Thursday, April 08, 2010

Jam with Faraway Musicians Via Your Laptop: Ohm Studio



Music has always been a collaborative art form. The first popular records were made by bringing all musicians into a studio full of microphones, recording them live all at once. With the advent of multitrack audiotape, each instrument could be recorded a track at a time, and thus, you could get a drummer or a pianist in there one day, then bring in a vocalist on another.

This multitrack metaphor still remains today in digital audio workstation software (or DAW). But there's still the problem of finding good musicians to meet up with you and jam. With the Internet and email and file-sharing, that's much easier. Assuming you find people through any number of sites, you can fling the tracks back and forth to each other wherever you might be -- in your garage in Seattle, or on a Wi-Fi accessible beach in Fiji. But that's still annoying.

Now there's Ohm Studio, a DAW with a social network back-end plus an optimized file-sharing engine within the app. Sounds good, but there are already quite a few DAWs out there. Pro Tools, Sonar, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Acid, Cubase, Record, Reaper to name a few. Would be great if the social media back-end were an open API so that each DAW developer could tap into it. A standard, like the virtual instrument plugin standard "VST". Ah well.

Someday very soon you can be sitting on the beach, acting like you're the hot shot producer in the control room as you type to your artist "More cowbell."

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Friday, February 19, 2010

MIT scientists developing giant, hovering 3-D Animations



Remember the amazing human pixel performances at the Chinese Olympics? I was stunned at the beauty of thousands of people acting as one giant moving picture. Now, scientists at MIT are working on floating displays made up of individual controllable flying robots, each with adjustable colored lights.

I do hope these don't catch on as advertising, however. Can you imagine being accosted by a hovering, glowing face made up of artificial gnats nagging you to shop at Wal Mart or get your oil changed at Jiffy Lube? Greaaat.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ooh! Me want! Moldover's new custom controller, the Mojo now for sale


Electronic music performer Moldover has long been a pioneer in unusual ways to DJ and perform music.  His modus operandi has been to hack apart off-the-shelf MIDI USB controllers (like those from M-Audio and Novation), add his own bits, remove the ones in the way, and hook up the Frankensteinian result to a laptop running music software such as Ableton Live and Reaktor. 

Moldover calls this increasingly common practice of making and using new DJ interfaces "controllerism."  Like many DIY and Open Source creators, he has been very open about his techniques, offering many youtube demonstration videos and giving regular talks at music technology user groups.

Well now Moldover has a new toy to play with, and you can play it too!  (For a mere $1800)  This one he had custom-built with rugged, ergonomically-aligned arcade buttons, and an industrial-grade metal and wood case. 

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TED: Portable "Minority Report" interface!


For those of you haven't seen Minority Report, the movie showcases some seemingly futuristic gestural interfaces that Tom Cruise uses to control a complex computer system. Yet only a few years after it came out, we're already seeing just how possible this is. In this TED video, Pattie Maes from MIT demonstrates a low-cost ($350) system that lets the user use any available surface (a wall, a free hand (!)) as a multi-touch interface. Granted, it's a bit slower to use than Jeff Han's table or Microsoft's Surface, but hey, it's cheap and you can bring it with you.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reactable: Multi-touch Tabletop Synthesizer Now Available



Oooh boy, me want!

This is the final product version of the Reactable, previously a thesis project by grad students at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain.

What is it? It's a tangible multi-touch projection surface hooked up to an interactive modular synthesizer. In other words, take the Evil Supreme Being's water surveillance screen from Time Bandits:



and combine it with a virtual version of Robert Moog's modular synthesizers:



What I like about this multi-touch screen is that it can "see" special barcode-like glyph patterns on the sides of objects. These glyphs can generate specific controls on the screen, or represent modes (like say "octave" or "turn on delay"). The screen detects their position and rotation. In contrast, something like the iPhone tracks fingers, but once you remove the finger, the tracking and control (as well as the visual representation of the control) are gone unless something tells the software to make that control "stick". This is not as intuitive as a tangible control. (After all, we know what to do with blocks as soon as we're old enough to grasp things.) The blocks on this surface are the signal to the screen to make a control. Removing them makes the control disappear. No extra interface to learn. It's also a nice way to partition the work of many users. Each player can control something (or many things) with his/her own block and participate with the overall result of everyone else's control blocks.

Looks like this incarnation of the Reactable is meant for museum and art installations, rather than personal use. And of course, it's running a specific application, namely a synthesizer. Wonder how much it costs!

As mentioned before on this blog, the last couple of years have been great for multi-touch interfaces. Jeff Hahn's interface, Jonny Lee's Nintendo Wiimote hack for a multi-touch whiteboard, the Reactable, Microsoft's Surface and the iPhone. Keep 'em coming!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

TEDx USC: Qi Zhang opening


Qi Zhang opens sitting at an unusual organ-like instrument with foot pedals. However, the music being played sounds nothing like an organ, it's a symphonic tune reminiscent of a Walt Disney World fireworks show. But all being played by her! Whoa! Drums, percussion, horns, strings... Incredible.

UPDATE: The piece played is Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges. (Ménage à troi l'orange?)

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Video Editor from the Future!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Videogame + Toy Theatre?



There's a whole burgeoning world of augmented reality technology and new ways to interface with computers these days. As you've read about here so far, there's Johnny Lee's Wii white board, the Reactable collaborative musical instrument, and the amazing 3-D rotating textured stage in the Cirque du Soleil show, KA in Vegas. What do all of these have in common? Tracking.

This morning I found this video of levelhead, an installation game where the player's only interface is one or more plastic cubes on a pedestal. The game itself and the player are shown on a projected screen, and the sides of the cubes are replaced by tiny virtual rooms with a little avatar.

Yesterday I went to a Dorkbot event where we learned about RoboRealm, a free Windows toolkit for adding Computer Vision to your projects. It takes care of a lot of the complicated linear algebra and programming for you, essentially turning your webcam into an eye for your robot, a tracker for your interactive art piece, or whatever you can come up with. There are modules to send data out to your own electronics or robotics kit or your own software.

Besides this kit, there is the software library used in levelhead called OSGArt. Lots of other tools out there too.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

SPORE Creature Creator: The Future of Digital Puppet-Building?


Will Wright is the mastermind behind Sim City and The Sims series (the best-selling PC game of all time). His upcoming SPORE game takes the player through stages of living things, starting with the microbial, then land-based fauna, then into social groups (tribal), then into civilization mode, then finally into space mode! But what's really exciting to me is the Creature Creator mode and the technology behind it.

Most modeling and animation package interfaces start with an interface left over from Computer Aided Design (CAD). That is, you model geometry first. When it's how you like it, you add skeletal rigging (bones) and mesh the two. Then you build in all sorts of constraints so that when you move parts of the puppet, it behaves realistically. Finally, after the digital puppet is ready, you can animate it or apply clip-art animation to it. Life takes a while to emerge.

SPORE's interface starts with the premise that you are tweaking a living being. You, the designer*, get to add in functioning hands, legs, and eyes (not just shapes of them) and this being will react to them, try them out, shake them around, and perhaps disapprove of your modifications. It's very much like the classic Chuck Jones Daffy Duck cartoon Duck Amuck where the unseen artist keeps redrawing Daffy's background and his body.

I do hope Autodesk and Softimage are watching. Wouldn't it be great to be able to construct creatures in this organic way? Wouldn't it be lovely to not have to worry about building IK handles and binding deformers and just start building an instantly animatable character? Granted, there are only 250 shapes available and with all this built-in procedural structure, there are limits to what you can build. But sometimes limitation is exactly what you want. (Who needs the thousands of combination that DON'T work as an animated being?)

* It's perhaps unfortunate that SPORE creatures don't seem to "evolve" when they mate, emphasizing the unnecessary (but fun) step of design.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Touchscreen DJ rig


Final Product // ATTIGO TT from Scott Hobbs on Vimeo.

Doh! Why didn't we think of that? This is the thesis project of Scott Hobbs, but I can see something like this touchscreen DJ rig being offered by Numark, Vestax, or Stanton someday.

Of course, you can already do this with Mixmeister Scratch and an iPhone:


Inspired by Geekologie.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nokia's "Get Out And Play" Site


Check out this impressive site for Nokia's N-Gage platform (which sadly won't work with my Motorola KRZR. Bummer!)

Play the initial Break-out game while everything's downloading, watch the human "snake" and then try the pixelated human version of Break-out. Very clever!

via Guz off of Tumblr.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Tablet Mac Now Available!


Are you an illustrator, photographer, animator, or DJ? This might be the Macbook for you. No, it's not sold by Apple, but it's licensed by them and is essentially a Macbook Pro made of stronger magnesium vs. aluminum, merged with a very strong 13" glass screen covering a Wacom® tablet. Unlike the Macbook Air, it has your choice of CDROM or Superdrive, and unlike the Wacom® Cintiq line of portable tablet screens, you don't need a Macbook or Mac Mini standing by with a cable.

Of course you writers and accountants can hook up keyboards to its USB port if you really want.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Turntable + Analog Drum Machine + Step Sequencer motif = Drum Buddy

Speaking of the step sequencer design motif, here's a video of the Drum Buddy, a hand-made, fantasmic analog drum / filter instrument thing, only 10 of which exist, and all of which are sold out (at $5000 a piece!). Note the rotating spool with marks, which are read by optical sensors hooked up to analog oscillators and filters. But unlike piano rolls or music boxes, this guy can be spun in a manner any DJ turntablist would appreciate.

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Tangible User Interface Design: The Step Sequencer

I just love novel computer interfaces. Today's example is a step sequencer, which is the modern-day equivalent of the player piano or music box. Both of those instruments use a mechanically rotating spool of marks indicating notes of a certain pitch. The spacing between the marks indicates timing (i.e. rhythm). As the spool turns, whatever marks arriving over the fixed playback line are the ones that play. There are many incarnations of step sequencers, including electronic and software versions. Both replace the rotating drum with a looping playback line.

Two recent experiments involve using physical objects for the marks, and having a computer recognize the color and position of them. This computer can then playback any sound imaginable.

There's the Bubblegum Ball Sequencer by Hannes Hesse, Andrew McDiarmid and Rosie Han up at UC Berkeley:


Or this Skittles® sequencer by Kyle McDonald:



And really, all these new-fangled music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are variations on step sequencers. Instead of a rotating drum (moving marks) with a fixed playback line, or a grid (static marks) with a moving playback line, these games use a conveyor belt of notes flowing down to a fixed playback line that the human player must play at the right time (or risk public humiliation).


via Create Digital Music

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Simon & The Land of Chalk Drawings, Made Real!


Ok, maybe not chalk, but can you imagine a Physics class taught this way? Or any other kind of class, with the right software.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Cintiq 12WX Portable Pen Screen by Wacom


Oh my, how lovely! Although I don't draw very much at all, if I did I would certainly want the Cintiq 12WX, the smaller, less expensive sibling of Wacom's larger non-portable pen-sensitive screens, and cousin to their popular Intuos and Bamboo lines of pen tablets.

Wacom tablets are obviously designed for artists and photographers, but other uses include sound design and interactive lighting control. Interestingly, each pad is capable of tracking two pens although no software utilizes that feature yet.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Irwin Music: Drummer Brings Performance back to Electronic Music


Ableton Live and Irwin at SAE Institute of Music Los Angeles

I really enjoy live music and computer music, but a large portion of the "concerts" I've been to with both involve a bunch of people sitting down, not facing the audience, appearing to twiddle a few knobs. Yeah, the idea is probably to get lost in the sound (and/or the effects of drugs, if you're into that), and geek out at all the cool toys. And sure, there might be a cool projected screensaver going on in the background (possibly being performed by a VJ) but come on, don't you enjoy seeing people playing instruments?

A few months ago I went to an Ableton Live User's Group meeting in Hollywood, and was excitedly surprised to see the above performance. Of course a video can't really capture the energy of the room, but it gives you a good idea. (If you look very closely you can see fuzzy me in the audience).

Irwin is using some Roland V-Drums (professional versions of the electronic drums I blogged about earlier), a drum trigger pad, a theremin, a special box that converts the theremin's continuous tone into discrete MIDI events, and an Apple Black Macbook running Ableton Live. Things get very hectic on his second set -- he's playing high speed drum n' bass music LIVE. Nice!

There's just something about banging physical objects that beats knob-twiddling or fader-sliding any day.

If you're in Los Angeles and interested in making electronic music, check out the next Ableton Live User Group meeting on January 31st, 8 PM @ SAE on 6565 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Drums are the new Exercise Equipment Must-have

Scoot over, Nordic Track™. Step aside, Stair Master™. America's living rooms are tied of boring old exercise equipment taking up space, seldom used except on Sunday morning TV infomercials. Now there's Roland's V-Drum Lite HD-1 for that total upper AND lower body work-out combined with virtual rock-star training.

Lose weight while playing along to your favorite hits produced back when they used actual drummers. Tone those arms so that you can beat all your friends playing Rock Band™ on your PS3 & XBox. Or, if music is not your thing, use it as an avant-guarde techno sculpture center-piece.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Personal Projector: Turn any flat surface into an Interface!


Wow. Nifty! Funky-looking control, but that's to enable the Vicon motion capture camera to do its magic. I can imagine a really high-powered one that lets you use the sides of buildings...

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Blog your Sketches


It was only a matter of time. First, blogs let you upload short text clips that folks can subscribe to. Then there were podcasts for audio and video. Now, there's sketchcasting, which basically combines those old playback animation tools (in Java or Flash) with YouTube videos.

Of course, this has been done the the hard way many times before, but now everyone can do it. It even lets you record live sound.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Behold! Customizable Animated Electronic Greeting Cards

Apparently, the online greeting card business is upwards of $80 million a year so far. There are gazillions of card sites these days. Most I've seen are not so much cards anymore, but animated or live action footage. More like "-grams" as in singing telegrams, candy-grams, etc.

The trend now is to allow user-customizable cut-out faces on prefabricated animations. The first one I saw is called Starring U from the JibJab brothers (who showed me in person. Whohoo!) But they are not alone, and probably not the first either! There is also the oddly-named Mushy Gushy site, which seems to have more prepackaged animations lined up already. The JibJab brothers are a lot more famous though, minor celebrities ever since their Flash-animated parody of Bush & Kerry singing "This Land is Your Land" hit the Net, seen by millions of people and landing them major TV talk shows.

May the best Terry Gilliam-esque cut-out face animated e-greeting card Web 2.0 website win!

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Computer Science = Not enough to solve production problems.

Some thoughts occurred to me today as I looked back over my career:
  • My Computer Science degree taught me nothing about how to build great tools for actual people working in a production environment.
  • Nor did it tell me how anything about how such tools get created in the "wild" -- neither ideally nor poorly.
  • Small companies tend to build production tools from the bottom up, based on informal conversations between people needing tools and the developers.
  • Once a small company grows too big or gets bought out by another company, a top-down approach takes over.
  • This approach is a mostly linear flow:
    • Users complain about a problem.
    • Production or Management determines whether this problem is worthy. If so, it creates a ticket in the tracking system.
    • Developers see ticket and build tool.
  • Seems logical enough, but I have yet to work for a company where this invading top-down methodology:
    • Improves the actual production for the people using it or the customers they support.
    • Doesn't waste time & money and actually cause lower production over time.
    • Isn't initiated by so-called experts outside (and with little knowledge of) the production wanting vague results like "accountability" and "return on investment" and other business buzzwords.
    • Doesn't discourage bottom-up ideas from going through the new top-down process, EVEN THOUGH the new system mantra is "Please, send us your ideas to improve the system."
  • The top-down folks and the bottom-up folks tend to speak very different languages.
  • Managers from both sides host meetings with minimal feedback from their teams.
  • Hierarchy, a concept from the top-down folks, gets imposed to keep folks under the manager of the developers from going around and talking directly to the other teams they are building tools for.
  • The flow from top to bottom results in tools built to specifications that are weak because the folks needing them:
    • Speak different languages amongst themselves and the developers.
    • Can't determine precisely what it is they need.
  • The developers adopt a mentality of "Just build what is asked -- that way we are not accountable. It's their fault if they don't get what they want."
  • Meanwhile, the experts in actually making the production work without decent tools get overworked.
  • They finally burn-out and leave, leaving behind a gaping hole of lost knowledge.
  • Sometimes, the original developers become "operations" and new developers called "engineers" are brought in to formalize the (mostly unknown) process.
  • These engineers:
    • Have no understanding of the legacy system,
    • Often discourage feedback from the original developers
    • Make grandiose promises of a panacea for management.
  • The panacea never happens.
Next time, I'll describe what has worked.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Behold! Neat-o Keyboard from the Future!


Have a look at this new British MIDI controller interface called the Axis Natural Keyboard.

A traditional piano keyboard looks like this:

Whereas, this instrument looks like this:


I had thought this layout was a completely original, from-the-future concept. But like all ideas, it has some connection to the past. Here's a musical reed instrument produced in the 1950s with a similar interface, the Harmonetta.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Apple Stores Succeed despite Predictions of Doom

Nice blog entry about an article about the surprise success of Apple stores.

From Signal vs. Noise:
The critics were way off…

“Sorry Steve, Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work,” BusinessWeek wrote with great certainty in 2001. “It’s desperation time in Cupertino, Calif.,” opined TheStreet.com. “I give [Apple] two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” predicted retail consultant David Goldstein…

Saks, whose flagship is down the street, generates sales of $362 per square foot a year. Best Buy (Charts) stores turn $930 – tops for electronics retailers – while Tiffany & Co. (Charts) takes in $2,666. Audrey Hepburn liked Tiffany’s for breakfast. But at $4,032, Apple is eating everyone’s lunch.

The stores were prototyped like a product…

“One of the best pieces of advice Mickey ever gave us was to go rent a warehouse and build a prototype of a store, and not, you know, just design it, go build 20 of them, then discover it didn’t work,” says Jobs. In other words, design it as you would a product. Apple Store Version 0.0 took shape in a warehouse near the Apple campus. “Ron and I had a store all designed,” says Jobs, when they were stopped by an insight: The computer was evolving from a simple productivity tool to a “hub” for video, photography, music, information, and so forth. The sale, then, was less about the machine than what you could do with it. But looking at their store, they winced. The hardware was laid out by product category – in other words, by how the company was organized internally, not by how a customer might actually want to buy things. “We were like, ‘Oh, God, we’re screwed!’” says Jobs.

But they weren’t screwed; they were in a mockup. “So we redesigned it,” he says. “And it cost us, I don’t know, six, nine months. But it was the right decision by a million miles.” When the first store finally opened, in Tysons Corner, Va., only a quarter of it was about product. The rest was arranged around interests: along the right wall, photos, videos, kids; on the left, problems. A third area – the Genius Bar in the back – was Johnson’s brainstorm.

Hotel concierges were the inspiration for the genius bar…

“When we launched retail, I got this group together, people from a variety of walks of life,” says Johnson. “As an icebreaker, we said, ‘Tell us about the best service experience you’ve ever had.’” Of the 18 people, 16 said it was in a hotel. This was unexpected. But of course: The concierge desk at a hotel isn’t selling anything; it’s there to help. “We said, ‘Well, how do we create a store that has the friendliness of a Four Seasons Hotel?’” The answer: “Let’s put a bar in our stores. But instead of dispensing alcohol, we dispense advice.”...”See that? Look at their eyes. They’re learning. There’s an intense moment – like when you see a kid in school going ‘Aha!’”

The stores fight clutter in products and elements…

The most striking thing, though, is what you don’t see. No. 1: clutter. Jobs has focused Apple’s resources on fewer than 20 products, and those have steadily been shrinking in size. Backroom inventory, then, can shrink in physical volume even as sales volume grows. Also missing, at the newest stores, anyway, is a checkout counter. The system Apple developed, EasyPay, lets salespeople wander the floor with wireless credit-card readers and ask, “Would you like to pay for that?”

The interiors, too, have been distilled to a minimum of elements. “We’ve gotten it down so there’s only three materials we’re using: glass, stainless steel, and wood,” says Johnson. “We spent a year and a half perfecting that steel. Stainless steel can be cold if you don’t get the finish right.

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posted by Brian at 2:53 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cool Flash Site for Billy Harvey

Just when I thought that Flash websites were so late 90s and that the Web was moving away from sites and towards light-weight, shareable, indexable, searchable, remixable RSS feeds aggregated through readers like Feedburner and Google Reader, my friend Marc Deadrick sends me this link for independent Austinite musician, Billy Harvey.

It's a fine example of a site creating more of an experience than just a controllable soda-fountain of information.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Digital Trumpet Controller!

At last, you trumpet players can get into the digital music game previously reserved for keyboardists, drummers, reed-instrument players, guitarists, and violinists.

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