look that all the current line are getting. Since I did the new Dubstation 2 UI in plain black-and-white (just to see if I could, really), I went the other way with Kombinat Tri and made it very colorful. We also added what I call "the filter package," which is a conglomeration of all our current filters that I like for musical applications. The destruction algorithms are unchanged, but we went through and fixed a couple little things that were resulting in DC offsets that made some people unhappy. And finally, we added a mix control, something that is of incredible usefulness in a multi-band distortion, come to find out.

The UI, like all of the new ones, is resolution-ecumenical. In addition, like all of our current re-rolls, it picks up VST3 and AAX support. It will also get a standalone and AUv3 version for iOS in the near future.

For people that know what a useful tool the Kombinat series is, they'll be very happy with this update, which extends its usefulness while keeping the core Kombinat "sound" totally intact. For people new to the Kombinat style, well, they'll be equal parts frightened and surprised, as has been the case for nine years now. In the Audio Damage store now.

May 22, 2017

Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight! Vol. 2: The Reckoning...

by Chris Randall

Lo these many years ago (or maybe six years ago), I went and whittled myself a standing desk solution. All the cool kids were doing it, and it seemed like an excellent idea. I didn't, however, take one thing in to account.

If you read the original article, and pay attention to the fourth paragraph, you'll note that one thing I discovered early on was that I needed to get my monitors in direct line-of-sight. Not long after I moved to that configuration, I added a third monitor, a large Dell 10-touch monitor. (The first mass market cap-touch monitor available, as it happens.) This lived directly under the two original monitors, and you can see it in this configuration in many of my videos and photos of the last few years, as I've used this three-monitor system to good effect.

Anyhow, as it turns out, getting old kind of blows. Not long after I went to this configuration, I needed to get progressive lenses in my glasses. Due to the modular side of the Audio Damage Order Of Battle, I've spent a lot of time with my standing desk and three-monitor rig; when developing plug-ins, I work primarily on my Macbook Pro, and just lounge about the house or on the porch, wherever the mood strikes me. But the embedded dev needs quite a bit of infrastructure, and has to be done at my desk.

Since those monitors are basically six feet off the ground to meet my sight-line, I had to tilt my head back to align the reading portion of my glasses with the text on the screen. I didn't even really know I was doing this, but one day I happened to put the IDE on the lower monitor (normally, Live runs on the lower one so I can touchy-feely plugins, and the IDE runs on the upper left, while the upper right gets folder duties.) When it was down low, all the sudden my neck pain went away. Total accidental discovery, as I didn't know what the cause of the pain was.

So, in general, lessons learned from 6 years with a standing desk: if you can see well, it's a better way to work. It was especially nice during music making, when I'm moving about wiring shit up or whatever. However, if you have progressive lenses, it may be more trouble than it's worth. Take your pick: mild back pain from sitting all day, or mild-to-severe neck pain from leaning your head back to read the screens. I decided to return to back pain for the next while, and eject the standing desk.

tl;dr: my office went to bare walls last week. Today I was able to use it again. Sitting down. And it is much more orange than it was before.

May 15, 2017

Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury...

by Chris Randall

Long-time readers will know how comically funny this screenshot is. (Either that, or a blatant display of hypocrisy. 6:5 and pick 'em.) That right there is Eos 2 as a 64-bit AAX running in PT12. We've just pushed the v2.0.2 of Eos to the store, and the installers on both platforms include AAX. All future releases will also include AAX.

It is worth noting here that the person that we had a "disagreement" with at Digidesign is long departed, and Avid reached out to us with an olive branch. You can also blame almost constant haranguing from Eric Beam and Don Gunn, both of whom have been driving me absolutely to distraction with requests for AAX.

So finally I caved and was like "how hard can it be?" As it turns out, not hard at all. The only difficult part was figuring out the PACE/Eden signing on the Windows side of things, and Sean Costello of ValhallaDSP gave me some very helpful guidance there.

So, long story short, babies under the bridge, throwing the horse out with the bathwater, etc. We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia. Grab that 2.0.2 installer and get yourself some AAX.

May 8, 2017

Eos Dos...

by Chris Randall

Now that the hardware side of the business is chugging along, we've turned our attention back to plugins. After some soul-searching and rending of garments, it became obvious that some serious re-building was in our future to make sure our rather extensive product line stays pertinent and healthy as we start knocking on the door of our 3rd decade in business.

First one on the block was (depending on how you count) either our second- or third-most popular plugin, Eos. We're rebuilding everything in JUCE, so that we can offer and support all the formats from a single codebase that is well-supported and gives us a lot of different options. So these ports aren't really ports as such, but complete ground-up rebuilds. In the case of Eos, the biggest problem was the user interface. It still held up okay on normal-res screens, but on Hi_Res and Retina, it looked cheap and awful. Also, a continuing point of contention with me has been the lack of a common platform-agnostic preset mechanism.

Early last year, we released FuzzPlus3, which was built with JUCE and made with a completely procedural user interface. (That is to say that the UI is all code, no images at all.) It also had an XML-based preset mechanism that Randy from Madrona and Sean from ValhallaDSP came up with. Several tens of thousands of downloads later, nobody seemed to have any problem with either the OpenGL interface or the preset mechanism, so I figured they were safe to roll in to a paid product.

With all that in mind, I set to it. I decided on a darker look for Eos 2, and instead of a static background, I used a GLSL shader to give me a little animated blob that responded to knobbing, which I thought was a clever trick. We also bared some previously hidden controls (high and low crossover points, which are the corner frequencies for the high and low multipliers) and added a fourth algorithm, Plate 3, which is a derivation of Plate 2 with a somewhat different rendering loop that results in a less dense tail with a wider stereo image.

All in all the port only took about 5 days, and then we spent a week with the testers tracking down all the silly bits. The testers were surprised to hear from me, not having got a new AD plug for some time now. But they were all still game, and now Eos 2 is available for purchase in the Audio Damage store and at Splice. The full version is $59.00, and the upgrade from v1.x is the difference between the two, $10.00.

This version is built with the absolute latest JUCE 5, the current VST3 SDK, and current Xcode and Visual Studio, against the current APIs from both Apple and Windows. So it should be solid for a good long while. Aside from the usual 32/64 VST and AudioUnits, a side effect of using JUCE is that we pick up the VST3 version for free. So that's included, and will be included in all our upcoming rebuilds. This version also removes the anti-denormal math, which caused a very small amount of noise to be added to the signal path. We figure not many people are using a Pentium 4 for music any more, and the ones that are probably can't run a bleeding-edge OpenGL-based plugin anyhow, so that's that.

We haven't decided what we're going to do next; I'm about 70% finished with Basic 2, which is a polyphonic version with much more extensive modulation. We've also got a couple new plugs we've been cooking up, and would like to port some of the advances we've made on the hardware side of things back in to plugin land.

April 9, 2017

Booth, With Occasional Super...

by Chris Randall

Hectic April continues. The Audio Damage event this week at Perfect Circuit was outstanding. Huge turnout, and Baseck did a crazy excellent set. Much love all around, and thanks to everyone that came out and put up with my stream-of-consciousness presentation style. (Roughly akin to standing there and going "BLEARRRGHGGHGGHHH!!!!" for 30 minutes. Good times. Good times.)

Next on the agenda: the very first box of Eos modules will be arriving here tomorrow; I'll have time to test them and turn them around. They're all going to Control in NYC, so until l get back from Europe, that'll be the only place on the planet you can buy them. I'm going to get the product page up today, with specs and at least one overview video.

I buried the lede in that last paragraph. "...get back from Europe." Superbooth is right around the corner, y'all! The marquee event of the Eurorack World is April 20-22 at Fex in Berlin, and AD (in the form of me) will be in attendance, showing off Ensō and Eos, and all our other products. I'm very excited for this; it is, by far, my favorite event of the ones we do yearly, and I'm really looking forward to it. Instead of flying direct to Berlin, I'm going to Prague (much cheaper) and renting a car to drive to Berlin. I'll only be in Prague a couple days, but if any AI readers live there and want to grab a beer and whatever it is that Czechs eat, I'm totally down.

So, tl;dr: LA was fun. The Czech Republic and Germany will be fun. First Eos will be out the door Tuesday. Crazy times!

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