October 22, 2012

Can't Touch This...

by Chris Randall

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison

Continuing my exploration of making a touchscreen-based recording/performing environment (that isn't on a fucking Twitter Machine... errr... I mean iPad) I decided to try a different tack this time. Since Brian Crabtree has already done a lot of the hard work on this front, I thought I'd bust out a touchscreen monome emulator, just to see how that might work.

As it happens, not so much.

While the monome is a comparatively simple device (the only things that make it special, as such, are the facts that the LEDs are decoupled from the buttons, and the extremely high construction quality and craftsmanship; otherwise, it's just a box full of buttons), as it turns out, and I think the above video proves, actually having the buttons under your fingers is somewhat important.

It was a pretty easy thing to code, just being a grid of lights, and some simple OSC messages. Rather than go through the trouble of faking the operation of the driver software, in the interests of quickly having a working prototype, I just altered mlr slightly so it could talk directly to my Cinder app and not look for a monome. I made a grid of 16 x 16 buttons (ignore the column on the left of larger buttons; those are scene triggers for Maschine, which I didn't use in the video) and it's off to the races.

While the functionality is, in and of itself, flawless, I think that the combination of mlr (and other patchers I tried) and the monome hardware is what makes the instrument. The more sensitive nature of the touchscreen sort of precludes laying in to it, and not being able to feel the buttons makes any sort of virtuosity difficult.

That said, it was a fun idea that, I think, merited exploration. But for this sort of thing, the money is better spent on a real monome, in my opinion.

Back to the drawing board.


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Oct.22.2012 @ 11:35 PM
I like this track actually. I really feel frustrated with touch screen interfaces, I think you have to grow up with them for them to feel natural. Give me a Maschine, give me an MPC60, give me an APC40... just ordered a QuNeo so I'm going to be in candy colored button heaven... or hell... tomorrow.

Oct.22.2012 @ 11:52 PM
(the internet made me do it)

"i think Tesla said that but Edison got credit for it" ZING!

well executed. my first thought was for the fingers not having actual buttons. it's one of the things i like about using renoise now and then. all those key commands for everything.

all that real estate on that screen has me laughing when thinking about an iPad. there is just so much more room for stuff and all kinds of feedback for the user. you've already come up with some interesting takes on it and you've only just gotten into. i imagine there is an "ah ha" moment somewhere down the line that will be gratifying. though the journey is plenty of food for thought.

Oct.23.2012 @ 12:28 AM
Chris Randall
Yeah. This app, in my internal numbering scheme, is R4. R3 showed some promise; I put up a couple screenshots on Twitter or something; the problem was that there were crackles somewhere in the looping engine, and the code kind of got away from me.

(While I love inventing things in my head, I don't love making them in real life, usually.)

So I may go back to R3 after this, which was a purer take on the idea. I will say this much: R5 will have its own audio; I'm tired of having to flip back and forth between Max and Visual Studio. I'm also thinking about manning up and getting a proper multi-touch monitor. This two-touch shit is for the birds.


Oct.23.2012 @ 12:35 AM
You know, I don't think touchscreens are ever going to move into the same place as any other serious musical instrument. They seem to be all the rage right now. But the fact that you need to be looking at it to get a bearing of what you want to is going to be a process that stands in between getting to know the instrument and playing it well.

Also the fact that their aren't any universal designs that seem to make sense for it - at least ones that aren't harder to use replications of what is already offered on regular computer screens. The main issue here is subtle but important. On a computer screen with a mouse, you can see every value of what you are interacting with. With a touch screen, your hand blocks about 1/3 of the interface while you are using it. Its fine if you are just interacting with the occasional web form or using a virtual keyboard to fire off an email. But when the slider or knob value that you are trying to change is being covered, you can't actually tell what you set it to until you remove your hand from the screen.

Oct.23.2012 @ 1:51 AM
Chris Randall
The which is the point of the exercise. Trying to figure out a way around all that, because nobody else is.


Oct.23.2012 @ 2:58 AM
i've seen several interfaces with "exploding knobs" so that when something is touched it enlarges or the part your finger touches expands out from the knob and you get a number or dot or something that is a reference.

clever people will find solutions and options and eventually they will all be available for people who want to use touch screens and each user will be able to taylor the interfaces to these things to whatever works for him/her/robot/terminator etc.

but they won't find those solutions by not trying to find them.

Oct.23.2012 @ 4:32 AM
i'm just going to leave this here...

link [worrydream.com]

Oct.23.2012 @ 9:13 AM
Chris Randall
That article is all well and good, and in general I agree with him still, although perhaps less so than I did last year when it came out.

The chief problem is that he argues there are two aspects to usability: usefulness and comfort. There are, in fact, three: he _totally_ ignores convenience. I'd love to carry a mouse and a keyboard around to control my iPhone. Oh, wait. No, I wouldn't.

Is a touchscreen monitor the best window in to a computer's abilities? Don't know, but I doubt it. Is it the most convenient? In certain contexts, yes. I'm not concerned in the slightest with the best way to find a Starbucks near you or access boarding passes or do 3D modeling. There is really no possible way I could give less of a shit about that sort of thing. I'm concerned with the best way for a performance to not be this:

link [createdigitalmuue.JP...]

Over. And over. And over. And over again. And again. And again.

And while Mr. Victor knows a lot about boarding passes and finding Starbucks, he doesn't know shit about music.


Oct.23.2012 @ 9:16 AM
@chris, that's my friend Liz at work in that picture. And I've seen her play, and enjoyed it, despite the lack of grand performance.

I just played a show with Moldover, who has found a way to PERFORM perform with his laptop, and it's pretty fun to watch, and he has some good songs. But to a large extent it is a matter of hitting a button to advance scenes in Live, and then tweak stuff with a MIDI controller.

The best purely electronic performance I've seen was visually static, which was Keith Fullerton Whitman live patching an analog modular. Which I was able to record:
link [cornwarning.coman.mp...]

And the most dramatic 'show' I went to this year was Tim Hecker, who performed in near total darkness, hunched over his laptop and the organ manuals.

So yeah I like it that you're trying something new. As Joe Biden would say "God bless ya." But a performance is as valid as the music produced and how the audience feels during, and I'm impressed when someone just stands there and stares at their computer and still pulls it off.

Oct.23.2012 @ 9:58 AM
Chris Randall
I'm not. At all. I've done it many times, and seen it hundreds. It fucking sucks.

(As usual, add "in my opinion" to any subjective statement.) Apologies to Quantazelle, but her pic from CDM is the first image that came up for the Google image search "electronic music performance." Which should tell everyone here something.

Also, Moldover is not what we're talking about. He does perform. He has an instrument that he's built himself, which he plays with virtuosity. (For various values of "himself" and "virtuosity.") I'm speaking _specifically_ to the "checking my email" crowd.


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