Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
 
August 16, 2017

Some Thoughts On iOS Music Software...

by Chris Randall
 



When we started porting our products to JUCE 5, one side effect (and I mean that in the literal sense, as it was in no way a deciding factor to do this) was that I could check a couple boxes in the project manager and poop out a standalone app and AudioUnit V3 for iOS. I was already familiar with the iOS app submission process due to my previous experiences (remember Phaedra?) and Audio Damage already had a paid-up developer account so we could get the Apple signing certificate we need for signing our OS X installers and AAX plugins. So we figured we'd put one up and see where it went.

As it turns out, we sort of lucked in to an empty socket, as only two of our desktop peers (VirSyn and Waldorf) had really taken the platform seriously, and the market was mostly owned, with a couple notable exceptions, by companies building specifically to iOS, who didn't have a lot of experience in making plugins for the much more robust and demanding professional music production market. This is in no way a bad thing, as the market had some very inventive tools that you don't see in the desktop world. But we just happened to stumble in (through no planning of our own) to a situation where our product line, which has heavy competition in desktop DAWs, simply didn't exist in iOS.

Speaking strictly for myself, after I gave up on Phaedra, I kind of set the iPad aside as a music-making tool, and hadn't really thought about it again until late May of this year, when I saw I could build AUv3. I then had to acquire an iPad Pro and go learn what AUv3 was, and after some trial and error, and much crossing of fingers and scratching of backstays later, we shipped Rough Rider (for free) in mid-June. Since then, we've tried to maintain something of a parity with the desktop and iOS platforms. It naturally didn't turn out as easy as I thought it would be, and usually the iOS versions require rather extensive reworking of the user interface because of the space constraints. (The notable exception is Replicant 2, where I decided to use the iOS AUv3 aspect ratio for the desktop one.)

Since we started building them, I've necessarily spent a lot of time testing and poking and prodding, and had to acquire most of the top-shelf iOS audio software. I've made a couple tracks now using only the iPad Pro, and I'm willing to say that, while there are a whole raft of weird little Apple-isms to deal with (better than taming OMS on OS 9, but not as bad as trying to use MIDI in OS 7) in general, I'm confident you can go to the store and buy an iPad Air 2 or Pro 9.7 (my recommended devices for AUv3 hosting right now, as the Pro 10.5 and 12.9 have some nasty RAM allocation bugs), spend about a hundred dollars on software, and have something equivalent to a fully-kitted MPC. Which, as we all know, is a perfectly viable platform for making full tracks.

Can it do everything a blown-out MacBook Pro or Surface Book can do? No, it can not. And Apple spends a lot of time trying to make seamless experiences that hide the machinations we need to know about to get the most out of our machines. Forget about using huge sample libraries, as these devices simply don't have the RAM or horsepower to pull that off. But for scratchpad recording and electronic music production, it's hard to describe the vibe. "Fun," I guess? Not a word I usually use with music-making, which, as a former professional musician, I take seriously and equate to work. New and exciting, definitely, and for creativity that is important.

Anyhow, to make a long story short, yesterday we released Pumphouse, which the video above talks about. Most of the iOS DAWs don't have sidechaining, and love it or hate it, that's an important facet of modern electronic music production. (I don't make EDM at all, and I use it all the time on my pads and basslines.) So we came up with a simple work-around by giving Rough Rider a 16-step sequencer, so you could trigger an envelope to side-chain compress the input in a rhythmic fashion. We had thought this would be an iOS-only release, and had no intention of releasing it for desktops, as that effect is easily attainable elsewhere. However, we wrote the plug as a VST (simply because it is much faster to develop audio software on a desktop than an iOS device) and it would be the work of a day or two to "back-port" it to all our supported platforms. So if this is something you're interested in, let me know in the comments. If you have any questions about iOS music production, I'll be happy to answer them to the best of my knowledge, or point you at the appropriate resource.

 
June 25, 2017

Evolution of a Produkt...

by Chris Randall
 

In early 2008, I got it in my head that Audio Damage needed a multi-band distortion. Like most Audio Damage products, this one came about because of a personal need. I like the general idea of multi-band distortion, but at the time, there was only really one available, Ohmicide. To be clear, Ohmicide is a very good product, one that has stood the test of time. The problem was that it had a very distinctive sound; I could pick it out of a mix from a mile away. And this distinctive sound wasn't really conducive to what I was trying to accomplish at the time.

So after begging and pleading, and much rending of garments, I somehow talked Adam in to making such a product for AD. We decided on a very simple topology, with a multi-selector for each band's algorithm, a simple resonant lowpass filter, and our normal compressor code (as heard in Rough Rider), configured for a one-knob "moar" kind of situation. And Kombinat was born.



This was the first UI we did where there were procedural knobs; this is very much a hybrid UI, where I'm using a fake screen element to display the flat stuff. But you can definitely see how my mind was working at the time.

Anyhow, it did fine, in line with our other products that aren't Eos, Discord, or Dubstation. We weren't going to finally buy that volcano lair or anything, but it sold pretty consistently. Like Ohmicide, it has an unique character that is easy to pick out if you know what you're listening for, but being far less popular than Ohmicide, there wasn't as much of a danger of having That Sound. It worked for what I needed, so I was happy.

Fast forward to 2011. In the intervening three years, screen resolutions had been creeping up, and Kombinat, with its hard-coded selector image maps, was getting difficult to read. I also wanted to experiment with a truly flat user interface, something that, aside from Live, was not common in music software. I'm sure there were other reasons as well for revving Kombinat to a version two, but they aren't coming readily to mind. But the upshot is we decided to rev it, and this is the first UI I did totally flat. It is still image maps, but instead of filmstrips of 3D Studio Max knobs, we're drawing most of the elements procedurally. We named it Kombinat Dva, because "Kombinat" is Russian for "Combination," and "Dva" is Russian for "two."



Kombinat Dva added six more algorithms (including my favorite thing we've ever made, "Nerd Rage"), a second filter topology, and a feedback loop. Since the nature of feeding back on a ridiculous conglomeration of distortion algorithms and resonant filters would result in some fairly hairy tones, I came up with the (I thought) clever idea of giving the feedback loop an envelope, triggered off the input. Which is why it has attack and release controls. Adam was fairly puzzled by this, but he built it, and it works great. The feedback control makes the entire thing fairly unstable, and I'd frequently get customers writing asking could I please make the noise stop and why did I hate them and other such ponderings. I inexplicably decided it needed seventy presets, as well, which is about sixty five more presets than anyone ever uses. Go, me.

Anyhow, Kombinat Dva did significantly better than the first one, but still lived somewhere in the middle of the field as far as our product line goes. Six years on, and Kombinat is now the ripe old age of nine. Time for Kombinat Tri.



Tri is, of course, Russian for "three." So it makes sense and is clever on enough levels that I can feel good about myself. Which is all I really ask at the end of the day.

Anyhow, this version of Kombinat gets the JUCE-ified look that all the current line are getting. Since I did the new Dubstation 2 UI in plain black-and-white (just to see if I could, really), I went the other way with Kombinat Tri and made it very colorful. We also added what I call "the filter package," which is a conglomeration of all our current filters that I like for musical applications. The destruction algorithms are unchanged, but we went through and fixed a couple little things that were resulting in DC offsets that made some people unhappy. And finally, we added a mix control, something that is of incredible usefulness in a multi-band distortion, come to find out.

The UI, like all of the new ones, is resolution-ecumenical. In addition, like all of our current re-rolls, it picks up VST3 and AAX support. It will also get a standalone and AUv3 version for iOS in the near future.

For people that know what a useful tool the Kombinat series is, they'll be very happy with this update, which extends its usefulness while keeping the core Kombinat "sound" totally intact. For people new to the Kombinat style, well, they'll be equal parts frightened and surprised, as has been the case for nine years now. In the Audio Damage store now.

 
June 18, 2017

Eye Oh Ess...

by Chris Randall
 



There are two major side benefits of switching to JUCE for our plugin dev. The first, you've already met: AAX versions essentially for free.

The second, you're about to meet: iOS versions for moderate effort. JUCE 5 projects on OS X have two targets in addition to the bevy of plugin formats: AUv3 and Standalone. Both of these are essentially pointless on OS X, where the AUv3 is an actual step backwards, lacking everything but the most basic ability to talk to anything but the DAW. Standalones have their purpose, but mostly as synths. A standalone effect is about as useful as... well... nothing really comes to mind. I'll have to ponder for a bit to come up with something that useless.

But!

Switch that target from OS X to iOS, and we're on to something. AUv3 is the only audio plugin format allowed on iOS, and standalones actually have some merit. The screenshot above is Rough Rider 2 running as an AUv3 insert effect in GarageBand. These AUv3 builds will work in any host that can stomach it; right now that list is mildly limited: GarageBand, Audiobus 3, Cubasis (full version), and some others. The situation will improve quite a bit when Intua drops BeatMaker 3 on July 15, in my opinion.

Digressions aside, the only difference between Rough Rider 2 for iOS AUv3 and Rough Rider 2 AU/AAX/VST/VST3 is some mild fiddling with the UI to get it to cooperate in the context. It will run on any device that can run iOS 9.3, which is pretty much anything from iPad 3 / iPad Mini 2 / iPhone 6 on.

Rough Rider 2 is available now in the app store, and like any good drug dealer, we give you the first taste for free. If you run in to any issues at all, don't hesitate to drop us a line.

Grind is next in line, and is currently awaiting TestFlight review so the testers can get a piece of that action, but it is pretty much done. Once that's released, we're going to turn our attention back to desktops for a bit, so we can see how things shake out. I don't want to release everything for iOS, and then find out I did something terribly wrong. But once we're sure that things generally work, we'll push out Dubstation 2 and Eos 2 in short order. I don't expect any trouble building either for iOS.

If you're an iOS musician, I'd like to hear about how you feel about pricing. I'm of a mixed mind on this; obviously, these are identical to the desktop plugins internally, and require a bit extra work, so they should be priced accordingly. On the other hand, the iOS music ecosystem doesn't really have a place for a similar pricing model, and we're in a situation where people are expected to effectively double the price of their purchase to get a 12th format to go with the other 11 they already own.

I went through every AUv3 product I could find on the App Store, and I feel that, in general, plugins seem to be in the $5 to $10 neck of the woods. There are some outliers, but on the whole, that seems to be the case. I'm okay with this in general.

The other option would be to do it free, and have an In-App Purchase to unlock all the features. This isn't terribly complicated, but it does add some frustration to the proceedings, both on my part and on the consumer's part. So I'm less likely to look favorably on this, unless someone can offer a compelling argument in its defense.

 
May 30, 2017

New Kid On The Block...

by Chris Randall
 



Our habit, for the last couple years, has been to port our existing product line to Eurorack hardware. However, there is one product we have that is unique to Eurorack, our Shapes module, that I really wanted in the DAW. So, after we got done making Eos 2, I scraped all the Sean out of the project and got to work, moving the code from Shapes, and adding to it given the somewhat more expansive CPU real-estate available in DAW-land.

The result is what you see above, Grind. It can run both "wave" and "algo" modes of Shapes simultaneously (with some additions to both the waveform complement and the algorithms), and we threw in a huge raft of filters and a tempo-synced LFO because hashtag yolo. I was going to say that this is probably the first direct code port of a digital Eurorack module to a plugin, but I haven't looked closely at that SoftTube thing, so I couldn't say for sure.

In a nutshell, the input level determines which sample of the wavetable is accessed, and we replace the input sample with the wavetable sample. Then, this hot mess passes through the algorithms, which are mostly of the soft sat / clip variety, with a couple exceptions. After that, it hits one of the 11 filter algorithms. The filter frequency and wavetable can be hit with the tempo-synced LFO. It is a fairly unique distortion plugin, and incredibly capable. You can turn the wavetables off and just use the algos and filter and access the entire range of "analog warmth" tricks that we use in the plugin business, or go screaming acid banshee on whatever the input is. Add the wavetables to that, and it's a god damn nightmare machine.

Tonight or tomorrow I'll have a video overview of this bad boy up, but it is available for purchase now. VST/VST3/AU/AAX.

Speaking of AAX, while I was waiting for Adam to finish the Grind manual, I plucked some low-hanging fruit and ported our free FuzzPlus3 plug; while I was at it, I hit a couple little bugs. So FuzzPlus3 is now VST/VST3/AU/AAX as well. Get it here. We're going to have to do a version upgrade to do the same to Rough Rider, as it is not a JUCE plugin to begin with, so we have to essentially remake it from scratch. There's not a ton to it, though, so it should be fairly easy.

EDIT: It was, in fact, fairly easy. And is now done. Rough Rider is at v2, and includes AAX, VST3, and a new UI.

In unrelated news, working on my Summer Vibes EP. Like you do, while Adam lays out the PCB for [REDACTED]. More on both those things as they become pertinent. I also finally bit the bullet and bought a smoking new Kaby Lake PC (literally the day before Intel announces Kaby Lake X. Go team) and a glorious 4K monitor to peer at its innards with. That'll be arriving tomorrow, so system migration ho!

Anyhow, that was my week. What are you up to?

 
May 22, 2017

Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight! Vol. 2: The Reckoning...

by Chris Randall
 

Lo these many years ago (or maybe six years ago), I went and whittled myself a standing desk solution. All the cool kids were doing it, and it seemed like an excellent idea. I didn't, however, take one thing in to account.

If you read the original article, and pay attention to the fourth paragraph, you'll note that one thing I discovered early on was that I needed to get my monitors in direct line-of-sight. Not long after I moved to that configuration, I added a third monitor, a large Dell 10-touch monitor. (The first mass market cap-touch monitor available, as it happens.) This lived directly under the two original monitors, and you can see it in this configuration in many of my videos and photos of the last few years, as I've used this three-monitor system to good effect.

Anyhow, as it turns out, getting old kind of blows. Not long after I went to this configuration, I needed to get progressive lenses in my glasses. Due to the modular side of the Audio Damage Order Of Battle, I've spent a lot of time with my standing desk and three-monitor rig; when developing plug-ins, I work primarily on my Macbook Pro, and just lounge about the house or on the porch, wherever the mood strikes me. But the embedded dev needs quite a bit of infrastructure, and has to be done at my desk.

Since those monitors are basically six feet off the ground to meet my sight-line, I had to tilt my head back to align the reading portion of my glasses with the text on the screen. I didn't even really know I was doing this, but one day I happened to put the IDE on the lower monitor (normally, Live runs on the lower one so I can touchy-feely plugins, and the IDE runs on the upper left, while the upper right gets folder duties.) When it was down low, all the sudden my neck pain went away. Total accidental discovery, as I didn't know what the cause of the pain was.

So, in general, lessons learned from 6 years with a standing desk: if you can see well, it's a better way to work. It was especially nice during music making, when I'm moving about wiring shit up or whatever. However, if you have progressive lenses, it may be more trouble than it's worth. Take your pick: mild back pain from sitting all day, or mild-to-severe neck pain from leaning your head back to read the screens. I decided to return to back pain for the next while, and eject the standing desk.

tl;dr: my office went to bare walls last week. Today I was able to use it again. Sitting down. And it is much more orange than it was before.
 

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