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The New Style
November 5, 2006 10:13 PM   Subscribe

A new type of synth. Straight from Barcelona.
posted by pwedza (40 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I likey, I likey. I wish the folks playing it in the YouTube demo clip had taken it a little slower, though, with adding and moving those little modules around. Only toward the end of the clip did they sort of slow down the pace so that one could get a better idea of how the units were interacting and changing the sound.

This would be way fun to play.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:23 PM on November 5, 2006


D'oh!! I went straight to the 3rd link... now that I've seen the 1st two, I see that they were actually good demos of the synths' operating parameters. That'll teach me to comment without fully exploring all links...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:31 PM on November 5, 2006


But still, your first comment isn't without merit. We can see that it's capable of avant-noise improvs, but what about actual songs?
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:36 PM on November 5, 2006


We can see that it's capable of avant-noise improvs, but what about actual songs?

Aahh, now that's another question altogether. Naturally, without a keyboard interface, controlling the unit for the purpose of playing chords, scales, equal-temperament notes (and all other harmonic/melodic building blocks that go into creating what we generally think of and refer to as "songs") will be largely impossible. But there's no shortage of keyboard based synths on the market. Something like this is inherently designed for a more open-ended sonic experimentation.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:46 PM on November 5, 2006


This is just the audio generator with real-time parameter control. Hooking up keyboard control to this shouldn't be a problem.
posted by sourwookie at 11:03 PM on November 5, 2006


I was thinking the radar-thing, interacting with other objects in its sweep, could make some sort of loop sequencer. There are obviously sample-player objects in the rig.
posted by pompomtom at 11:18 PM on November 5, 2006


Hooking up keyboard control to this shouldn't be a problem.

But why would you want to? The sound of the unit is really nothing special: any number of keyboard synths on the market will sound as good or better, and they'll come with a keyboard in the first place. The whole point with this thing is the unique interface.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:37 PM on November 5, 2006


That said, I guess it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to have both this and a keyboard interface, thus expanding the possibilities...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:43 PM on November 5, 2006


I second the sonic exploration bit -- it doesn't seem to be designed for "standard" electronic music, since the emphasis is more on the marriage between aesthetics, sonics, and innovative engineering.
posted by spiderskull at 11:56 PM on November 5, 2006


I could very much see a percussion-based utility for this interface.

I also want to know what kind of sound it makes when I put my dong on it.
posted by Mach3avelli at 1:23 AM on November 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Bake the electronics into some decent china. Thanksgiving dinner will never be the same. "Pass the salt and pepper... slowly. Now turn the gravy boat so its pointing at grandma."
posted by hal9k at 3:04 AM on November 6, 2006


I also want to know what kind of sound it makes when I put my dong on it.

"ping"
posted by pyramid termite at 3:12 AM on November 6, 2006


wow! i think it's time to start saving for a projector and camera setup.
posted by waxboy at 3:17 AM on November 6, 2006


Bake the electronics into some decent china.

Yeah, and then make sure all the dinner guests are wearing sonic fabric and all the utensils are made from tape heads and that meal is gonna be the avant-garde music event of the century.

"ping"

pyramid termite, you wouldn't be referring there to the size of the dong in use... would you?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:22 AM on November 6, 2006


oops, meant to link to the sonic fabric thread itself, not specifically to my comment in it. Oh well, I guess I was bound to self-link at some point or other.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:25 AM on November 6, 2006


Looks somewhat familiar.
posted by mkb at 3:35 AM on November 6, 2006


Gimmick. Although it looks like a cool toy that would be fun for a few minutes, I can't see how you'd get any level of musical sophistication from it.
As a music photographer (and ex musician), I see that most people appreciate music visually, so it's pretty good for those people. The classical avant-garde will love it as well, as it's mostly conceptual.
posted by BobsterLobster at 4:10 AM on November 6, 2006


I would like to see this idea on this interface. (10 minute demo of cool multi-touch sensing rear projection screen.)

This would allow zooming whole sections of the interface in and out, plus you could call up a piano-style keyboard if you wanted one.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 4:29 AM on November 6, 2006


I suppose if some of us are capable of memorizing the multitudinous motions contained in the average para para or hand jive dance, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before someone develops enough familiarity with the thing to produce consistent results. controlling those modules must have a hell of a learning curve, but do I ever look forward to the genesis of composition which will come, eventually.

The thing is already a joy to watch. Thanks, pwedza.
posted by squasha at 5:24 AM on November 6, 2006


Here's an even better idea: skip the underlying table interface altogether. Package the main unit as a tabletop unit, and use some clear acetate sheets with simple printouts as tutorials. Have some sort of wireless connectivity to Airport Express/AirTunes, with optional hardware for XLR mics, MIDI, etc.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:30 AM on November 6, 2006


It's very pretty, but it does nothing that you can't do on ableton and reason, and with better control.
posted by empath at 5:40 AM on November 6, 2006


Did no one see the first video? It clearly shows that you can have a pretty high level of control, there are sequencer and sampler modules - I'm sure that someone with the manual dexterity of a turntablist who'd put in enough practice could do wonders with something like this. Obviously it'd be more suited to improvised musics - especially with multiple players - and live performance than in a studio, but it still looks like making songs as opposed to more free stuff would be do-able.

Maybe I'm just liking the look of it because I never had any luck using software to make music, but once I picked up an old drum machine, sampler and some pedals, I was able to get the sounds in my head out (not to mention that tinkering with more tactile interfaces are just plain good fun!)
posted by jack_mo at 6:00 AM on November 6, 2006


I did see the first video. And as someone who has done some sound engineering, a few percentage (even fractions of a percent) points of control on your LFOs, filters, etc make the difference between a beautiful, rich synth sound and an off-key, discordant mess.

I'm sure you could make some fabulous noise with this thing, but getting anything danceable or hummable out of it is going to be impossible.
posted by empath at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2006


The same complaints people have about using it for regular music, I have about using it for noise or "abstract" music.

A dude was here a couple years ago with a prototype of the Lemur, and I played a gig with him & got to demo it a little before and after, and I have to say, I think more can be done more intuitively with the circuit boards of 4 or 5 standard delay pedals and a mixer, at literally a tenth the cost. I even think it'd look cooler, but that's pretty debatable.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:57 AM on November 6, 2006


Not that I'm against the research, btw. They are clearly onto something. Right now, I think the problems are mostly a matter of resolution. All I can think of now when I see this is that I'd rather have a big board full of keys and knobs and sliders. But I could see that changing.
posted by empath at 7:06 AM on November 6, 2006


but getting anything danceable or hummable out of it is going to be impossible.

The bits in the first video where they demo the metronome, sequencer and then the harmoniser would've been danceable and hummable respectively if they'd left the blocks alone rather than constantly tweaking.

I take your point about the relative lack of control, though - it also looks like adjusting the parameters is slightly off real time, which would be a wee bit of a problem if you were trying to make more structured music.
posted by jack_mo at 7:18 AM on November 6, 2006


Interesting. I was also reminded of the Audiopad. I can see something like it becoming the tool of choice for turntablists of the future, loop-based artists like Thievery Corp, etc.

Using it to generate sounds (as was mostly shown in the demos) seems like it might be less productive than using it to modify recorded sounds. I could imagine a performer having a rack of a few dozen sample-pucks, a dozen effects-pucks, and a few drumbeat-pucks putting together real music.
posted by adamrice at 7:20 AM on November 6, 2006


Yeah, the only thing that had promise to me was the radar trigger. It would be a lot of fun to throw together a drum loop with that. Hopefully it can quantize, too.
posted by empath at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2006


This was at SIGGRAPH at Boston this year. I asked the demoer about Audiopad since it struck me as being similar as well. He seemed annoyed and didn't really give me an explanation of how it was different, just told me that there were lots of projects like Audiopad.

From the few minutes I watched him, it looked less fun than Audiopad for simple playing around with loops and sounds, but gave you more components and control over more parameters if you know what you're doing.
posted by shortfuse at 10:05 AM on November 6, 2006


The thing that I liked about it is that it looked like it could be quite useful in teaching people the way synthesis works. From what I could tell of the videos, it appeared to work like a modular synth. Every time you drop a new module into place, it altered the wave form, and you got a very direct and tactile representation of how the wave form was changing.

It took me forever working on soft synths before I managed to get a mental picture of how any of that stuff worked. While I agree that the sound wasn't any great shakes, I do think it would be both fun to play with, and could be quite valuable in teaching people the basics of sound design/synthesis.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:08 AM on November 6, 2006


I also want to know what kind of sound it makes when I put my dong on it.

Q. What's brown and sounds like a bell?
A. Dung!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:14 AM on November 6, 2006


I also want to know what kind of sound it makes when I put my dong on it.

tink!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:16 AM on November 6, 2006


Damn. That audiopad is a lot more sophisticated!
posted by VulcanMike at 11:37 AM on November 6, 2006


Let's get Jordon Rudess on the thing!
posted by LordSludge at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2006


First, this isn't a new way to synthesize sound -- it really isn't a "synth" at all, but a new form of controller. You could hook it up to pretty well any electric or electronic noise-making device with the right interface.

Second, this isn't *that* new -- you can buy a similar device commercially right now (and let me know if you do so I can play with it).

Second, while I agree that some important parameters are very sensitive to change and others very insensitive, I do not agree that those cannot all be controlled by this device *in principle* -- whether the software is ready to do it or not is a different question.

Scaling, my boy, non-linear scaling is the key -- digital knobs with a custom taper and acceleration. When you need the wide range, you can scan through several orders of magnitude; when you need to tweak just the last significant digit, you can gently adjust that as well.

That said -- the physical control you can get with a knob or fader is extraordinary and isn't going to be replicated by a screen where you simply draw. When I'm pushing a fader slowly, two of my fingers are pushing in the direction of travel and one or two fingers are opposing it so that I can make microadjustments without the fader jumping around or not moving at a key moment.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:51 PM on November 6, 2006


The ingenuity to note here is the interface. There's a lot of criticism for this thing as a synth but that's just one application that could be fine tuned for better results. It's the interface that's amazing to me.. the way you can interact with it and setup an arbitrary configuration in a lot less time than anything else. I'm surprised at the number of "meh" responses.
posted by creeptick at 2:52 PM on November 6, 2006


Enron, it looks something like this [self-link].
posted by arialblack at 3:31 PM on November 6, 2006


Boy, alot of haters on this one.
First off, it's a research project. That means that it's an experiment. This isn't a product for sale.
Secondly, as a serious computer musician (at least formerly), this would be a fantastic way to work. Tactile control over complex synthesis/processing routines has been something of a holy grail/major area of research for many years in this field. This is just another example of a sensible idea that's been developed (roughly) simultaneously by many people. This isn't meant for making pop music, though I bet someone that's comfortable with the interface could make something that would surprise the hell out of most of you.

Also, this strikes me as a really interesting device to teach principles of sound and synthesis. There are many haptic learners out there, and musicians often fall into that category (many of us having been raised on traditional 'touchy' instruments).
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 5:20 PM on November 6, 2006


SPECIAL NOTE TO ALL WHO'VE CONTIBUTED SO FAR TO THIS THREAD: I just got an email from one of the makers of this monster we've all been talking about. He found us here, went through some of the commenters' usernames until he found one that he "knew" (he knew my music, actually), and he sent me the following document with a request to post it within this thread. I know this is a little unorthodox, as these folks aren't MeFi members, but he is clearly eager to respond to some of the comments we've made, and considering that he is one of the designers, I'm going to go on the assumption that his contribution to this thread will be welcome. I'm posting it here in its entirety, omitting only some references he made to my own music which are not relevant to the current thread. So... here it is:

dear (flapjax),

i'm
writing you now as one of the "inventors" of the reactable.

i found you on a reactable post this morning, and since the thread has
become somehow hot and interesting i had the tempation to contribute, but
it seems that it takes a week to register.

would it be too much to ask you to put that on the thread?

do it or not, sorry for the intrusion and thanks!

************************************

Introduction:
This is the first time I contribute to a reactable post, but since many interesting things have been said until now, I couldn’t resist the temptation. Sorry for the intromission.

"This is just the audio generator with real-time parameter control. Hooking up keyboard control to this shouldn't be a problem".

Keyboard:
Of course we could put a keyboard. Physical (via midi in) or virtual (just the display and control it with the fingers). But, as someone said, no instrument can do everything, and ours is not meant for what keyboards are. Although never say never. Moog didn’t want to put one either but when someone convinced him, he won the business to Buchla (who resisted too much long).

Instruments:
The turntable is (for me) the last “classic”. Can you play chords and melodies with it?

"I could very much see a percussion-based utility for this interface".

Percussion:
That, we would really like it. We are working on it, although it will take time, if we ever make it…

"I did see the first video. And as someone who has done some sound engineering, a few percentage (even fractions of a percent) points of control on your LFOs, filters, etc make the difference between a beautiful, rich synth sound and an off-key, discordant mess".

Resolution:
The reactable knobs’ resolution is way far more than MIDI’s 7 bits (0-127).
Some objects use more than 1080 degrees (>3 full turns).

Unstability, I agree, is completely another issue, it is true. It is no as reliable and predictive as a mouse fader or a 2006 knob, although perhaps more predictable than a 1965 Moog knob. Also less predictable than a feedback guitar or an overblown tenor saxophone. We love non-linearity; we love to struggle with our instruments, and we’re obviously still learning how to do it.

Non-linearity:
And I firmly believe, like many Interactive music pioneers [Joel Chadabe, Laurie Spiegel, George Lewis, The League of Automatic Composers, The Hub….], that computer based musical instruments are only interesting when they use their “intelligence” to promote this struggle, this dialog, thus this “interaction”. That is essentially, and not their theoretically unlimited sound possibilities, what makes them different from acoustic instruments. I.e. it is hard (if not impossible) to compete with violins or saxophones on the “expressive” side.

"Interesting. I was also reminded of the Audiopad. I can see something like it becoming the tool of choice for turntablists of the future, loop-based artists like Thievery Corp, etc."

Audiopad:
This is not meant to be an audiopad-reactable flame.
We know each other for years. We have shared conferences and ideas.
There are currently dozens of tangible musical instruments or controllers. We even keep a list of them in our web. We do not hide anything! And audiopad was first. I saw in 2002.
Although we were also doing virtual synthesisers where visual feedback was essential, much before the audiopad. In that sense we are more related with Golan Levin audiovisual suite (AES) that with James Patten’s Audiopad
Second, the Audiopad, as James Patten puts it is not a modular synthesiser.

"Second, this isn't *that* new -- you can buy a similar device commercially right now (and let me know if you do so I can play with it)".

Lemur:
Is just a multitouch interface, where you can program the widgets they gave you. Great. But reactable is not meant to be a midi controller.

First, this isn't a new way to synthesize sound -- it really isn't a "synth" at all, but a new form of controller. You could hook it up to pretty well any electric or electronic noise-making device with the right interface.
It would also be hard to get the audio (for drawing it) from a regular synth. i.e. in a limitless multichannel way, and at every step of the processing chain.... so, you couldn’t control reactor, or reason, not even Max/MSP unless you had the code. Pure data and Supercollider are open-source. And that’s what we have used until now.

Bye:
This is truly the first post on the reactable that we have seen, that discusses interesting issues.
Those interested, can find a LOT of information (literally hundreds of pages) at our web site. Thanks.

sergi

http://mtg.upf.edu/reactable
http://www.iua.upf.edu/~sergi/

posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:29 PM on November 6, 2006


He didn't address my query about the dong.
posted by Mach3avelli at 1:23 PM on November 7, 2006


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