MATRIXSYNTH: The iPad is a Game Changer for Editing and Controlling All Synths

Monday, February 07, 2011

The iPad is a Game Changer for Editing and Controlling All Synths

This is a follow-up to the previous post on the Pulse+ TouchOSC template. After I put the post up I finally got to play and something crazy happened. I found a "bug" in my Chroma editor and discovered a whole new world of sound exploration. A very happy accident.

When creating the TouchOSC templates for the Waldorf Pulse and Rhodes Chroma, my intent was essentially to make a virtual hardware interface for every editable parameter along with a few touch pads - all traditional controls with expected value ranges. The equivalent of a PG-1000 plus some extras. What I discovered was much, much more than that. TouchOSC and the iPad is a major game changer. It will open up synths in a way never imagined. We will be able to do things never possible before now.

How? First, it will help if you think of sonic exploration and the editing of your synths in two ways. The first is relatively static and traditional. You edit the parameters of a patch to arrive at your sonic destination. Simple editing. The second is to view your patch as something you manipulate over time. Either hold a note, start a sequence or an arpeggiation and then edit. I did a bit of this with the Pulse video.

So, how is the iPad and TouchOSC a game changer? It will allow you to do things that you simply cannot with traditional hardware, opening up sound exploration in a way that was not possible before now. Controls will be designed specifically for this purpose. I alluded to this in the last post regarding being able to jump parameter settings vs. a continual slide as you would with hardware sliders and knobs, but after the post I accidentally discovered this was just the tip of the iceberg.

After the post I was no longer focused on testing the template. I was finally free to do a little exploring and two things happened.

The first was obvious. I was able to explore the synth more openly than ever before. Having everything in front of you and access to everything at once allowed me to try things not physically possible directly through the hardware UI of the Pulse. On the Pulse you can only edit one row of parameters at a time and you have to page through to get to them.

The second was not obvious and the reason for this post. Testing out the Rhodes Chroma editor, the filter cutoff and resonance sliders were acting sporadically. I realized the full range of each were repeating. For the filter cutoff the full range went from 0-50 on the slider and then again from 50-100. For the resonance it was repeating every centimeter or so. My first thought was of course, I need to fix this. But, not now. I wanted to play. I had a chord drone going with a fairly long release time. I was just transitioning between chords to get kind of a trance vibe going. I then started using the sliders. At first I tried to only use the bottom half for cutoff but every now and then I'd hit that midway tipping point and it would go down to zero. But.... I found this had an interesting effect on the drone. I then started messing with the resonance slider. It was a very, very cool effect to say the least and I had full control over it. This wasn't something I could do with a PG-1000 controller. This wasn't something I could do on a knob laden Minimoog. It was then that I realized this is a major, major game changer. Not only was I able to interact with a thirty year old synth in a way I never had before, but I was able to interact with a synth in a way never possible before.

So what does this mean? I don't know yet, but I do know it will change how I think of creating controllers for synths. The default is to expose all editable parameters in the logical 0-100% value range. From there? Custom controls with oddball value ranges to do who knows what. Synthesizers have always been about synthesis to me. Not just an end point but synthesis and sound exploration over time. The iPad and custom controls with TouchOSC will allow me to do things never before possible. This is the start of it all.

Update via Kyle in the comments: "I always knew there were parameters of the synth that were "inaccessible," due to the limited values of the preexisting editing controls. With proprietary plugs and no gumption to spend hundreds of hours around this, I'm thinking this could be very cool."

I thought this captured it perfectly. The sound engine of synths are capable, we just didn't have the ability to tap into certain aspects of it before. It's the equivalent of unlocking doors. We now have the ability to create keys to a new universe of sonic exploration. We just don't what the keys are yet. A lot of it will be subtle, but never-the-less amazing when you consider it and even more so when you experience it first hand.

Update:

Video of the Happy Accident. I screwed up my camera's video settings, so apologies for the low resolution. As for what your are seeing, it is very simple. The cutoff resets at the midway point and the resonance repeats much more often. At the end you can hear some percussive sounds coming out when I move the resonance slider. One other thing I discovered with TouchOSC is that once you select a slider you can actually move your finger anywhere on the screen including over other controls without triggering them. You can see my thumb move away from the resonance slider while still manipulating it.


The Happy Accident


Update: Note how you hear a sweep moving up and a "pop" moving down. It's because the sweep up goes from 0 - max smoothly through all values while the sweep down goes from 0 - max instantaneously. That along with jumping values are only two of the things you can't do with traditional hardware. Again, as stated above, who knows what's possible. The point is that it now is. This video might not be that impressive on it's own as unfortunately it doesn't really capture the effect of first noticing the anomoly while expecting something else to happen, but hopefully you get the point. As Art stated in the comments, "I'm excited about the same thing, particularly making it easy to move between multiple simultaneous parameters (morphing between patches basically, but with however much real time control you desire) as well as putting synced sequencers into the mix to automate some of that morphing. Think MIDI-synced LFOs and ENVs on steroids." Take a look at this noteplex video. Imagine that controlling your synths, and not just note values, but assignable sysex and MIDI CC parameters.

Update: here we go - currently supports OSC to MIDI via OSCulator.

6 comments:

  1. Can you post a video of this? I'd love to see and hear what your describing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I always knew there were parameters of the synth that were "inaccessible," due to the limited values of the preexisting editing controls. With proprietary plugs and no gumption to spend hundreds of hours around this, I'm thinking this could be very cool.

    ReplyDelete
  3. UniQue Werkx, I'll see if I can in the coming days.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice post Matrix. I'm excited about the same thing, particularly making it easy to move between multiple simultaneous parameters (morphing between patches basically, but with however much real time control you desire) as well as putting synced sequencers into the mix to automate some of that morphing. Think MIDI-synced LFOs and ENVs on steroids.

    I had a Kawai K5000 for a while that was really cool, all sorts of parameters you could specify to change over time, but it was just too complicated to edit through the synth's interface and ever get anything else done. I think as these touchscreen interfaces develop we will be able to do more complicated synthesis a lot easier, because visually and tactically we will be able to process a lot more information, and it will just be conceptually easier to do it while still having some of your brain left over for an actual song.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have a Kawai K5, a similar bird to the K5000... Makes me wonder what something like TouchOSC would do via an iPad for it.

    Which further makes me wonder what other doors we could go knocking upon that designers 20 - 30 years ago only figured THEY could access. MIDI SysEx/CC data is kind of a gateway that was tightly controlled by the units purchased by us mere mortal consumers.

    This could be a new dawn in budget control for those of us drooling over the opportunity to control our older beasts beyond what we expected. Even if it fails with the public, someone will continue development of such things since all it takes is software programming.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Here we go: Konkreet Performer. This currently supports OSC to MIDI via OSCulator.

    ReplyDelete

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