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

Tags: Get Off My Lawn


August 14, 2016

Tech Time No. 006: Fun With Contact Mics...

by Chris Randall
 



Part of the problem with having been in this business so long is that some of this stuff seems really self-evident to me. Someone in one of the Facebook groups I follow asked about this contact mic shit, and several others chimed in to say "yeah, that'd be dope!" and I happily complied. The problem is that I don't know how basic to make it.

I think I struck a happy medium here between showing the basic techniques and showing some stuff that more advanced users might find interesting. I'll let you be the judge. Let me know in the comments.

 
April 21, 2015

Crandall's Simple Steps To Avoid UI Suck...

by Chris Randall
 

When I gave my talk on UI design for music software at UCSB, at the end of the talk, I attempted to distill my rant to its essence, and provide a simple set of guidelines for uX and UI for plug-ins and apps for musicians. While some of this seems self-evident, I came up with these steps with the idea of providing some insight in to our world for engineers and academics that might not have any experience with professional musicians.

These are by no means Rules™ that must be adhered to, but rather some simple tips to keep your software product from looking like Pd. Basically. I break them all the time, but I have 75+ commercial products under my belt, so I get to do what I want. :-)

1. LIGHT ON DARK
Musicians are generally either in a dark studio/spare bedroom/basement or on stage, and generally working in the evening or at night. Looking at a bright white slab of screen can be irritating, and occasionally painful. A UI for musicians should be lighter colored elements on a dark background. The accepted guideline for contrast is 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. In real world RGB terms, assuming a black background, your text should be at least #959595 or lighter. (I prefer lighter.) Dark text and elements on a light background just sucks for the most part, but if you do it, maintain the same contrast ratio for any element that provides information to the user.

2. USE A MODERN DISPLAY FONT
Traditional fonts (and yes, I include the venerated Helvetica in this group) were not designed for readability on high-resolution computer screens at small sizes. They were designed for signs and newspapers. Don't use them. Make the effort with a modern display font, designed for modern systems. I am a DIN whore, I won't deny. But you can do far worse than Source Sans Pro, which is free as in your mom, and made by Google specifically for modern high-resolution displays. (Google actually makes quite a few modern display fonts for UI work that are free-ish.)

3. FLATTER IS BETTER
Unless, in addition to being a top-notch DSP engineer, you're also highly skilled at using 3D modelling software to make user interfaces, Don't Do It. There is a place for skeumorphism in audio software: this place is usually reserved for interfaces meant to ape vintage gear, to provide the user with a familiar experience. So I won't dismiss it out of hand. But it's something best left to pros. You're far better off just making a circle with a little line on it for a knob. It's hard to fuck that up.

4. MAKE THE UI FIRST
When an engineer or academic sort is intent on making a piece of commercial (or professional, at least) music software, he/she tends to get the DSP done first, then put a UI on it during or after the process. This results in a product that doesn't have a holistic feel. It is far better to codify your initial DSP idea, then design and code a full UI, then fit the DSP in. There's no law that says you can't change the UI during or after the process, but it really helps make a better product when you're building to a set goal, rather than "seeing where things lead." Sometimes, that's unavoidable, but you should really see where things lead before you draw the first pixel.

5. ASK A MUSICIAN
Designing products for musicians, if you're not one, results in bad products. You wouldn't want to buy a car designed by someone that doesn't drive, would you? There are... well, I won't say "standards," but there are ways of doing things in the music world that can perhaps go against normal uX conventions, and if you've never made music for money, in the studio or on stage (preferably both) then you should get somebody in your Circle of Trust that has, and does. And I don't mean at the beta-test stage. I mean as soon as you have the UI coded. Fitting the DSP in to a musician-friendly context is much better than trying to make a scientific/academic chunk of DSP musician-friendly by brute force after the fact.

Anyhow, these are just ideas that some may find helpful. If I'm way off the reservation, or other designers that read this blog have some different (or better) ideas, by all means hit up the comments.

 
April 14, 2015

Roland On The Case...

by Chris Randall
 



Details of the long-rumored Roland Eurorack modules leaked today, ahead of the Musikmesse announcement. In a nutshell, four 21HP DSP-based stereo effects units (delay, distortion, "scatter" effect, and bitcrusher/filter) with both 9VDC and Euro power connectors on the back, along with USB for Aira connectivity, and the ability to live as a desktop unit. $299 each.

Now, as my time in the music tech business has lengthened, I've gradually stopped putting up editorials about gear on this site, because I have to see all these people at NAMM and various other functions all the time, and I don't want to be that crabby old man that sits in the corner grumbling. But for these, I'll make an exception.

Roland is like Stevie Wonder. At one time, a long time ago, Stevie made some records that are ludicrously good. Then, in the mid-80s, he made "Ebony and Ivory" and "I Just Called (To Say I Love You)." And he's been coasting ever since. As musicians, each and every one of us respects Stevie Wonder, and we all own all those good records and know them by heart. But we willfully ignore everything past a certain point.

Sure, once in a while, Stevie does something that just makes us go "wow." But on the whole, we're not terribly interested. If Stevie went back in the studio and made some stinky, funky iteration of "I Wish," we'd all be like "daaaaaaamn, Stevie still got it!" But for the most part, we're not too concerned with what he's up to.

Same thing with Roland.

Talk of Roland snooping around Euro was the main grist for the NAMM rumor mill, at least among the Euro guys. Our general consensus was that either they would come up with something that would move the platform way forward, or they would repackage their guitar pedals.

As we can plainly see, it is the latter case.

I will say one thing: these will be a powerful gateway drug, as they will be a much less threatening introduction to the platform. But for the real Euro user, they miss the mark by a country mile. What a waste of the biggest and best R&D department in the industry.

EDIT:



When I wrote the above, we didn't know about the System 500. This changes matters quite a bit, and here's how:

1. Powerful gateway drug? I don't even. The System 500 is a very, very good thing on that front, as it is a comprehensive and (I assume) well-supported starter system with Roland's marketing machine behind it. This will really hurt companies that sell full voices for n00b buyers (Pittsburgh, Intellijel, Doepfer, et al) but for those of us that deal primarily in the icing, not the cake, this is a HUGE deal. Especially for us, because I'll note that we sell the best "Roland-style" sequencer on the market, and Roland didn't make a sequencer.

2. This system will be in every music gear retailer on the planet, thus bringing the concept of modular synthesis to the masses, in a way that the existing Euro manufacturers could never hope to do.

Overall, I'm like "whatevs" with the digital modules, because they're by and large pretty dumb and duplicate already-existing Euro products, and not well. But the analog system is, to all appearances, absolutely outstanding, and exactly what was needed.

 
February 28, 2015

I'm In Ur Town, Eatin' Ur Donuts...

by Chris Randall
 

Got some localized instances of Crandall to mention, in the event you want to come breath on me and bask in my effervescent glow IRL.

March 2: MAT Seminar Series, Santa Barbara, CA I am giving a talk at UCSB's MAT seminar series about product design. Apparently, they thought giving me a microphone and a projector and standing me in front of a bunch of tenure-track academics for an hour was a good idea. We'll see how that pans out. This is free and open to the public, and I'm given to understand that coffee will be served. I don't drink coffee. Info here.

EDIT: That one's in the can. Interesting experience. It's the first time I've given a "seminar" or anything, and I think it went over fine. It was strange seeing people that, you know, invented C-Sound and stuff taking notes. I am ill-equiped to get all erudite in that august company.

March 14: Denver Synth Meet, Denver, CO Audio Damage are sponsors of this event, and both Adam and I will be there with systems to demo. We will also (theoretically) unveil our next hardware product at that show. It runs from 10AM to 10PM, with live performances and, I can only assume, games of some sort. We will be giving our demonstration talk at noon. Tickets are $20, and $10 if you bring a synth. (No word on drum machines.) Open to the public. Info here.

April 18: Control, Brooklyn, NY I will be giving a full clinic / demo of Audio Damage hardware products, as well as a Q&A/grin-and-grab, at Control in Brooklyn on Saturday, 4/18. This is free and open to the public, and should be a fun event. This is my first return to NYC since the mid '00s, and the first time we've done one of these in-store clinic things; should be interesting. I'll put more info up as I have it; we only just booked the date.

 
August 23, 2013

Let's Talk About Reel-To-Reel Decks...

by Chris Randall
 

I know this is a painful subject for the more modern amongst us, but feel free to step aside and let the old fogies go at it for a little while.

It is going to be a year or more before I can begin tilting at windmills in earnest, and in the meantime I'd like to do some experimenting and reminding myself of these techniques. While I know how to edit tape, make drum loops from tape, make "real" tape delay, all that jazz, it has been some years since I have exercised those particular muscles. While I already know what decks I'm getting for the Windmill (Otari MTR-10 with stereo 1/4" headstacks) I don't have the room in what will be my current space for those beasties, and I just want to have some fun.



So, in shopping about for smaller decks that might have the features that are necessary for What We Do, I landed on the Pioneer RT-701 as a possible candidate. These are readily available (there are several on eBay, and one on PHX Craigslist), reasonably priced, and appear to have the features we need in a very convenient form factor for the ultra-small studio I'll have for the next year. I have never seen one of these in real life, however, let alone used one.

My concern comes from the fact that these are direct drive. Nominally, in a situation where you'd be making tape loops and such-like, the pinch roller pulls the tape off the supply reel, and the take-up reel just has tension on it to ensure it, well, takes it up. So when you don't have a take-up reel (like when you're running tape loops) the device still operates correctly.

So, basically, can any AI readers verify that these will operate in the correct manner? That's the question. If not, suggestions as to another small form-factor (Gods forbid, even portable, aside from the too-spendy Nagra IV-S and its ilk) R2R that will fill the bill.

EDIT: It appears that deck does not have a cue mode, which makes it essentially useless for our needs. Back to the drawing board.
 

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