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

Archives: 2012

November 29, 2012

Dr. Drum, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Con...

by Chris Randall

As you know, from time to time I use the fairly massive Google footprint of this site to provide a public service to musicians that are just starting out, informing them of the various cons that are floating around, in the hopes that a search on a particular product or service will turn up some helpful information.

Today, our target is Dr. Drum, the "Digital Beat Making Software." Even if you're not remotely interested in this product, and there's no reason whatsoever you should be, the video (that auto-plays when you hit the site, natch) is worth its weight in gold, for the simple fact that a generic female voice actor is given a script full of "street" vernacular, and while she enunciates most every word, she regularly drops the G for bangin', which is hilarious.

"Who wants to mess around with all that tweaky stuff when you could be making beats to impress your gang?"

This software is, of course, a joke. Most of the language in the description is designed to trick you. For instance:

"Remember that I used to suck at mixing beats until I started using Dr Drum. Now, I create professional quality DJ tracks that make my friends jealous. You can too!"

Really? Prove it. Let's hear these "DJ tracks" that are "professional quality." Better yet, I'd like to hear from the jealous friends.

"You'll have access to the same tools as the pros use, but at a fraction of the cost. We've got you covered! It's so simple...."

Okay, two things here. First, these are IN NO WAY "the same tools as the pros use." Trust me on this one. On the list of the tools pros use to "make beats," this application would rate somewhere near Microsoft Excel. As in, it's not. In any way, shape, or form. Period. The second thing? It's not simple. Making good "beats" is quite difficult, and "Kanye's producer" (who is, in fact, Kanye) had years of practice on high end kit to be able to do what he does.

"There is almost no learning curve at all. Every song you make will be a banger!"

(Emphasis theirs.) Yes, there is a learning curve. No, every song you make will not be a banger. There is no Magic Potion that can turn you in to Dre or Skrillex. (Well, maybe there is for Skrillex.) If you're going to spend $29.95 on something to help you in the music industry, I'd suggest $20 on lottery tickets, and the other $9.95 on a pack of cigarettes and a Bic lighter. Believe me when I say the money will be far better spent that way than on this heaping shitpile of shitty bullshit.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

November 26, 2012

Blue Monday...

by Chris Randall

It's that time of year again. The annual Blue Monday sale at Audio Damage! Use the code HOWDOESITFEEL at checkout for 25% off your entire order; this includes bundles, of course.

EDIT: Sale is over. Thanks, all!

One thing it doesn't include, however, is Bitcom. Still workin' on that bad boy. But here's a picture to salivate over.

November 25, 2012

Now If Only Someone Could Invent A Mechanical Lead Singer...

by Chris Randall

Due to my recent (and ongoing) fascination with electronic music via electromechanical means, this video piqued my interest. (Or "peaked," maybe, since this is, after all, the internet.) While the music in the video is, both objectively and subjectively, atrocious (apparently it is a Muse song? Not a fan...) the concept itself, which should be readily apparent, is not.

The MechBass is essentially four bass strings with servo-driven plectrums and dampers, and a fretting mechanism controlled by stepper motors, the whole thing driven by an ATMega328 doing MIDI-to-'bot conversion. Many technical details at this Hack-A-Day page, but I think you get the general idea. Obviously, throwing a bunch of motors around the string would create a ridiculous amount of magnetic interference, and he got around that by using some permutation of the LightWave infra-red pickups (not sure if he made his own, or just parted out a stock LightWave pickup.)

Anyhow, cool idea. A hybrid electro-rock band could totally get away with using this on stage; in fact, it would be pretty slick. (Although perhaps a bit gimmicky in the short run.) I should mention that bass is the instrument I am best at playing, and I'm fully aware that there is no possible way a rig like this could even begin to approach reproducing what is a surprisingly complicated and dynamic instrument. But it's pretty neat. And it looks cool. Other than player pianos, what other easily controllable electro-mechanical drunk band member replacements are out there?

November 18, 2012

When I Think About You I Touch My Monitor...

by Chris Randall

I was able to get back to the Continuing Saga Of Crandall's Experiments In The Exciting World Of Touch-Screen Control this week. I realized, at some point well in to the making of version 4 of the control software (this is version 6), that I'm looking at the whole problem wrong. I was thinking about the micro-level control of individual sounds (which is why I had five or more nodes per page in the previous iterations.) However, it recently occurred to me that that was, for my purposes, wrong.

This particular video reflects my new tack, wherein I'm looking at the song as a single sculpture rather than a collection of different parts. The Max patch is essentially a synthesizer unto itself, and its sole purpose is to synthesize this one song. The Cinder app's sole purpose is to control this one song. This method is somewhat ass-backwards from our normal way of thinking about things; the net result is that each song would be an instrument unto itself that needs to be learned on an individual basis.

This is, of course, an insanely complex way to write music. It goes far beyond just purposefully putting stumbling blocks in one's path, and in to making work for myself simply for the purpose of making work for myself. But with that said, as I intimated in a previous post on the subject, I'm trying every idea out as it comes to me until I hit on the right combination. I do like this idea of thinking of the song as a whole, with parameters that affect it; however, I don't believe this particular pairing is where I wanted to go with this. Once again, we shuffle back to the drawing board in mute embarrassment.

As an aside, I filmed this one with my iPad 3 and "edited" it in iMovie on the iPad and pushed it straight to YouTube. That's a workflow I won't ever use again. Probably the single shittiest combination of tools I've come across in a while, and virtually unusable for anything besides putting up clips of your baby or puppy or some other stupid shit. For what we do, to be avoided at all costs.

As a further aside, don't ever buy an optical touchscreen, especially an HP-branded one, if you want to do this sort of thing. I can not wait until this is available. A lot of the problems I'm having are fighting with the tool itself, and that's not helping anything. (It is roughly akin to trying to record a guitar part and the jack on the guitar keeps cutting out.)

November 3, 2012

The New Shit...

by Chris Randall

First things first: my condolences to the victims of the Storm. That one was a whopper, and no mistake. If there's any city in the world that can take a hit like that in stride, it's New York City; I personally am sanguine for the future of that great metropolis. If any AI readers got their shit all fucked up, and you need help of any sort, don't hesitate to post here.

Second (and a distant second at that), the election is finally coming to a close here in the US. I saw a statistic that more money has been spent in advertising in this election than in all previous elections combined. I don't generally have a problem with that, for two reasons: first, I don't watch TV hardly at all, so I don't have to put up with the commercials. And second, that money is usually going from ultra-rich people who have more money than sense anyhow, to media professionals of some sort or another. So good one! Well done, media professionals! But that said, I'll be well and truly glad when this nonsense is over, and our government can get back to its normal acrimonious standstill. (I'm not one of those people that's gonna say "I don't care who you vote for! Just vote!" If you're some sort of asshole or Republican, I'd really rather you didn't vote at all.)

Anyhow, on to the main event. In the last two weeks, we've seen some pretty interesting news in music tech. First, as you're no doubt aware, Ableton revamped their site, and announced Live 9 and a bespoke hardware controller called Push. The hardware is made by Akai, and is, I assume, a logical extension of the working relationship they started with the APC-40 et al. This is far more sophisticated, of course, and is a pure MIDI controller with two-way communication as well, so it will be extremely useful for people that work in Max/MSP and Reaktor, as well as Live. Assuming the build quality is, let's be honest, better than the APC-40, and the pads are nice and responsive, I'm tentatively putting this in the Win column. I'll get one as soon as they're obtainable, so if you want to wait for my inevitable review and the Q&A that follows, you can be assured it will appear here.

Next up, Elektron, makers of the SIDstation, MachineDrum, MonoMachine, and Octatrack, are teasing what has become increasingly obvious is a 4-voice analog synth, following the MonoMachine form factor, with CV sequencing abilities. At first, I was all "meh," because the world has enough four-voice analog synths. But I got to thinking that what really makes the MonoMachine is not its sound, which is middling at the best of times as far as digital synths go, but its UI and sequencer, and if you tack those on to a simple analog, plus the ability to control a EuroRack modular, you have the makings of a Muff Wiggler Wet Dream Jizz Explosion of epic proportions. Personally, I'm witholding judgement until NAMM, when I assume I'll be able to get hands-on with one.

And finally, down in the cheap seats, Mutable Instruments, makers of the Shruthi-1 kit, have announced a new hybrid digital/analog synth (mostly analog, I guess) called the Anrushi that merits a look. Plenty of info and samples at the Mutable site.

'Round here, we're putting the final touches on the next Audio Damage product. I'll tell you the name at this juncture: it is called Bitcom. Expect some teasers and such-like shortly. I'll also have the next chapter in my Great Touch-Screen Adventure of 2012 up before the end of the week.

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