Long live buttons and knobs

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
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Jeroen
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Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Jeroen » Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:26 am

Interesting read about touchscreens and I think relevant to musicians as well:

http://www.slate.com/articles/technolog ... _jobs.html

buttons and knobs will survive!
Life is made of stories not atoms

Forge.
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Forge. » Sat Nov 05, 2011 2:00 am

this has been my feeling regarding music with these iDevices. They might be fun timekillers, but for real music playing there needs to be something solid that can take a beating.

Maybe in the context of music it could be useful for example replacing the clip matrix on an APC40 so that you can actually see the clips that you are triggering to save looking at the laptop - but even there I get the feeling they would feel too fragile to be be thumped in the heat of the moment in a sweaty gig.....

And on top of that what that article said about the nano was spot on - in terms of the "human-factor" you want certain things to be as simple as possible. In a live situation I really hate the idea of something doing more than one thing - it just creates confusion. You want a certain knob to always do the same thing as much as possible. Save for maybe things like 8 macros where you can use them with instant mapping - but even that can be a source of confusion because you need to remember what is what.

Simplicity is the key. Like he said, the fact that you can't do something as simple as pause/play with one click any more on the nano is ridiculous.

pencilrocket
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by pencilrocket » Sat Nov 05, 2011 5:24 am

I don't like touch screen. Smart phone and tablet gets functionality and weitht lost by scrificing physical interfeces of fast stable routine of the usablity. It is compromise and working for some aspect. But when we want best gear for specific task it's better to obtain physical interface rather than getting touch screen interface which doesn't have affordance.
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Muzik 4 Machines
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Muzik 4 Machines » Sat Nov 05, 2011 6:03 am

i dont like touchscreens for knobs, its pointless
for faders it still can be used but still i prefer a fader

the grid/matrix tho is REALLY cool(i wish the next gen APC replaces the matrix with just a iPad sized multi touch so as was said, you can see the clips a la griid(which i wish i had an ipad JUST for that app alone, i think id just lay the ipad on top of my apc to replace the whole matrix lol)

i really hope ableton and akai/novation(but i really hope they team with Korg) make something like this, 8+1 motorized faders, 16-24 knobs and a touch screen that serves as a grid matrix and can be used to see plugins(maybe auto map the 24 knobs to the plugin(overlaying a number on top of the control on screen) see the session overview, edit MIDI clips(either via touch or even better, both direct touch AND using your mouse keyboard, kind of like a second monitor(and if the new toy is usb3 or thunderbolt, i cant see why not, there is enough BW to allow it to be a second monitor with a special interface for edition, mix, etc and when playing live, showing you the grid or any other relevant information you need

Ryanmf
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Ryanmf » Sat Nov 05, 2011 6:03 am

I found the viewpoint outlined in the linked article rather myopic.

Yes, the clickwheel was a wonderful bit of industrial design, and I've gotten as much mileage out of navigating it blind without so much as removing it from my pocket as anyone. And the current generation Nano is just awful. Apple has rebooted the Nano line 3 out of the last 4 years, and they're going to have to do it again, because that thing sucks. (Incidentally, I'm still using my G2 Nano. Bits of it have chipped off, but it keeps on ticking.)

So, does the author believe the world-class designers at Apple and other top design firms are just going to stop refining their attempts at sophisticated human interaction design? That's absurd. Perhaps these most recent developments in technology will prove detrimental in some use cases, but the designs for those specific use cases will be improved upon as necessary. The existence of touchscreens is no more a detriment than the advancements in technology that allowed that misguided article to be published to an audience who may not be sufficiently informed to question its conclusions.

Furthermore, the notion that the touchscreen represents a blemish on Apple's reputation is outrageous. Did the author miss the dozens of articles about it being the most practical, affordable, and functional learning and communication tool for those on the unfortunate end of the Autism spectrum that human civilization has produced to date? (Oh, did I say "dozens"? Google wagers it knows of over 27 million instances of web pages discussing the matter: https://www.google.com/search?q=ipad+iphone+autism). How can anyone argue that a device that infants can discover how to use without instruction somehow amounts to a step backwards in usability? http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=iphone+baby

As it pertains to music performance specifically, I defy anyone to name a pre-iThing technology that allowed for synthesizer modulation control on the level of Konkreet Performer or Omni TR for Omnisphere. And we're just getting started.

Multitaskers are a gift and a curse. Simplicity has its benefits, but those benefits don't always outweigh the costs. Are you disappointed that the existence of your computer and Ableton Live allow you to host umpteen virtual instruments whereas without those technologies you'd be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars on hardware synthesizers to achieve the same variety of sound? A patch cable is pretty simple, and a eurorack module tends to have a fairly straightforward function, but is a modular synthesizer the only viable option?
Forge. wrote:In a live situation I really hate the idea of something doing more than one thing - it just creates confusion. You want a certain knob to always do the same thing as much as possible. Save for maybe things like 8 macros where you can use them with instant mapping - but even that can be a source of confusion because you need to remember what is what.
And then there are some people who use Pages (http://code.google.com/p/monome-pages/) to cram as wide a variety of functionality into their monomes as they desire. The monome, by the way, has none of the qualities of affordance described by the author. Nothing about the interface informs the user about how it is to be used. Quite to the contrary, the user defines how the device functions as he or she sees fit. A bounty of monome apps exist, free to anyone who wants them, and if one doesn't exist that suits your needs, you can write a Max or Pure data patch that will do exactly whatever you like. Seems to be working pretty well for a great many electronic musicians. Different strokes.
Forge. wrote:Maybe in the context of music it could be useful for example replacing the clip matrix on an APC40 so that you can actually see the clips that you are triggering to save looking at the laptop - but even there I get the feeling they would feel too fragile to be be thumped in the heat of the moment in a sweaty gig.....
I don't know Richie Hawtin personally (although I may be one of the only people on this forum who bought DE9|Closer to the Edit), so I can't say for sure, but I suspect he would contest that assumption: http://liine.net/en/news/detroit.html
At that point, Griid was just a clip launcher, exactly as you described, since then they've added a mixer functionality, midi clip/note editing, and morphing between states in a Live set with Kapture/Kapturepad (originally designed as "couture software" for Plastikman, later released to the public). Touchable offers much of the same functionality, as well as specifically designed controls for some of Live's built-in effects (like a really lovely touch editor for eq8).

Of course there are flaws. In the iPad thread, Tarekith recently quoted/paraphrased an expression that Live expert/trainer and all around awesome hacker Martin Delaney is apparently fond of using, that playing a synthesizer on an iPad often feels like playing a hardware synth stuck under a piece of glass. (For the record, just a few days ago Delaney also announced on Twitter how stoked he was to be downloading Garageband for his iPhone, a synthesizer stuck under an even smaller piece of glass.) In my experience, all knobs/encoders in all touchscreen apps are absolutely miserable to use. Faders work a little better, though I can't relate to the obsession many devs have with attempting to make them look exactly like faders on a mixing board. (Skeumorphic design drives me nuts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeuomorph). But, eventually the interface design will adjust to suit the platform. I have sketches all over my room of potential designs and interaction methods that could potentially replace things like fakie encoders in touchscreen apps. Someday I'll be thrilled to share them with you guys and the rest of the internet.

But, bringing things back to the article in question, in the not too distant future, none of this matters. The touchscreen isn't the future, it's the present. And in my opinion, it'll be more of a pitstop than a lasting paradigm. Notable nerd—and one time frontman for not-so-notable (though they apparently once opened for Ween), North Florida nerd-rock outfit Bacon Ray—Merlin Mann quipped this week (once again, on Twitter):
"You'll write, record, arrange, and mix 8-track songs on a computer the size of a cassette…that's also your phone." —insane note to 1986 Me
Which he then followed up with:
In related news: only seven more payments to Al's Guitar Barn, and that TASCAM Portastudio is mine all mine!
These insightful jokes help illustrate two points. First: the future would seem, to any rational person, to be completely fucking insane, right up until it's the present. Second: it's hard to recognize how inadequate and laughably quaint the present will seem until it's the past.

So what does our completely fucking insane future look like? For starters, Apple and other firms won't be stopping at cassette-sized computers. In a decade, a computer just as powerful as the one you're reading this on will fit in an enclosure about the size of a Chiclet. Don't believe me? I've noted it elsewhere already, but the dual-core A5 processor in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S has equivalent computing power to that of the Cray 2 supercomputer, which remained on the list of the worlds most powerful computers until 1994. It was also about the size of a hot tub, and that was appropriate, because it ran so hot that the whole thing had to be submerged in a new (at the time) inert cooling liquid from 3M for it to operate. I may or may not have broached the topic here, but I strongly believe we're no more than a decade from the contact lens display, or some other technology of comparable utility (retinal projection, whatever).

Just as with the iDevices, though, the hard part isn't squeezing more horsepower into a smaller box; so long as Intel stays in business we can count on that train to keep on moving (and if they go out of business, it'll be because someone else steps in with a far superior technology, that will fling us further into the future even faster). Nor is display technology the hard part; the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S offer pixel density so great that to the human eye text on their screens—which are a fraction of a centimeter thick—is nearly indistinguishable from text printed on a piece of paper. How long ago was every screen in your life a cathode ray tube?

The hard part is the input device. How do you interact with it? I'm no expert on human interaction design (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human%E2%8 ... nteraction) though I hope my work on touchscreen toys will allow me to develop useful insights. Here's one person's rather distopian-future illustration of what it may look like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSfKlCmYcLc …and a slightly less horrifying version from the same designer which is extra cool if you happen to have some 3d glasses lying around: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TL80ScTLlM

(video credit: http://keiichimatsuda.com)

Ryanmf
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Ryanmf » Sat Nov 05, 2011 6:11 am

M4M, you replied just as I was finishing up yet another of my overly wordy posts.

I definitely see what you've described coming, and if Thunderbolt catches on it would be a perfect option for connectivity. As you noted, it can handle a display, no problem. It can even daisy-chain all kinds of devices. Although I honestly don't see why it shouldn't be wireless. With what's available tonight, an iPad or two and some Livid Instruments products will get you close, although the motorized faders are out, and only Touchable has really started to delve into the effect/instrument control you described. I guess Alchemy is another recent example, but I haven't really heard much from people using their app to control the VST.

Part of the issue is that you can't just do display mirroring, the most appropriate interface design on a computer screen is generally a horribly inappropriate design for a touchscreen. Part of what that means is that designing for any third party effects/instruments becomes very difficult.

However, if Akai or Korg turn out to be the companies responsible for these and other similar innovations, I'll eat my fucking shoes.

Muzik 4 Machines
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Muzik 4 Machines » Sat Nov 05, 2011 6:42 am

re: interface: that's where i think live could shine with racks and macro and the way it assigns parameters for au/vst (map controls of the synth to a standardized live interface/rack macro, so the touch display always have some perfect interface for whatever plugin you are using on the main screen

re: livid/iPad
i was thinking of like an ipad and a bcf 2000 maybe, but the hard part is linking them as 1 interface for live remote scripts as they come from different ports(especially the redbox)

pencilrocket
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by pencilrocket » Sat Nov 05, 2011 7:50 am

If physical buttons get each own display it'll be more friendly. This technology has been already in the market. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svjLIZKAHQI
Last edited by pencilrocket on Sat Nov 05, 2011 7:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Ryanmf
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Ryanmf » Sat Nov 05, 2011 7:52 am

Seriously, look into Touchable. It doesn't have perfect controls for everything yet, mostly it does what you described, it can read and relay information about macros. So, for instance, you can point it at a beat repeat and it automatically fills in the controller with all the parameters. But the interface is the same every time: 16-20 ~2 inch high faders, or 8 slightly wider and taller faders. Controlling a beat repeat (or just about anything else) with a bunch of two inch high touch faders only gets you so far. It does act as a remote script, and does redbox.

Also, CoreMIDI knows how to MIDI Thru.

Any class compliant low power/self (battery) powered/ac powered device can be plugged into the camera connection kit. You can also sometimes get around the power issue by plugging both the iPad and the controller into a powered USB hub. And then there are things like iRig MIDI. The MIDI notes/CCs generated by the controller can obviously be used to control iPad audio apps, but they can also be relayed to your computer by any app that knows how to talk to the Network MIDI connection on a Mac, or whatever the version of that exists on a PC. LiveRig is an example of an app that does exactly that (in addition it has a cool implementation of high resolution faders, the best I've seen so far, though it has the skeumorphic qualities I'm not fond of). It can even be backgrounded and continue operating, so you can do things like send MIDI from an external device on one channel and MIDI from something like Step Poly Arp or Little MIDI Machine on another.

Everything's pretty inelegant at this point, but it's starting to come together. I'm not yet convinced one way or the other whether the best solutions are going to be modular, or all-in-one workstation type deals. Akai announced the Synthstation 49 ages ago, and it's been listed on most stores' websites for a minute, but as far as I know it still hasn't shipped. And honestly, my experience with the MPD32 left a really bad taste in my mouth, and the short spells I've spent with the MPK gave me the impression that the quality was shit. Keys felt super chintzy, pads somehow even worse than the ones on the MPD, faders way worse than the MPD (the faders were really the only thing I liked about it). I don't know, maybe MPK owners feel otherwise. Most importantly, the firmware/software implementation (on the MPD at least) was all fucked up, the way the bank selectors operated didn't make a damn bit of sense…I don't have high hopes for the ability of their products to be the solution here.

Ryanmf
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Ryanmf » Sat Nov 05, 2011 7:54 am

pencilrocket wrote:If physical buttons get each own display it'll be more friendly. This technology has been already in the market. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svjLIZKAHQI
I remember when that thing came out, I thought it was so awesome. Then I found out they wanted 2 grand for it: http://store.artlebedev.com/electronics/optimus/

(Cool design firm, though.)

Ryanmf
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Ryanmf » Sat Nov 05, 2011 8:00 am

Two controllers I'm most actively trying to get my hands on for iPad related use:

Novation X-Station 25 (battery powered, aftertouch, pitch/mod stick and xy controller, plus it has a built in audio interface and i/o, so in addition to the wireless control stuff you can run audio out from Animoog or Sunrizer or whatever else, thru its DSP effects, then into the computer VIA the audio interface)

Evolution UC-33e (class compliant, tons of decent knobs, 9 faders, support for tons of different mappings, easy to switch between them with the numberpad—which could actually be mapped to all kinds of stuff itself, I expect—and MIDI i/o, so it can be the portal to the iPad for any number of other devices you connect to it)

pencilrocket
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by pencilrocket » Sat Nov 05, 2011 8:07 am

I don't know why m-audio discontinued UC-33e. Maybe Avid lost sales of other products because UC-33e was too powerful midi controller?
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Ryanmf
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by Ryanmf » Sat Nov 05, 2011 8:19 am

Avid is a truly awful company. They just laid off another 10% of their employees, if you hadn't heard.

Oh, and they introduced yet another proprietary plug in format, so all their customers get to buy all their plug ins again.

The answer to any question that starts with "Why did Avid/M-Audio…" is always "Money." Plain and simple.

pencilrocket
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Re: Long live buttons and knobs

Post by pencilrocket » Sat Nov 05, 2011 8:32 am

Haha greedy american sh+t. :lol:
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