Big and healthy as the iOS ecosystem is, touch capabilities on Windows PCs means a whole, vast library of other tools becomes possible – without having to carry a laptop and a tablet. Having wandered the floors of Computex in Taipei, that isn’t just a feature you’ll see in a few models. Imagine if only a few laptops had trackpads, and everything else required you to use the cursor keys. Based on the lineups from makers like Taiwan’s Acer and Asus – and what Intel and Microsoft are pushing for the platform (including HP, Sony, Toshiba, and Lenovo) – touch is something that will become a mainstream feature. (In fact, only dedicated workstations and gaming laptops showed up at Computex without touch features.)
Oddly, the hardware is here well before the software. In a touch demo above, only Reaktor really made sense to demonstrate – though it makes a terrific demonstration.
Reviewer Josh Morky is even impressed as a Mac user.
See his full review below, but the PC industry seems poised to give him nothing if not hardware options. Companies are making bigger tablets, full-sized displays with touch, bigger laptop/tablet convertibles, and so on. I got some time to play around with the Acer Aspire P3 tablet in Taipei, and while it has the same 10″ display Josh found too small, it’s also more powerful and lighter than Microsoft’s offering (and the keyboard somehow manages to get decent travel in something that’s not much thicker than most tablet covers). That’ll be little comfort to someone wanting more real estate, though, and the bigger options tend to wind up being much, much heavier – like all-in-one machines or bigger, clunkier convertibles. So I hear the need for an ultra-thin tablet that extends the work area to 13″ or more.
Acer calls its Aspire P3 an “ultrabook” and not a tablet, while pitching its ability to work in tablet mode. (And you can drop the cover.) It’s also lighter than the Surface Pro. What you don’t get is the bigger screen size the YouTube reviewer here wanted.
When we first saw movements and dance converted to music in February, it must have sparked some interest. Developer Jesper Nordin tells us popular demand has prompted him to release a free (as in beer) version of his Gestrument Kinect controller. With a beta download and a Windows or Mac machine, you can translate Microsoft’s depth-sensing camera to MIDI events you can use with instruments.
Hidden beneath a detailed interface, there’s a lot that a computer might do. Amidst a growing variety of touch tools, musicians are surfing those capabilities with custom cockpits, fingers dancing across glowing rectangles.
Production and performance tool Ableton Live is really designed around mice and keyboards. For touch controls, that means turning to remote controls – and for now, a tablet (most often iPad). Developer Liine was an early adopter of the notion. Their classic, minimal Griid and Griid Pro were elegant and simple – but they’ve also failed to keep pace with ongoing controller evolution. They just can’t control all the things a Live user might like. At last, Liine has completed work on LiveControl 2, the “next generation” of this controller utility, with full support both for Ableton Live 8 and this year’s Ableton Live 9.
And it’s quite a release. With modules that keep access to settings like channel strips handy, and the ability to play notes and make your own MIDI clips, it almost reads like the feature list came straight from “Dear Santa” letters written by Ableton Live users.
The upgrade takes a different approach to the problem than other apps (notably, the very thorough Touchable controller app). It uses four modules which can be used together: Continue reading »
Jon Hopkins, smiling as he jams to his new music in Switzerland.
If anyone might chart a course for the future of ambient dance music – contradiction in terms as that might seem – it’s the UK’s Jon Hopkins. Spacious sounds and free-flowing gestures seem to flow effortlessly in his music, but that same texture can be honed into hard-hitting grooves or set against forward-propelled rhythms. It is, simply, beautiful music you can dance to.
In the new full-length “Immunity,” Hopkins is once again in top form. To me, he’s reached a new level of clarity and coherence. There’s an almost narrative thread through “Immunity,” as though it’s a score for a kind of film we don’t know how to make yet. A good substitute, while we work that out, is the short film made by artist/biochemist Linden Gledhill and art director Craig Ward. Images of microscopic realms, butterfly wings and crystals in motion, seem perfect, organic and dynamic as the music.
The sonic world of “Immunity,” with its thick, sharply-defined bass, adds a greater degree of consistency than past Hopkins outings. Here, he has pared down materials to a mature record, confident in all the best stuff.
Jon spoke to CDM three years ago about his techniques in the studio and live onstage. He talked about keeping keys constantly at the ready – a piano a chair swivel away, and a trusted Korg Trinity his one and only keyboard. He also spoke a bit about economy in composition, which I think is relevant to what you can hear on “Immunity.” He told us at the time: Continue reading »
Acer’s P3 convertible Ultrabook sits astride a Serato Scratch rig (running on a conventional laptop, actually). The software is a new touch-enabled version of VirtualDJ, made for Acer and currently available free with their touch range. Photo from the Acer event in Taipei. (And yes, the iPad has somethingto say about this, as well.)
“Where are my touch laptops?”
It’s becoming the “where are my flying cars?” of the laptop music age.
And so it is that I’m here in Taipei, Taiwan, having spent today hanging out with Acer as they talk about what they’re doing with touch on their computers (laptops and tablets). The touch laptops are here in force – not a couple of netbooks or tablet PC oddities, but with the full-blown force of the PC industry behind them. The question now is whether we actually want them.
2012 was a little early to ask that question for the music audience; now the mature products – with Windows 8 behind them – are in the 2013 generation. I have some specific information to share, but I want to back up and consider some of the broader questions first. (If you just want to look at hardware, read later this week.)
It’s been nearly a decade since electronic musicians first started seeing touch in the wild. At the time, the power was immediately evident: you had the ability to imagine new ways of interfacing with music without the limitations of hardware knobs and faders. It was Star Trek: The Next Generation-style power, finally appearing in the real world. And that was a natural fit to musicians suddenly facing computer capabilities that lacked obvious form – sounds unfettered by the laws of acoustics and physical instruments. So it was also immediately apparent that eventually, you might want these touch interfaces to merge with your computer.
But since that first epiphany, the marriage of touch with conventional computers has been surprisingly slow in coming. Apple showed the way with iPhone and iPad, in their own categories. But laptops, with their hinged clamshell design, are another animal. Conventional software written for the mouse and keyboard can be simply awful when you start jabbing with your fat fingers, and the hinged design of a laptop leads to the dreaded “gorilla arm”: using a vertically-oriented display feels uncomfortable and makes your arms go numb. (On behalf of the gorillas of the world, I have no idea why this is called gorilla arm; maybe gorillas were unfairly subjected to usability testing in an early computer lab.)
So, why would you want a laptop to be touch-enabled, anyway, instead of a dedicated tablet running touch-centric software? Apple, for their part, has drawn a line in the sand and decided you don’t. Their MacBook line eschews touch beyond the trackpad, and focuses on conventional (still very powerful) software. The iPad is the platform for touch. Even years into a supposed “post-PC” age, software on the two remains very different – and the OS X software is far closer to its Windows brethren than iOS. Whatever rampant speculation about the two fusing, with the MacBook and iPad leading their respective sales categories, there doesn’t seem to be a logical motivation to fuse those two – least of all when Microsoft’s strategy to treat the two categories as blurred have initially fallen flat. Continue reading »
Yes, this looks like an ordinary stompbox, but it is reprogrammable. Can I put this massive “prototype” disclaimer over any photos of me tagged on Facebook? No? Photo courtesy the OWL folks.
There are stompboxes. They are — for lack of a better word — foot worthy. You can step on them, in a way that is less possible with a computer. (Well, sure, somewhere amidst an endless spinning color pinwheel you may have wanted to step on your MacBook Air, but then thought better of it – financial investment and whatnot.)
Then, there are computers. They can do everything. That stompbox is one particular distortion effect. And it is always just that one distortion.
But what if you could have both?
As embedded technology continues its march toward greater user friendliness, lower cost, and greater sonic powers, it seems the time is right for hardware that combines the durability of dedicated sound gear with the open-ended potential of computers. That is, it’s not really clear where the computer ends and the stompbox begins.
OWL isn’t the first project to take on this dream, but it’s looking more practical than those that came before.
The project promises open source hardware, with open code, that can be reprogrammed into new sound effects simply by uploading new code. As with a new generation of low-power tablets and phones and the like, there’s an ARM chip at its heart. (The ARM Cortex M4, to be exact.)
If you’re a guitarist who writes your own C++ code – yes, there’s actually a sizable group of those – you can have a ball making your own DSP routines. If you’re not, OWL promises a library of patches, presumably growing with more contributions from the open source community.
There’s not a whole lot to look at at this point – while they’ve got a GitHub repository going, it includes only a little bit of sample code. But in the video, the results look impressive, perhaps enough – given an experience team – for some to go ahead and take the leap of supporting the crowd-funded Kickstarter project.
And they say computer technology for music is “disposable.” Csound has a direct lineage to the very first digital audio synthesis ever to run on computers, counting decades of history. It remains an elegant way to make any instrument, event, or musical creation you can imagine, all with a free tool. And now, a Csound file can be baked right into an app for iOS, if you so desire.
Whether or not you’re ready to tinker with code, that means more musical goodies for your sonic amusement. And the next in line is something called csSpectral. Boulanger Labs has been hard at work on this one, and it looks like it will yield some insane sonic frontiers.
The new Csound-based iOS app by Boulanger Labs, csSpectral. Deepak Gopinath (Lead iOS Developer) is using csSpectral to play back a simple beat and transforms the rhythms into a unique percussion track that morphs beyond glitch. This aspect of the app is well-suited for many applications ranging from advanced sound design for film to a mashup of your favorite track.
In other words, it makes crazy noises. Or, in marketing speak, it’s well suited to serenading a future mate, providing a futuristic science fiction atmosphere to your next meal, for playing to babies in their cradles to turn them superintelligent and get them into the best afterschool programs later on, or as a means to entering higher states of astral awareness.
Another video below.
More good news: @csoundcommunity tells us via Twitter, “Just like last time, the Csound .csd will be available to investigate and learn from. Takahiko Tsuchiya takes it to another level!” And for Max fans, “there will be a Max patch avail on release w/MIDI learn. Controllers programmed on the fly, even the APC!”
If you’re ready to make your own app powered by Csound, we’ve got good news for you: there’s a free tutorial to get you started. Download the PDF and, provided you’ve got the Apple SDKs configured for building apps, you’re all set to turn your Csound files into apps: