Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
Tags: Dropping Science
October 6, 2018
by Chris Randall
I'm trying like hell to get back to a weekly AI, but circumstances dictated otherwise for #11. I would have only been a day late, because I didn't have the correct flavor of Arduino to do MIDI-over-USB and I didn't discover this until I tried to code it; easily solved by Amazon Prime, but then we inexplicably had a hurricane here in Phoenix (I know, right?) and as a result, my same-day delivery of a new Arduino Leonardo took 4 days to arrive.
All's well that ends well, though. Above is the fruits of hurricane-induced tardiness, the Magic Robotic Contact-Mic Hitter Thingie. Essentially, there are four cantilevered hammers I made on my Shapeoko that are struck by solenoids; the solenoids are driven via MIDI. In the video, I have the Arduino rigged as a class-compliant MIDI interface, and it is being driven by Bram Bos' Euclidian sequencer plugin, which is part of his Rozetta suite of MIDI plugins for iOS.
After building it, I see where it could be improved somewhat, but on the whole it does what I intended, and today or tomorrow I'll make some Music™ with it and see how it sits. Watch for that video shortly. Do any of you use electro-kinetic instrumentation like this in your music? If so, what are your thoughts on use cases and such?
September 22, 2018
by Chris Randall
Finally, a new Tech Time! In this episode, I make the Amazing Stethophone, using a $25 stethoscope from Amazon, a cheap lavalier mic, and $5 worth of shit from the plumbing aisle at Lowe's. I did this video with only having a notion that it would work, although I did think about it quite a bit first, so you're actually watching my experimentation process. Whether this is fun or not is up to you.
In any case, further testing shows it works quite well. It is good for getting machinery noises out of the inside of small mechanical things, and it really picks up the resonance in wood well. (Like, stuff that is just a thump with a piezo mic is a nice ringing tone with this.) I think some refinement is in order, but it is a useful addition to the toolkit.
August 12, 2018
by Chris Randall
One of my favorite things on YouTube is the Rhythm Roulette videos on the Mass Appeal channel; I generally love process videos anyhow, and the particular strictures of the Rhythm Roulette format really push my buttons. If you're not familiar, the tl;dr version is that a hip-hop producer goes to a record store, puts on a blindfold, picks three records at random, and then has to make a beat from what they got. It's worth noting that they hardly ever use the records they get for the percussion parts; usually, it's Rando Trap Drums from PetaBytes O' Beatz 43, and I give a big point deduction for that. The ability to squeeze a drum kit out of any given piece of music should be mandatory.
So, for my own Poppin' Tags, I made that a rule: nothing in the song that wasn't originally on the three records. And my other rule that is a departure from Rhythm Roulette is that it needs to be a full song at the end of the day, not just a beat.
Anyhow, with all that out of the way, the above video is the result. I actually filmed the entire process, but it was almost 3 hours long, and that was silly; who wants to sit and watch me edit samples for 3 hours? So I just cut out little bits here and there, and the track (along with the other four, to make a full 5-song EP), in its finished form, will be released on Bandcamp when they're all done.
In further news, there is now an Analog Industries merch store... Not much in it right now, but as things progress, it'll get full up. Check out the offerings.
June 2, 2018
by Chris Randall
Yeah, it's been a minute since an AI video, but we're gonna get back to that now. Readers may remember a series of experiments I did back in 2011/2012 with touchscreen-based control paradigms (here, here, here, and here, with some absolutely stellar discussions about usability in the comments.) Those were admittedly somewhat early days for the entire concept; the iPad had only been out a couple months when I started those experiments, and the idea of an app-based control paradigm was a fairly new thing.
Fast forward to 2018, and shit has progressed a bit, and people are generally used to using touchscreens for control. The reason for the video above isn't really about experimenting with the control paradigm, since that's pretty well-trod territory by now. I'm coming at things from a different angle. I've used a monome for years now, and I have a Max4Live step sequencer for that platform I've written that is pretty much only useful for me, and that I'm very happy with. However, I was using it last weekend, and I got to thinking that it would be dope if I could record control gestures along with the beats. Obviously, the monome itself is kind of shit for that sort of thing, so I first "ported" the control logic for the monome to a JUCE app, so I could run it full screen on a touchscreen monitor. When I did this, I was able to break out all the unlabeled control buttons to dedicated buttons, and improve the pattern memory and such.
After that, I gave each lane a four-bar gesture recorder; there are three gestures in all, and the X, Y, and Z planes can be assigned to any parameter in Live. (In the quick demo above, I generally have them going to effects sends and suchlike.) The sequence memory and control is hosted in the M4L patch, but the gesture recording and playback is hosted in the JUCE app. Note this is running on a separate computer entirely from the one hosting the Live session. (It is, in point of fact, that little Intel NUC, stuck to the back of the monitor with double-stick tape. It is communicating with M4L on the host computer via OSC over my home wi-fi network.)
There are actually 10 lanes of gesture recording; in the video above, if you look closely, you can see them labeled D1 - D6 (the drum lanes), Bass, and S1 - S3. I don't actually use the non-drum ones in the video, but they're there and working. There are 8 banks of 8 patterns, and each pattern has its own gesture memory.
I could easily add more buttons to where I could control the session entirely from the app, and not have a Push2 there, but there's no sense re-inventing the wheel. The purpose of the experiment was to proof-of-concept fast, intuitive real-time control of a Live session from a separate computer's touchscreen, and I'm pretty happy with things so far. The next step is to try to put together a whole song (or several songs) to perform; this isn't great for writing as it requires a lot of prior preparation. But for performing, I think there's a lot of potential to be explored.
Side note: the two synth pads I play towards the end are both Quanta. That fairly major undertaking is reaching its final stages, and the synth is perfectly usable in a session now. So yay for that!
April 18, 2018
by Chris Randall
A month or so ago, I got turned on to the concept of Dante, which is an audio-over-Ethernet protocol used primarily by big production houses and live sound reinforcement. (I imagine it was invented by someone that had to run a 48-channel snake from the stage to the front-of-house every night, and got sick of being covered in spilled-beer-and-shoe-dirt slime.) In the simplest terms, think of a network, but instead of files and web sites, it serves digital audio. You use normal IT shit like switches and CAT 6 cable, but your goal is shunting massive channel counts of digital audio at ludicrously low latencies instead.
I had known about it for years (you can't help but see the references if you're looking at high-end AD/DA converters, since the usual suspects in that world all have Dante capability). I didn't really think about the ramifications until a friend beat me over the head with the concept. My ultimate goal in my home studio/office is simplicity. The fewer cables I have run, and the fewer conversions I have to deal with, the happier I am. It is especially attractive to me because I run multiple computers of different flavors, and having their I/O talk to each other in more-or-less real time would be excessively handy.
Once I was tipped to the potential, the full OCD Experience kicked in, and I started thinking about replacing my current rat's nest of I/O and monitor controlling. The main attraction to me is ultra-low-latency computer-to-computer connections. I've always thought it is dumb to convert to AES or SPDIF to do a digital computer-to-computer audio interaction, and so do the Dante people. Nominally, a computer-to-computer connection in Dante would be the same as any old-fashioned way, with expensive converter boxes in the way. But Audinate (the company that invented Dante and is the Keeper Of The Holy Scriptures regarding the format) got that sorted in a big way, with three pieces of software that make Dante in a home studio an attractive option.
The first is Dante Controller, which is essentially a virtual patchbay that lets you connect Dante sources and destinations. Dante gear all has a Gigabit Ethernet port, and you basically just run everything to a normal Gigabit Ethernet switch in a star fashion. Dante Controller sees everything on the network, and lets you set clock masters and routings and shit. Controller is free.
The second piece of software is the Dante Virtual Soundcard. This is an ASIO and CoreAudio/WDM driver that works like any other sound card driver; it has 64 ins and outs (which is mildly comical in something like Live. Did you know the I/O panel scrolls? Neither did I) and ludicrously low latency. Any computer running the Virtual Soundcard and connected to the Ethernet rig throws its I/O to the network, and shows up in the Dante Controller patchbay. The driver is US$29 per computer.
The third piece of software is the one that seems like magic to me, and which is useful whether or not you have a Dante system. I only assume it isn't more well-known is because Audinate's business model doesn't lend itself to marketing to hobbyists and home studio folks. It is called Dante Via, and basically lets you route _any_ audio source in your computer to any other. Think of it as Soundflower or Audio Hijack, but on pharmacutical-grade methamphetamines. You can run either this or the Virtual Soundcard. It shows up as an ASIO destination in software that supports that, or a WDM/CoreAudio destination elsewhere. Instead of 64 I/O, you get 8 channels, but otherwise, it is more or less the same, as far as how the DAW works. You just drag-and-drop your sources to your destinations, and you can mix-and-match anything as you see fit and turn any piece of software or I/O in to a sender/receiver. Dante Via is US$49 per computer (which is incredibly cheap considering what you get) or US$59 for a combo of the Virtual Soundcard and Via. There is a 15-day demo of Via on the site.
I purchased a Focusrite RedNet X2P to be my main monitor controller. It comes with a pair of Focusrite's high-end mic pres (their good stuff, not the prosumer Scarlett series). This can be powered off a POE Ethernet switch, so it's just one CAT6 cable to the switch and that's that. It is built like a god damn main battle tank, and is one of those Just Plug It In And Go Because It's Really Well Made For People That Don't Want To Dick Around kind of things. My Adam nearfields go from that, and my desk situation is sorted. I connected the Skull Canyon NUC and my main computer to the switch via their Gigabit Ethernet ports, and with the former running the Virtual Soundcard and the latter running Via (I also use the computer for games, and would like to hear YouTube videos and shit), I have VCV Rack running on the NUC, with multi-channel audio at no noticeable latency running in to Live, with Live Link providing wireless sync over my home wi-fi network. (Note that the X2P comes with a license for the Virtual Sound Card, as well as some Focusrite plugins I'll probably never use, but never say never, right?)
It is early days for Dante in a small studio right now, and many of the I/O solutions that are promised aren't quite here yet. I can easily just plug in a high-end convertor or mic pre rack to the system and it'll just show up. Audinate is releasing a 2-channel class-compliant USB dongle so you can plug in iOS or visiting laptops to the network with ease, and there are several 2-channel AES, SPDIF, and analog solutions to bring legacy gear in to the fold. ProCo and Radial also have similar small-and-cheap solutions either already released or in the works. I've only had this rig working for a day, so I can't really speak to its robustness, but it performed flawlessly with the above VCV-on-another-computer situation, as well as an hour or so with World Of Warcraft and a brief writing session in Live. I gave the mic pres on the X2P a quick check to make sure they worked, but I can't really speak for their all-around applications at this point. I'll put up another post with further thoughts after a month or so with this system.