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

Archives: September 2011

September 29, 2011

More Tempest Stuff...

by Chris Randall

Richard Devine put up a video the other day that got me all bummed out because (through complete coincidence) I was working on one showing exactly the same thing, the fun to be had with the quantized pattern switching and ribbon controllers. Richard is necessarily better at this sort of thing than I am, and once I saw his video, which went up right as mine was rendering, I was all "DAMN YOU RICHARD DEVINE! DAMN YOU TO HELL!"

Then I planned to do a different video.

Then I thought "fuck it" and whacked the Upload button. So here you go. Essentially the same sort of thing Richard was demoing, the quantized pattern switching in Tempest which allows you to switch patterns in the middle of a measure and maintain the measure position, along with some ribbon controller fun. The left ribbon is assigned to decay of all voices, and the right ribbon is assigned to relative pitch of all voices. I'm also using a MeeBlip (the sorta-bass-sound-thing) and a DSI TETR4 (the melody thing). The result is what I feel is a reasonable example of the Crunkstepno genre. Enjoy.

(PS: I did get one ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!!! on this bitch, though. I'll lay money this is the first time a Tempest hit analog tape. What do I win?)

September 26, 2011

Tempest First Impressions...

by Chris Randall

DSI were kind enough to loan me one of the first production versions of the upcoming Tempest drum machine for beta testing and to write some presets. The word "loan" there is loaded, because they're gonna have to send heavily armed gear ninjas to my house to get it back. To describe this thing as bad ass is to understate the matter entirely.

There are plenty of articles out there on what the Tempest is, and a simple Google search will give you the full technical run-down, so I won't bother with that. Long story short, if you're familiar with the Mopho/TETR4/P'08, this is obviously designed by the same folks, and has the same general vibe.

The oscillators are one of the two places where the Tempest really departs from the normal DSI analog voice architecture. Each of the six voices has two analog oscillators and two digital ones; all four can blow at once. The digital oscillators comprise several methods of making noise (they did a very good job in the noise selection department), a couple hundred different drum samples running the gamut of styles, and the complete Prophet VS waveform library. They are quite capable, and while being necessarily drum-centric, Tempest can also do a pretty favorable turn as a synth.

The other place the Tempest differs from normal DSI gear is in the envelopes. There are five in all. Three are hard-wired to pitch, LPF, and VCA respectively, and two are not pre-assigned. These envelopes can be ADSR (synth-like) or AD (drum-like), and they are very fast and accurate. These are some of the best envelopes I have come across, period, and I might have a little experience with synth programming. I'm going to strongly lobby that DSI put them in all their products from here on out, and that other synth manufacturers license the design. Another pure win aspect: the envelopes can mod themselves via the excellent mod routing page. What this means is that DSI doesn't have to have a bunch of extra controls for envelope shapes. You can just hit an envelope with its own output to change the response curve. Extremely simple once you get the knack of it, and it extends the sound palette considerably.

The timing and feel of the unit is rock solid. No offense to Elektron, but they need to send someone to DSI to learn how this is done. I recorded several passes and got in to single sample viewing range trying to find diversion, but there is none. "Spot on" doesn't begin to describe it. The feel of the sequencer is subjective, I'll grant, and is a function of the timing, the swing, and the velocity response curve, and how they interface with your worldview. The swing in this unit is lifted directly from the LinnDrum via the MPC60, and feels exactly right, as it should. Roger Linn knows swing, and this unit reflects that.

Several people have asked me on Twitter about its sampling capabilities, and suffice it to say that there are none. It is a drum synthesizer with some sample ROM, not a sampler at all. There is no audio input on the unit, period.

Anyhow, long story short, this is my dream drum machine, and I'm turning my house in to a bunker to fight off Dave Smith and his Ninja Army. I'll be happy to field any questions anyone might have, within the confines of what I've been given permission to talk about. (Keep in mind that despite being a production unit hardware-wise, this still has beta software, and I can't talk about features that haven't been implemented, or that are experiencing a state of flux.)

September 16, 2011

Beepcat: A Modest Proposal...

by Chris Randall

I've spoken to some of you in person about this idea, and received generally good feedback, but we're getting to the point in this project where we need to start committing real resources, and I wanted to open it up to the wider community for discussion and to gauge interest before taking it to the next step.

The Elevator Pitch?: Beepcat is an open hardware and software shield for the Beagleboard Linux-based SBC. The board has a 128 x 64 graphic LCD, eight pushbutton/knob encoders, and eight buttons, and has stereo balanced audio I/O with a high-quality A/D/A convertor and MIDI I/O.

Some background information: after (and indeed during, to a certain extent) our ill-fated and somewhat expensive foray in to the Euro-Rack world, we were looking in to projects that didn't involve a fairly expensive infrastructure. After much consideration and discussion, we've hit upon this idea of a totally open and somewhat freeform platform called Beepcat.

The Beepcat could be purchased fully assembled, tested, loaded with software, in a nice case and ready to go. Or you could just buy the shield and an SD card containing the disk image from us and make your own case, or use our provided schematics and information from the Wiki and provided source code files to make your own or whatever. It would just plug right in to any existing Beagleboard; we have examined the idea of making a custom Beagleboard that doesn't have all their video and shitty audio and what-not (the Beepcat shield has its own audio codec, as the one on the Beagleboard is simply not suitable for pro audio) and this is something that we believe can occur.

The Beepcat software would consist of a custom Linux kernel that kicks a Beepcat Bootloader (BeepBoot) that allows you to choose one of the available programs on boot. The disk image we would provide as a stand-alone Beepcat environment would have programs that we made in-house (and which would necessarily not be open-source, for obvious reasons), along with a stereo effect framework with code and a monosynth with fully commented code to be used as starting points.

The shield itself would have, as I said, MIDI I/O and a much higher quality stereo balanced audio I/O rig, and the LCD display and controls, all of which are controlled by an ATmega; this wouldn't be written in Wiring, so you couldn't code for it just like for an Arduino, but it wouldn't be that dissimilar.

Coding for the Beepcat would not be that difficult. (With the caveat that "not that difficult" is a loaded statement when it comes to DSP.) With a full Beagleboard backplane, you can code directly in C++ or C on the Beagleboard itself, using the Geany IDE. That's how I wrote that synth above, right on the device. With the full monty provided, you could use the hardware plane for any number of things; it would make the Beagleboard in to a whole multi-media powerhouse.

So, in a nutshell, what Audio Damage would provide:

1. Two different packages to purchase (Full assembled tested ready to take on stage Beepcat, Shield + SD card only)

2. Beepcat Linux kernel and starter software as a downloadable image. This wouldn't include any of the AD-coded synths, but would enable you to use other people's Beepcat programs.

3. Full Wiki for coding for Beepcat, a repository for non-commercial programs, a method for selling commercial programs (e.g. if DMG Audio wanted to make and sell a high-quality compressor or EQ for Beepcat, we could handle the transaction.) The repository would also contain the Gerbers for the shield, a BOM, and firmware for the ATmega, should you want to just make your own from scratch.

Anyhow, that's the general idea. Eric and/or Adam will jump in and correct me if I make any technical mistakes, and can address any deep technical questions and comments. We are totally open to any and all ideas at this juncture. We're just getting to the prototype stage, and now's the time to open the floor for comments and to see what kind of interest there is in this concept. We've seen some rather spectacular failures of this idea (the Chameleon being the most notable example) but that was before the whole DIY / Maker scene really got traction, and I feel it's a different time. MeeBlip opened the door, and I think that we'd all benefit from something like this.

Comments? Criticisms?

September 14, 2011

Meet Filterstation...

by Chris Randall

Here's a screenshot of our upcoming plug, Filterstation, running in Studio One on PC as a VST3. From the UI, you should be able to get a pretty good handle on what it's all about.

As you can see, it is a pair of filters that can be configured as serial, parallel stereo, and true stereo (one filter for each side). Each filter can be one of 12 types, including our usual 2P, 3P, and 4P models, the bandpass filter that 914 Fixed Filter Bank is made up of, the original 4P LP from FilterPod (our first product, and the first filter we coded), a monster face-melting MS20 LP and HP that Adam built a month or so ago, and a VCA type.

The latter is useful if you'd like to do a filter-vibrato thing like some amps and electric pianos do (notably the Fender Vibrolux, but many others as well). It can also be used for rhythm gating and rudimentary panning. (Nothing near as sophisticated as Panstation, of course.)

The LFO has the usual suspects, and four rhythm patterns, one of which you can hear in this demo:

Phosphor to Filterstation by Chris Randall

In that demo, you hear Phosphor dry for a measure, then three measures of the 914 types in true stereo, being modded by the LFO on Pattern 3. I am sweeping both filters via the link knob (the little box between the "1" and "2" boxes in the image above), which is what is causing the general sweep from high to low.

We've also taken the opportunity to (finally!) implement our own preset handling mechanism that is separate from the host. So presets can now be dealt with like any other file, and they are completely cross-DAW, cross-OS. Very excited about this.

EDIT: As Adam pointed out in the comments, I forgot what is maybe the most nifty part. We're utilizing the "one base plug, multiple iterations" feature of VST3; when you install Filterstation, in a VST3 host it'll actually show up as 2 plug-ins: Filterstation, and Filterstation Sidechain. The latter has a sidechain input to the envelope follower, so you can key the filter freq off the level of another track as a send. Very cool.

Anyhow, the Windows VST3 is pretty much done except for little stupid things. We're using Steinberg's provided VST2.4 and AU wrappers this time, and this is a first for us, so we're not sure how well everything is going to work out. You'll know when I do. So I don't have a time-frame for release, and we haven't settled on a price. But "soon" and "not much" are both perfectly acceptable answers for both those questions.

September 11, 2011

Pics from LA T_A Meet...

by Chris Randall

Here's a Flickr set with some pics from the LA T_A meet on Saturday. It was necessarily Euro-Centric, so most of the pictures are the usual cast of characters. Of note, if that sort of thing interests you, were the new 808 foot module from TipTop, and Harvestman's Polivoks oscillator, both of which I'll be getting. I'm not familiar enough with that scene to know what was earth-shattering or whatever. That Buchla was really pretty. I'll say that much.

There was a DSI Tempest in attendance, but I was up on the roof socializing, and didn't fondle it. Otherwise, a whole lotta patch cables. Heading back to PHX in a couple hours, then a busy, busy week ahead. I have to turn in the RC of this iOS app I've been working on, I have at least one sound-alike contract due, and somewhere in there we're gonna try and finish off Filterstation. Should be interesting. I'll need another vacation in a week or two.

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