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

Archives: April 2007

April 19, 2007


by Chris Randall

I stopped in Apple Music in Portland today to pick up some guitar strings, and during a quick run through their "pro audio" section I noticed something special lying in the corner. A Yamaha CP70 (in its traveling configuration) plain as day. There was no tag on it or anything, so I had to do that most painful of things and talk to the salesman. Now, normally I'd rather get my eye teeth pulled then talk to a music store salesman, but needs must when the devil drives.

My normal bias towards that most subhuman of all species was nicely confirmed by his condescending statement that it was "totally mint, and all the tines have been replaced," so we could move along to other things, namely the price. It's on consignment, so there's no wiggle room, and the seller wants $1200. Now, for what it's worth, it has all the accessories and seems, from an external inspection, to be in more or less perfect condition. It also comes with a complete set of road cases.

So, who here has purchased a CP70? Is $1200 a reasonable price? How much of a pain in the ass are these beasts? I'd really love to have one, even just to make my own sample set, but I want to know if I'm being taken for a ride or not. Comments?

As an aside, I also found a store that isn't really a music store, but they have a ton of cool old gear (and a lot of crap, too.) But they have a Wurli 145 (I'd say in about 6/10 condition), two (!!!) L100s, a B3, an M100, and a stack of Leslies I don't even know enough to write about, but there were over a dozen. Also a couple spinet pianos (and yes, I know the difference between a spinet and an upright grand), a player piano, a pump organ, and a metric fuckton of old Italian guitar shit. If anyone needs, I'll be happy to provide the pertinent info.

April 18, 2007

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams #4

by Chris Randall

In the last installment of this series, we'll have a look at some product evolution. The above image is the starting point. Early on, while we were casting about for a direction the company would take, we considered doing a synth, and here was my idea for one. Totally modular (with the exception that audio routing and CV routing had to, by necessity, be separate patchbays) it would be a fairly typical representation of a small modular synth. Now, this would certainly be a good product; the main problem with it is two-fold. (A) The synth market is flooded, and (b) it is pretty plain once you get past the semi-interesting UI.

So, we decided (more or less permanently, as it turned out) for better or worse to just avoid the synth market at the time and expand on some of the better ideas in our Mayhem package, namely the TimeFnk delay. So we took the better ideas from Plexus and combined them with the general execution of TimeFnk, and this is what we came up with:

Now, if you take a close look at that UI, you'll note that it mirrors a product you might already own pretty much exactly. That is the first UI for Ronin. In retrospect it is a far better UI, but there were reasons for not using it. They are:

1. This UI was built with the concept of using PNGs for the knobs and such in mind. Using PNGs instead of BMPs for the knob filmstrips and elements was a relatively new thing at the time. It worked on OSX machines, but Windows machines, which had no built-in method for reading PNGs, exhibited many issues. (This also engendered the redesign of Discord between v1 and v1.5.) So once we discovered that PNGs were a serious problem, we had a relatively short time to come up with a solution.

2. When we were working on this, it was a current fad on a couple of the pertinent forums to complain mightily and loud about "hardware look" user interfaces. I actually took this quite seriously. I know better now, of course, but when you're just starting a company, you only have that sort of feedback to go on. So we thought "well, we better avoid hardware UIs; we don't want to piss anybody off."

So, TimeFnk II got its name changed to Ronin, and got the current Ronin UI, for better or worse. Due to its obvious complexity, Ronin isn't one of our better sellers. But Ronin begat Dubstation, which our best-selling effect, so we're not complaining.

But this brings up an interesting point about user interfaces. Ronin and Dubstation are essentially the same code inside. With Ronin, you have access to every single possible parameter in the plugin, and you can route the audio and control signals however you want. With Dubstation, we've basically removed the patchbay, the LFOs, and roughly 2/3 of the controls. Dubstation has sold ten times the number of Ronin. You can easily see how this has informed our design process.

April 17, 2007

Classmate no longer vapor, it seems...

by Chris Randall

Apparently, the Classmate platform that Intel announced last year is actually going to come to fruition. This has interesting implications from a musical standpoint, so I thought it worth mentioning here. Here is a little article that followed the announcement, that talks a bit about what the Classmate is. But that's like "whatever." Here is the money shot from today. Long story short, Asus will roll out a range of Classmate-based 'puters in Q3 '07 that are priced from $199 to $549 (MSRP), have embedded Windows, 7" LCD, and a 1G to 40G flash drive.

Assuming it has a USB port (why wouldn't it?) this would probably be a perfect computer for all kinds of tasks, from being a dedicated MIDI sequencer to being a soft-synth for live performance, to getting integrated in to a modular system. I can come up with 20 ideas off the top of my head, so I'm sure there are dozens more, since the top of my head is full of other stuff.

April 17, 2007

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams #3

by Chris Randall

Now, this one, unlike the two I put up before, would actually have been a viable product. I was pulling for a bundle called "Konsole," of console equalizers based upon the German 60s/70s cartridges you know and love. This is, again, only a mock-up; you can tell from the darkness of the rendering that I hadn't even really worked on the lighting yet before I stopped.

Why didn't we do this? That's a good question, and I don't really have a concise answer. Mainly, the costs associated with obtaining several different cartridge EQs to clone, plus the time cloning them, plus the fact that there is one company (URS) that really excels at this sort of thing and we didn't think we could do it better, plus the results, due to the time and expense, wouldn't fit in our normal pricing model.

So, the above image (click for the full size) is as far as we got; that's the UI for the Neumann PEV clone, which was the only cartridge I had at the time the idea was floated. So it's more of a proof-of-concept than an actual "okay we're gonna do this," then stoppage.

April 16, 2007

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams #2

by Chris Randall

Here's another from the trashcan. This one is Deviant, one of my stranger ideas. Adam actually attempted to code this, but making a square wave from an input signal isn't very fun, it turns out. Here's what it was supposed to do (I think; it's been a while:)

1. The "MIX" section would give you three square waves from the input signal at the root, +1 octave, and -1 octave, plus the dry signal.

2. This would then get ring-modded against an internal osc, the frequency of which could be controlled from an LFO or env off the input amplitude.

3. This whole mess would then go to an LPF, which could also be controlled from input amp or LFO.

While it seems like it might be cool, initial coding showed that it was, in fact, a Soup Sandwich in the making. So it didn't get beyond initial Windows VST prototypes before both Adam and I were like "wow, that's a mess." Sometimes you just have to try something to know how it sounds. Nowadays we prototype in one of the many boxes-n-wires programs suited to such endeavors (mainly Plogue Bidule) before it even gets to where I'll mock up a UI, so I don't do many things like this any more, where function follows form.

I think the UI would have been vastly improved with a little tube you could see in a window. But my favorite feature is the text right under the "Deviant" logo. You can tell we didn't know what to call it, and when that's the case, you know you're in trouble.


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