Jenn Kirby at ISSTA 2017

Attending ISSTA last month was a fantastic experience. The conference brought together an intimate group of like-minded composers, sound designers, and developers all dedicated to uncovering and exploring new sonic territories. I immensely enjoyed all that ISSTA had on offer, especially the concerts. One of the performers this year was Jenn Kirby who composes and performs electroacoustic works that apply processing through the use of unconventional, gestural, controllers like the Gametrak golf swing tether controller. In Phonetics she uses the Gametrak to control the signal processing of her vocalizations.

Programmable MIDI Foot Controller for the Korg KP3+

MIDI Foot Controller

The Korg KAOSS PAD KP3+ is a powerful beast. It’s great for realtime processing and sampling, but it’s not the best choice as a loop pedal. For one, the loop record length choices only include 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 beats. You can adjust that after recording, but not on the way in. One shot samples can be any length, but they need to be triggered manually or via a sequencer. Furthermore, it’s not a pedal. If you want to trigger or record samples with your feet you’ll need a MIDI foot controller to do that. And not just any controller. It will need to be programmable so that you can send specific note values to the KP3+ that trigger each of the sample buttons.

This is the issue I decided to resolve for my continuously evolving live setup. More often than not I use a Rhodes electric piano with the KP3+ alongside a modest family of other gear. Playing two-handed while capturing Rhodes loops without audible gaps is impossible if you have to use a “spare” hand to do it. There are a number of programmable MIDI foot controllers on the market. Unfortunately, most of them are not fully programmable and are designed for changing patches versus triggering MIDI notes. An exception to this is the Behringer FCB1010, however, it’s quite large with twelve switches and two expression pedals. I only need four switches and can’t afford the space the FCB1010 would take up.

Highly Liquid MIDI CPU

People are making all sorts of custom MIDI controllers and there’s tons of microcontrollers that can be used for this purpose. I won’t get into all the options, but a few examples include Arduino (perhaps with a SparkFun MIDI shield), Teensy, Livid Brain V2 or Brain Jr, and Highly Liquid’s MIDI CPU. It just so happened that I had a Highly Liquid MIDI CPU on hand that I was sent to me as a sample years ago. I had used it for a few experiments, but nothing on a permanent scale.

Following instructions on the Highly Liquid website I was easily able to reprogram the MIDI CPU via sysex and start testing it with the KP3+. In minutes I had a prototype working that was triggering the sample buttons properly. With that piece confirmed I ordered four momentary foot switches and a sturdy aluminum enclosure. I measured and drilled all the holes for the four switches, DC power, MIDI in, and MIDI out. I soldered it all together and started using it immediately. I’m very pleased with the results and hope to use the foot switch for years to come. To an extent it is future proof because at anytime I can reprogram it via sysex through the MIDI input. A second reason the MIDI in is useful is because I can still send the connect device MIDI from another source (MIDI clock for example). This works because the MIDI CPU can be configured to mirror the MIDI in to the MIDI out while merging messages that originate from the circuit board. Handy!

This was an inexpensive, easy, and elegant solution to a frustrating problem. Custom MIDI controllers are getting easier and cheaper to build all the time. I’d love to hear about your DIY MIDI controller projects in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

The Slate Race is Official

Gizmodo has a couple of interesting articles illustrating how the race to release a multi-touch slate device is heating up. First up is Slate Showdown. In this article specs from a broad collection of upcoming slates have been compiled and compared. Devices running Android and Windows 7 will be the most prevalent competitors to Apple’s iPad.

Another impressive development are new details regarding Notion Ink’s Adam Tablet. Reportedly the Android device will output 1080p video via an HDMI output, has a 10.1″ capacitive touchscreen capable of recognizing six simultaneous points of contact, and supports Flash.

Love or hate the iPad, it has certainly stirred up the pot. Most of these devices were under development long before Apple’s announcement, so what we’re seeing is not necessarily a “jump on the bandwagon” effect, but more of a “hey look, over here, we’re already working on that!” reaction.

The alleged fear of litigation over Apple’s supposed multi-touch patents has seemed to evaporate as more and more devices are announced. And let’s not forget Jazzmutant’s beloved Lemur. Take a look at Peter Kirn’s article What’s Next For Lemur for a lively discussion about the controller, it’s future, and competitive products.

Native Multitouch Support on the Nexus One and Beyond

I successfully installed an official Google Nexus One update to my phone last night and have been giddily pinch zooming to my hearts content ever since.

The previous lack of multitouch support on the N1 led to speculation about Apple patents and possible litigation against American companies including it on their handheld devices, but Google no longer seems worried about it.

It will be interesting to see the reactions to this, but in the meantime I’m feeling pretty glib about my decision to buy the Nexus One.

Of course this doesn’t change the potential of the device for multitouch control or music apps, however, it might attract more customers, and as a result, more developers to the platform.

Furthermore, I have been researching a variety developing stories about multitouch tablet devices to compete with the iPad. MSI is releasing a tablet running Android OS later this year. And Google has released concept photos of a tablet running Chrome OS, that is reported will support multitouch capabilities.

So, for many of us who were disappointed by Apple’s iPad announcement last week, there are a variety of competing and more open devices on the horizon that could very well satisfy some of what we’re dreaming of for open, multitouch, interactive, music devices.

Google Nexus One as an Electronic Music Device

With all the Android devices appearing recently, I’ve decided it is time to upgrade my four year old Sony Ericsson K800i to a Google Nexus One smart phone (I think I’ll hold off on calling it a super phone for now) and perhaps consider using it as a controller as I have been with the iPod Touch. Another consideration is attempting to do some music software development on the Android platform. Perhaps porting the GMS, developed in, may even be possible with the Nexus One’s 1 GHz Snapdragon (Qualcomm QSD 8250) processor and the built in video camera.

I currently have the phone in hand and will write about my impressions once I’ve had time to familiarize myself with it. It’s definitely going to take some getting used to, but so far I can say that the display is gorgeous and for the most part the functionality is wicked fast.

Music applications for Android under development include TouchOSC, and I’ve read several articles on CDM highlighting others that are available or in progress. I’m curious about Android music or sound based projects and applications that are either currently available or under development. Please comment if you’ve encountered articles or examples on this topic. After doing some research, perhaps I can start experimenting with some of the apps and writing about them here on ACB. Thanks!