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

Tags: Busy Busy Busy

June 2, 2018

A Grid-Based Lifestyle: Sound Experiments 003

by Chris Randall

Yeah, it's been a minute since an AI video, but we're gonna get back to that now. Readers may remember a series of experiments I did back in 2011/2012 with touchscreen-based control paradigms (here, here, here, and here, with some absolutely stellar discussions about usability in the comments.) Those were admittedly somewhat early days for the entire concept; the iPad had only been out a couple months when I started those experiments, and the idea of an app-based control paradigm was a fairly new thing.

Fast forward to 2018, and shit has progressed a bit, and people are generally used to using touchscreens for control. The reason for the video above isn't really about experimenting with the control paradigm, since that's pretty well-trod territory by now. I'm coming at things from a different angle. I've used a monome for years now, and I have a Max4Live step sequencer for that platform I've written that is pretty much only useful for me, and that I'm very happy with. However, I was using it last weekend, and I got to thinking that it would be dope if I could record control gestures along with the beats. Obviously, the monome itself is kind of shit for that sort of thing, so I first "ported" the control logic for the monome to a JUCE app, so I could run it full screen on a touchscreen monitor. When I did this, I was able to break out all the unlabeled control buttons to dedicated buttons, and improve the pattern memory and such.

After that, I gave each lane a four-bar gesture recorder; there are three gestures in all, and the X, Y, and Z planes can be assigned to any parameter in Live. (In the quick demo above, I generally have them going to effects sends and suchlike.) The sequence memory and control is hosted in the M4L patch, but the gesture recording and playback is hosted in the JUCE app. Note this is running on a separate computer entirely from the one hosting the Live session. (It is, in point of fact, that little Intel NUC, stuck to the back of the monitor with double-stick tape. It is communicating with M4L on the host computer via OSC over my home wi-fi network.)

There are actually 10 lanes of gesture recording; in the video above, if you look closely, you can see them labeled D1 - D6 (the drum lanes), Bass, and S1 - S3. I don't actually use the non-drum ones in the video, but they're there and working. There are 8 banks of 8 patterns, and each pattern has its own gesture memory.

I could easily add more buttons to where I could control the session entirely from the app, and not have a Push2 there, but there's no sense re-inventing the wheel. The purpose of the experiment was to proof-of-concept fast, intuitive real-time control of a Live session from a separate computer's touchscreen, and I'm pretty happy with things so far. The next step is to try to put together a whole song (or several songs) to perform; this isn't great for writing as it requires a lot of prior preparation. But for performing, I think there's a lot of potential to be explored.

Side note: the two synth pads I play towards the end are both Quanta. That fairly major undertaking is reaching its final stages, and the synth is perfectly usable in a session now. So yay for that!

May 24, 2018

hardfault process...

by Chris Randall

Between going to Superbooth (which, taking prep and recovering from jetlag in to account, sucks up almost 2 months of my time) and working on Quanta and our complete catalog rewrite, I haven't had a whole lot of time to work on music lately, which puts my regimen of one LP or two EPs a year at risk. I am of the firm belief that I can't really offer opinions on how things should be done if I'm not doing them myself, and music tech is no exception to that.

My general habit when I'm working on AD stuff (either Research or Development) is that if I come across something interesting that sparks my imagination, I stop whatever it is I was doing for an hour or two and try to develop it in to a framework. Then, when I have 10-15 of these half-songs stored up, I go through them and pick five that have some sort of sonic relationship to one another, and then finish and mix them all in one sitting. This particular EP departs from that, as the first track, getProcessor, I actually finished some months ago (January, I think) for a podcast, and the last track (strike_332) I recorded and mixed in one sitting yesterday. The other three fit that general description, though.

Unfortunately, this method of working precludes making process videos, for the most part, because the tracks are written and recorded over a fairly long span of time, and pop in to existence at unplanned moments. So, in lieu of a whole slew of process content, I'll just write a bit about each track, based on what I remember.

As I noted above, I finished this track a few months ago as an exclusive for the Headroom podcast. It starts with my usual noise bed (construction of which is detailed in several AI videos), and some synth burbles courtesy of a Reaktor ensemble. The drums are, in a rarity for me, based around a sampled loop, the beginning of 23 Skidoo's 1983 track "Coup". I re-architected it heavily, of course. The rest of the drums are various Reaktor ensembles (I believe the kick is a Blocks patch), working on drum samples I created through my usual methods specifically for the track. The synth "lead" is Basic; I actually played it in via the Linnstrument, then reorganized it with Replicant and Eventide H3000 factory.

This has the usual noise bed. The 3-note bass motif is from Live's Wavetable synth; the chord pad in the beginning is Phosphor, and the granular synth line is the first recorded appearance of Quanta in its early stages. (It couldn't even load samples back then; this is the grain engine working on the sidecar oscillator.) The chord line that doubles the main pad towards the end is also Quanta, in a somewhat later stage; the source sample is an RS09. The burbly glitchy synths you hear throughout are Basic, run through Automaton and Replicant. The drums are Axon for the kick and hat and a reworked field recording run through a whole raft of plugs for the other stuff.

This is a fun one; all the rhythmic elements are from a Max4Live patch that runs in real-time, all synthesized on the fly and played algorithmically. (Thus, it's essentially different every time I run it.) I made controls for density, and the ability to turn individual sources on and off, and that's it. It was quite challenging to put melodic stuff over the top of this. Since the source is all on-the-fly, I was able to tune the harmonic elements of the percussion to match the root, which really makes the melodic part boxy. The melodic elements come from two main synth hits; both of these are Quanta run through various effects (Grind, Eos, Filterstation, etc.). I played them in manually with the Linnstrument. This track is far more abstract than my usual stuff, but it was fun to make, and I'll probably do more like it in the future.

secondary interface
In this track, I was experimenting with controlling feel in weird ways; the song is in straight time, but I gave the bass a dotted 8 LFO, and the snare has a triplet feel done with the predelay in ADverb2 (the new version has a much bigger early reflection situation than the original, so you can time it appropriately.) This results in a track that can either feel straight, swung, or in trips depending on which rhythmic element you latch on to. The foot is just a resonating filter; I don't remember how I made the other rhythmic elements, to be honest, but it sounds like the usual group of glitch plugs (Replicant, Automaton, H3000 Factory, etc.). The pad is Quanta with a heavy sidechain compression, as is the synth hit, which is driven with follow actions in Live, randomly choosing a MIDI note.

This track I wrote and recorded in its entirety just yesterday; I installed Form, a Reaktor Player synth that is part of Komplete, and was experimenting with sending it real-time controller info from a Roli Lightpad Block. I got that interesting drone, and the rest of the track just fell in to place around it. Usual noise bed (you're hearing a ambience around a pyramid in Mexico underneath everything), and the initial drum loop is, in a super extra rarity for me, lifted straight from another song. In this case it is from Chris Carter's 1980 cassette-only release "Electrodub 2." (I had parted it out for a demo video, and I accidentally landed on the loop while sample surfing, and it laid right in there.) I believe it is a CR78 through an early digital reverb. The kick is, like most of my tonal kicks, just a filter self-resonating (two different flavors in this song, natch) and the other rhythmic elements are created much as above, with glitch plugs working on field recordings for the most part. The rolling snare that appears halfway through is a 606 snare through Unfiltered Audio's excellent Fault plug. The granular synth thing that goes throughout is Quanta on a sample of my CS5, and the pad is also Quanta, working on an MKS80 sample, which I played in real time.

May 6, 2018

And That's A Wrap...

by Chris Randall

Superbooth 18 ended yesterday, and tomorrow I'm off to TXL to begin my journey home. So today is (theoretically) a time for quiet reflection. Largely because everything in this damn country closes on Sunday, despite their professed atheism.

Obvs we had no Eurorack to show, as we're not making that format any more. We had already paid for the booth before we came to that decision, and there were no refunds available, so we decided to just go ahead and come anyhow, and show our new software. I've attended many trade shows, but never shown software, so I wasn't quite sure how to go about it. I decided on a small Windows machine running Bitwig to best show off Quanta in all its hi-resolution MPE-capable glory. (In retrospect, we should have nutted up and bought a Surface Studio like the Bitwig guys used; live and learn.) There was a Roli Seaboard Rise 25 attached to this. In addition, we had a 12.9" iPad Pro with my Linnstrument attached to it. This configuration turned out to be pretty good, since the controllers attracted as many people as the software.

One interesting thing to note: this is my third time showing at Superbooth, and at Superbooths '16 and '17, we had quite a few people come up and see the Eurorack-only display and note their sadness. At this show, we only had one or two people that saw the software-only display and be demonstrably sad. This leads me to believe we made the right decision with respect to deprecating the hardware.

In any case, Simon-Claudius did the vast majority of the customer-facing demonstrations, allowing me to mostly interface with other companies and do the various press interviews. This worked out very well, as I'm no longer really physically able to stand at the booth for an entire 10-hour session by myself. I mean, I can do it, but the people towards the end of the day would get some salty comments. "Yeah. It's a fucking plugin. Yay. Go away."

But all's well that ends well. We made some new friends, got to hang out with some old ones, and talked about Quanta a lot. All in all, a successful show. I will be very, very glad to be home with my wife and cats and garden and pool and driving in a city where bicyclists aren't on a suicide jag, though. Once I have my wits about me, expect some high-quality video demonstrations re: Quanta. I also did one of Sonic State's excellent "Meet The Makers" videos with Nick. Until then, here's a fun video from Bedroom Producers Blog. For extra credit, read the comments, then come back here and make fun of them.

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.

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