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

Archives: February 2008

February 29, 2008

I made me one of them-there records...

by Chris Randall

My fifth album as Micronaut, Callisto, is now available for purchase in shopPOSI.Download only, as you recall we gave up pressing CDs for Lent. The download comes in the form of either an "alt-preset-standard" VBR MP3 or FLAC, your choice.

As an aside, long-time readers will remember that this album was entirely recorded (but not yet mixed), lost in a tragic hard drive accident, and re-recorded. Frankly, this is for the better, because all I had were memories of the first iteration, and the stuff I could remember was generally better than the stuff I couldn't, it would stand to reason. While this sort of nonsense is incredibly annoying at the time (I actually sat on the couch saying "fuuuuuuuck" for about three days) it is really quite cathartic. I wouldn't necessarily recommend wiping a hard drive as a solution for a creative impasse, but it is worth considering, I guess.

In any event, if you feel the need to support this site, and you aren't merrily buying everything that Audio Damage makes, you could do worse than to grab an album. Not only do you support my filthy, filthy habits, but you get something out of the deal.

February 28, 2008

soniccouture Balinese Gamelan sample set mini-review...

by Chris Randall

Let me state from the outset that this is a really nice package. Normally, when you get a multiple-hundreds-of-dollars sample set, the company producing it takes the whole "well, you're paying for the samples, not the box" concept to an extreme. Soniccouture have a bit of class, however, and this 3 DVD set ships in a metal box, as it should. With an incredibly nice manual that is actually worth reading. Go figure.

Let me also state from the outset that I'm a Soniccouture groupie. Not to the point of fucking everyone in the band, but I go to all the shows, and get there early so I can be in front, if you know what I mean. I have everything they've made, and their products comprise roughly half of my latest album, in some form or another. So, it's not like this mini-review is gonna be bad or anything.

Now, with those two facts stated, I should mention that I hadn't devoted more than two brain cells to gamelan in the last, oh, two decades or so. At least, not to the point where I thought "hey, this song could use some mad dinging right about... here!" What I didn't know (which will come as a surprise to all of you, because I'm fairly certain I know everything ever) is that "gamelan" isn't an instrument as such. Rather, it's like saying "barbershop quartet" or "jazz combo." A gamelan ensemble comprises 10 distinct instruments, from shukka-shukka cymbal thingies, to little and big drums, a whole heap of xylophone-kinda-things, and what have you. I had no idea.

This sample set, in true soniccouture fashion (which we'll remember from the hang drum episode) is exhaustive in the inclusion of pretty much every possible ding, whack, and bang from the whole kit and kaboodle. All samples are 96K 24bit stereo, and there are multiple velocity layers (up to 20 where appropriate) of each note. In addition, there are round-robin stacks for stuff that gets whacked or dinged a lot, so you don't get the normal "machine gun" repetition common to sampled material. Nice feature, that; the hang drum had the same thing, and I found it fairly slick in execution.

I had a lot of time to kill while copying the three (3!) DVDs to my hard drive, so I went through the manual, which is more or less a tutorial about what each instrument does, the range it is capable of playing, and what role it takes in a gamelan ensemble. The manual could be considered a mini-primer on the structure of gamelan music, and it even includes some simple charts.

Once the 22 (!) gigs of samples and such was copied, I opened Cubase, instanced Kontakt 3, and began to ding. About four hours later, my wife tapped me on the shoulder, wondering if I could please stop dinging. Once you get the feel for the layout of the various instruments (and I'll be the first to say it's odd in the beginning, because the instruments of the gamelan don't necessarily map to our equal-tempered scale with the greatest of ease), it is quite logical, and the Kontakt instruments and KSP scripts included are, in the usual soniccouture fashion, top-of-the-line. They are, in my opinion, the best thing going when it comes to utilizing the features of Kontakt to the maximum, and the gamelan set is no exception to their normal representation in this regard.

So, in summation, the packaging? Stellar. The manual? A must-read. The samples? Indescribably perfect. The Kontakt instruments? Top notch. In short, this is a fantastic package. Brutal honesty time, though: it is not cheap; you're not going to get something like this, with the time they spent on it, and the volume they can expect to sell it at, for a pittance, and that's a fact. This is a specialty item, for a specialty audience, and it has a specialty price. Now, that said, I've heard (and bought, natch) sample sets that cost far more that weren't even close to as good as this. This is the sort of thing that makes buying Kontakt worthwhile.

If you do soundtrack/scoring, or if you make ambient or "ethnic" music, you'll be incredibly well-served by this set, for certain. It is US$499, and is available in the sharp limited edition tin (as pictured above) direct from soniccouture. Go forth and rock the samples, at least.

February 27, 2008

Lil' Dipper...

by Chris Randall

Judging from the comments in the last post, this is obviously something that like eight people find interesting, so I just thought I'd throw my mock-up up so you can see what the hell I'm up to.

In spinning around in my office chair, pondering what it was exactly that I needed in a MIDI drum pad trigger thing, I thought it would be redundant to have more than eight actual pads, considering the amount of post-production I do and the actual method I generally use to program drums. In order to use materials on hand (i.e. an Arduino) I knocked that down to six, since an Arduino has six analog inputs, thus obviating any need to do any shift register bullshit just to get an extra two sounds.

I also thought that it would be nice to have a couple buttons for momentary CC. These could be used for any number of things, depending on need, but they'd be handy to have. Since an Arduino has a whole shitload of digital I/O, I could actually have far more buttons, but frankly I couldn't see the need. Three is fine. (I might go to four, but I doubt it.)

So I threw together a quick mockup in 3DS Max, since visualization is 9/10 of creation, and that's how I visualize. That mockup is pictured above. I'm still not 100% sure how I'm going to do the pads, but my thought is thus: using a 1.25" forstener bit, I'll punch divots in the appropriate spots. In this will go a 1.125" rubber grommet. On top of that, a 1.125" zinc or tin disc. The piezo pickup will be epoxied to the underside of this. On top of that, I'll put a 1.25" (or slightly smaller) disc of rubber. In this manner, I'll have a nice surface for tapping, and still maintain good isolation between the pads. Some experimentation will be in order there. I see many methods on the Interwebs, and I've tried a few of them in the past, but nothing for pads this small.

Since the actual unit is a solid block of walnut, it should be dense enough to minimize crosstalk. Again, we'll see about that. I can always program the Arduino specifically for my tapping range in order to get the crosstalk out, so that should be fine.

Today I roughed out the wood, and hollowed out the underside which will hold the electronics. Since this is specific to my needs, I don't need to have it transmit on every MIDI channel under the sun; hence, I'm able to get away with just a MIDI out and a power port when all is said and done.

Fun little project, anyways, while I work up the courage to buy the rest of the shit I'll need for the Jagro.

February 26, 2008

Fluid Update and other stuff...

by Chris Randall

Just a quick note that Fluid has been updated to 1.1 on both PC and Mac to fix the "filter issue" that many people complained about. I wanted a low-cut on the chorus because it sounded a bit muddy to my ears, and it was accidentally strapped on the whole output instead of just the wet. The filter has been moved to its correct place, and only affects the wet signal now.

Note that this does change the sound of the effect somewhat when it is used in anything but a 100% wet situation, so plan accordingly if you are gonna do the update.

In other news, we didn't have Interwebs (or electricity, for that matter) for a while, which would explain my lack of communication the last little bit. I took the opportunity to work on my Jagro body some more, and start work on my drum controller. About that, I was gonna get one of the many Pad 16 type things, and was just left with a nagging suspicion that I could do better myself.

So I ordered up a bag full of piezo buzzer elements and got to designing. I think I have something that will work for me. It will be somewhat left-hand centric, but should be fairly slick when it is done. I'll put the design up tonight or some such.

February 24, 2008

P-Pop goes the weasel, the weasel...

by Chris Randall

Outstanding ping-pong ball + wine glass robotic orchestra. Via Makezine. Go see it in person at 186 Orchard st. in NYC. Don't know if they've programmed any 3rd Bass in it, but that's the logical progression...


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