Tag Archives: Sonic State

My hope for a USB host riddled Music Messe 2015!

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Well Musikmesse 2015 is virtually upon us and I like many, start getting strangely excited to discover what new and unexpected treats lie just around the corner.  Sonic State will be there of course giving us the first and best exclusive glances. Make sure if you’re interested to follow their news feed as it will be coming thick and fast especially tomorrow (Wednesday) when most of the major stuff will be revealed. Nick Batt, editor of Sonic State will of course be asking the most pertinent questions (occasionally to the dismay of the ill informed demonstrator!).

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The (let’s not make bones about this) immense NickBatt

What I am really hopeful to see is a further industry awakening to the undeniable attraction of USB hosting built into hardware products.  USB class compliant devices are simply things you can just plug into iPads and computers without the need to install drivers.  This standardisation of class compliancy is open and thus can be built into new devices. We have seen a few devices doing this before namely the excellent iconnectMIDI4+ and Kenton’s simple model. Those units have been able to act as USB hosts without being connected to a computer.  This is an exciting development because it starts to open up a world which has hitherto now been exclusive to the world of computers.  Hardware becomes infinitely more fun the less connected to the computer it is. Computers are ace there is no denying that but the omnipresence of the dang internet is always looking for a way in to distract and to procrastinate.

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The new Roland MX-1 with USB hosting 

We have started to see USB hosting built into some other products this year namely Roland’s cool MX-1 mixer which addresses a particular need for a performance almost instrument like approach to mixing. It has crucially four USB ports that can receive with midi and audio data simultaneously facilitating their range of Aira units. It’s a lovely idea isn’t it?  We take out our drum machine, I plug the single USB lead into the mixer and that’s it! It is still unclear if these ports will allow the connection of other devices, we shall have to wait and see.

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The Futuresonus Parva also features USB hosting

Leading the way in small synthesizers is the brand new Parva analog polysynth currently in a Kickstarter setup.  Many things look excellent in this well specified eight voice polysynth such as four envelopes and four LFOs but the gobsmacker is the fact that it has a USB host port!  Yippee! I could connect my little CME Xkey and have an eight voice poly with POLYPHONIC AFTERTOUCH!!!!  This is a big deal I reckon as this small and compact setup would appear to step up to the big Polys from Yamaha, Roland and Oberheim.  Essentially enormously expensive and rare synths!

USB hosting can promise much if the developers seize this idea.  It really gives us a valid update to the new form of midi (as MIDI is fully included in the class compliancy rules) but with bidirectional audio and control data on an open platform.

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The future of gazwilliams.me!

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Hello readers old and new! I am going to make a pledge to any of you who enjoy this site or are interested in my musical exploits that I will make much more regular updates. I have so many articles on the back burner waiting for a spot of time to finish that there soon should be a steady flow of new posts and that is a promise!

I am looking more towards the internet and my site as a focus for my activities as in recent times I have crawled out from under the stone of anonymity and through mostly Sonicstate.com I have started to enjoy a more public persona. In the past, I was so preoccupied with my perception that as an artist I should remain somewhat aloof and mysterious but now I realise that just leaves you with a whole heap of nothingness!

So what can we expect in the future? Well I have started writing up little featurettes on some of the notable people I have worked with some of whom are well known and some may be new to you. I have been incredibly lucky in my career so far to have worked with some truly inspirational musicians and artists that I feel I should share some of those experiences. The fairly recent features about Karl Hyde and David Rhodes should give an indication of the type of thing I have planned.

Other features will be around my continuing exploration of music technology and it’s applications. I am first and foremost a live musician who thrives on playing and collaborating with others so it may seem strange that I am so enthusiastic about this subject as it appears to thrive on electronic music and solitary working (both of which I also enjoy). I am, however, constantly interested in developments which encourage collaborations (both physical and virtual) and of bridging the gap between acoustic and electronic. These are the themes I plan to explore in future posts.

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The White Flame – an experiment in writing for the room

 

Here is a performance I recorded last August of my Jean Guillou influenced piece, The White Flame.  I am using my trusty Roland GR55 which is the same unit I have used extensively with Karl Hyde and the rock opera, Pop’pea.

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Jean Guillou’s magnificent flames of hair and the inspiration for the title of my piece!

I was interested to see how writing a piece of music within a particular large room would affect my note choices and phrasing.  The hall I used in this example is the Upper Room at Cairns Road Baptist Church and I’d like to thank them for the opportunity.  The room has a long decay, around the 2.5 second range so therefore lots of long legato notes would work best in that setting.  I also wanted to try and use tones that would resonate well within that space so I created a trombone woodwind hybrid using the dual PCM layers of the GR55.  I mapped the trombone sounds to the expression pedal which let me create swells over the woodwind base.  The GR55 has an incredibly deep programability which I think people aren’t aware of.  I have to say though that editing on the unit is no fun and I highly recommend Gumtown’s astonishingly excellent free editor for it available here.

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The GR55 editor for PC and OSX

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Korg Gadget – Mobile Multiple Synthesizer Studio

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Korg created a real surprise today when they launched their new iOS music app Gadget at the Namm 2014 winter show. It is a music production suite of 15 “gadgets’ within a sequencing environment. I had just returned from a late night rehearsal when I read about the new launch. I immediately downloaded it and thought it would be great fun to film a first impression of it without any preparation. Below is the first part of my first look:

And here is the second part:

In order to make this little film, I downloaded a piece of software for my Mac called Reflector. It allows you to use your Mac as an Airplay client for your iPad, therefore able to record the screen. I hadn’t used it before so I apologise for the audio glitching which I think was due to that.

I had written a full review following my first impression but sadly due to incompetence on my part, I lost it all 😦 If I can be bothered I’ll get around to writing it again.

*Update* I decided to do a follow up video after I’d had a further investigation of the app.  Here it is:

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Sonic Touch 27 – Bias

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Another new episode of our iPad/touch devices show Sonic Touch has just been released, episode 27 no less. In this show we look at Positive Grid‘s new amp modeller Bias which I think is rather nifty. I enjoyed making this show as I got to twang away on a guitar for a change!

http://www.sonicstate.com/news/2013/11/29/sonic-touch-27-bias-amp-modeller-inter-app-audio/

We also looked into a new feature of iOS7 called inter-app audio which allows for the routing of the sound of one app into another. This is similar to the third party Audio Bus which has been with us for a year or so but is built in at an OS level and thus is more practical. Currently there are not too many apps which support this but I think that will change drastically over the next few months.

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Maschine Studio with Logic Pro X using iPad Air as remote controller

More music tech goodness to chew on folks! I decided to make a short film showing the integration of a bunch of new things, Logic Pro X, the iPad Air plus the Native Instruments Maschine Studio running the V2.0 software. They play really well together!

Logic Pro X

I have made no attempt to hide my distaste of the music software Logic in the past, perhaps because I am a long time Cubase user it is ingrained in me but also I just think that for years it has really lagged behind other DAW’s too. Well, I have changed my mind, slightly! I had to buy Logic due to a collaboration with an artist I am working with. It just made sense to do this rathe than both of us lose time with trying to convert the projects back and forth between our systems. Besides this artist, there is another that I will be working with soon who is also on Logic X too. I had previously bought (against my wishes!) Logic 9 which I hated with a passion so I wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of spending more time in Logic land. We’ll I need not of worried too much as Logic X is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The much needed facelift has finally banished those tiny menus and the relocation of things like the transport bar to the top has made the workflow more intuitive. Track stacks bring a Reaper like function when you group a bunch of tracks into a folder, that folder gains a dedicated fader – are you listening Cubase? There is now a bass amp emulation called Bass Amp Designer and low and behold when I first instantiated (correct term!) the plug in I was faced with a graphical reproduction of my classic old bass amp a Mesa boogie 400+ and my old cab too, the quirky 1516. I have never seen these emulated before and I was really impressed with how it sounded. There is the much talked about Drummer plug in which lets you choose drummer by personality (?) and also you now have a basic Melodyne like functionality called Flex pitch which I have yet to try amongst countless other improvements.

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My old bass amp amp now in Logic Pro X – Mesa Boogie 400+

Logic Remote

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Logic Remote showing mixer

The show stopper for me though is the clever Logic Remote app for iPad. Borrowing heavily from the iPad version of GarageBand, this controller allows you to mix, edit and perform using a very intuitive control surface. Interestingly they have taken the Smart instruments idea and made them in to controllers for the Logic instruments. I marvelled at the design of these a few years back when they debuted on the iPad GarageBand so they are welcome here. These essentially let you turn the iPad into various types of midi controller, a guitar simulator, drum pads and chord strips on top of a regular piano keyboard that can also have notes stripped away to display only in key notes. Cleverly these follow whatever the region’s key is which is set in the main info panel at the top of Logic X. I have been banging on for nearly a year now about the wonderful chord track in Cubase, well Logic gets a halfway house now with the arrangement track combined with being able to set keys for regions. In practice I have found the Logic Remote to be the most robust and reliable of all the different iPad based control surfaces I have tried. Probably to do with some secret voodoo that Apple have going on that is closed to all and sundry however it works very well and maintains connection quickly after bringing the iPad out of sleep. This was the killer in the past for other controllers as it would often mean that you would have to jump through a few hoops to get things synchronised again. One feature I particularly like (which the Cubase Equivalent, IC also has) is the ability to create shortcuts and macros and give them dedicated buttons.

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Logic Remote showing shortcuts page


Maschine Studio Intergration

You may have read my Maschine Studio and software review or saw my Sonic State review. If not you can find them here so I won’t go over old ground as to what it is needless to say though that you can run Maschine software as an Audio Unit (AU) within Logic X. The cool thing with doing this is that the Smart Instrument controllers operate on the Maschine too via Logic’s own routing. I didn’t have to set anything up, they just worked. This is very cool as it allows for Ableton Live Push like functionality which was left out of Maschine v2.0. This means you can use the aforementioned preset scales on the sounds within Maschine. I try and demonstrate this in my video so I recommend watching that to see it in practice although the tune I make is quite meh!

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Samplr – My favourite iPad app!

My favourite iPad app Samplr has just had a great new update taking it to version 1.3.  This app just keeps on getting better and better!

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(umm this image is of an earlier version but more or less looks like this!)

Here is a video I filmed today to investigate the new mode.  I only used my little Yamaha Guitalele   (six string ukelele tuned like a guitar but a fifth up – bottom string is a B).  You can see in the video that Samplr lets you do many creative things with the samples you make on it.

Marco Alonso is the Spanish developer of Samplr and he has some quite interesting history.  He was largely responsible for the graphics and interface of the Reactable synthesiser.  This is that peculiar system that Björk made famous.  It is a physical table that you move blocks around on, when the blocks come near to others they “react” and generate sound or affect the sound of others. Reactable is now also available as an iPhone/iPad app though I think it has lost quite a bit of its appeal in the transition. I was not surprised to learn about Marco as there had to be someone of significant talent to come up with this beauty.

Modes

Why I particularly like this app is because it really uses the multitouch idiom of the iPad really well.  It is essentially a 6 track sampler that lets you manipulate the samples by touching them directly and utilising one of the 7 different modes.  The different modes are:

1.Slicer – this lets you insert any amount of markers which essentially split the sample into a bunch of triggers. This is great for playing melodies. If you sample a scale played on any instrument and then place the start markers immediately before each note. Chords work extremely well in this mode too.

2.Looper – this lets you set up to three adjustable loops within the same sample.  As I mentioned, the touch interface is amazing, it is so intuitive and fast to get stuff looping. There are these circles which are very easy to manipulate.  They appear in the different modes and I think are a strong design factor.  You are never in any doubt as to what they do, it is so clear to see. There is a sustain button which works in every mode and lets you lock your last touch in place.  You can place three different sustains on at any time and they are represented by three coloured dots next to the recording length indicator.  There is an x next to the dots which serves as a sustain cancel, cleverly allowing each sustain to be taken off in turn.

3.Bow –  The bow lets you touch a portion of your sample and then it loops it very quickly producing quite a smooth textured sound that as you slide around can make for great expressive instrument.  Again works great on chords and scales. The analogy of a violin bow is actually quite useful here in conjuring up ideas of how to approach this mode.  Imagine being able to bow a sample of glass being smashed?

4.Tape and Scratch – previously these existed as separate modes and were easily my least favourite modes although they do have some cool uses so it makes sense that they are now combined into the same mode.  The tape mode lets you set off the sample at different speeds either forwards or backwards. I should mention at this point that whichever mode you are in, the volume of the sample will depend on how high up on the sample you touch.  This makes Samplr a very expressive instrument as you can vary the dynamics easily and logically.  This works with any notes that you have held with the sustain button meaning that any note or loop’s volume can be manipulated by sliding the circle up or down.  Fabulous!  The other sub mode, Scratch (enabled by pressing the record deck icon) lets you wickky wiccky scratch your sample!

5.Arpeggiator – This is one of the new features of v1.3 and is extremely cool.  Here you can touch various segments of your sample (as defined with the markers) and it will repeat them at the project tempo and based on the musical value ranging from whole notes (semibreves) to 32 nd notes (demisemiquavers).  There are also different arp modes – up, down, up and down, random and note order. Again the sustain (or latching) feature really comes into its own here allowing for note sequences to be played but also manipulated both in volume and note choice. It was upon playing with this mode that I was inspired to make my little video and this blog entry.  Truly inspiring!

6.Keyboard – Just very simply allows you to play the sample in pitches across a graphical representation of a keyboard.  This is not the most interesting mode as we have seen this kind of thing since the Casio SK1 back in the early 80’s but it is handy none the less to have it here.  Each of the modes have a few options that let you tailor the settings.  Here we have attack quantisation and legato mode.   Also each mode has a very simple attack and release envelope which although basic it is great to have and super quick to operate.

7.Loop Player – the final mode has no touch controls and is just a very simple loop player which you can use if you wanted to play over a backing track or existing loop for instance.

Sampling

Sampling is so easy and great fun here.  All you do is choose whether you want to sample from the mic or if you want to resample the mix. Resampling is such a laugh as you can get all sorts of nonsense going on then sample it and turn it into something completely bizarre!  I have found that sampling from the built in mic can give surprisingly good results.  It is quite sensitive and with no gain control you have to position the iPad at a decent enough distance away from what you are sampling to stop it from clipping. I have used it successfully with the my Samson Gomic which is a cool little gizmo that works effectively with a CCK (camera connection kit) but to be honest the built in mic gets good results.  I have been promising myself an Apogee Mic at some point as I think that would be the perfect mono mic for Samplr as it has a clip indicator and an adjustable gain wheel plus crucially a very low noise floor.

Effects

Samplr also contains a truly wonderful effects section which is extremely generous as it gives you not only a multi effect for each of the 6 sample slots but a master effect too.  So each multi effect can be a distortion, filter, modulator, delay or reverb all at the same time if you wish and has possibly the fastest and most immediate implementation of a multi effect I have ever seen.  You simply touch the icon that represents the effect to enable it then use the kaoss pad like touch square for instant results.  The filter for instance can be either a low pass or high pass.  Touch the bottom right and the filter becomes a high pass, drag your finger to the right and it morphs into a low pass, drag upwards for resonance.  Brilliantly simple but highly effective.  All the effect modes have this simple approach and are all the more useful because of it. Seldom with this app are you left wanting more functionality such is its appealing design ethos.

Recording and looping 

Each of the six samples have a dedicated looper and can be set to record any length loops independently of each other.  This is cool if for instance you have a short four bar loop on sample slot 1 and an eight bar pad on slot 2 etc. The master stroke here though is the loopers don’t record the sound but what your fingers are doing.  This means that you can actually change the mode that the sample is operating in and you don’t lose the loop its just does a different thing.  For instance if you were using the Bow to sustain on a small portion of the sample and then switched to the slicer, this would release the sample so it continues to play then jump back to bow mode and returns to the sustaining sound.  This has interesting performance potential. I haven’t really mentioned how good Samplr is at manipulating imported drum beats too but really my interest lies more in looking around me for sounds and exploring melodic possibilities. Also now with v1.3  You can sync Samplr to a midi clock although I have yet to try this.  Samplr also supports Audiobus so you can use it as both an instrument in apps like Cubasis and Garageband but also you can use it in the record position so you can sample compatible apps directly to it. Audioshare and AudioCopy are also supported.

Summary

So as you can see I am extremely fond of this app and it is my current favourite iPad app deposing previous top dog Thumbjam!  I think that it displays a very forward thinking approach to intuitive design and rewarding user experience and just begs you to explore the creative potential it offers.  If you are interested in music making, sound design or just messing around with cool toys, you owe it to yourself to check this app out.  If you have an iPad it is a no brainer at £6.99/$9.99! If you don’t have an iPad then there is a very good argument to get one just for this app it’s that good!  Find it here.

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