Check out these amazing DIY controllers people made with OpenDeck

You’ve got plenty of off-the-shelf controllers – but what if you want something that’s unique to you? OpenDeck is an affordable, young, Arduino-powered controller platform for DIYers, and it’s starting to produce some jaw-dropping results.

There was a time when you needed to build your own stuff to add custom controls to synths and computers, sourcing joysticks and knobs and buttons and whatnot yourself. Doepfer’s Pocket Electronic platform spawned tons of weird and wonderful stuff. But then a lot of people found they were satisfied with a growing assortment of off-the-shelf generic and software-specific controllers, including those from the likes of Ableton, Native Instruments, Novation, and Akai.

But a funny thing happened at the same time. Just as economies of scale and improved microcontroller and development platforms have aided big manufacturers in the intervening years, DIY platforms are getting smarter and easier, too.

Enter OpenDeck. It’s what you’d expect from a current generation platform for gear makers. It supports class-compliant MIDI over USB, but also runs standalone. You can configure it via Web interface. You can plug in buttons and encoders and pots and other inputs and LEDs – but also add displays. You have tons of I/O – 32-64 ins, and 48 outs. But it’s all based on the familiar, friendly Arduino platform – and runs on Arduino and Teensy boards in addition to a custom OpenDeck board.

You get an easy platform that supports all the I/O you need and isn’t hard to code – leaving you to focus on hardware. And it runs on an existing platform rather than forcing you to learn something new.

I’ll take a look at it soon. Because it’s built around MIDI, OpenDeck looks ideal for controller applications, though other solutions now address audio, too.

But platform aside, look how many cool things people are starting to build. With so many stage rigs getting standardized (yawn), it’s nice to see this sort of weird variety … and people who have serious craft. (At least the rest of us can sigh and wish we were this handy, right?)

Examples:

Bergamot is an all-custom touchscreen MIDI controller for DJing:

The very nice-looking OpenDeck custom board is US$149. But you can also load this on much cheaper Arduino boards if you want to give it a test drive or start prototyping before you spring for the full board – and you can even buy pre-configured Arduinos to save yourself some time. (Some of the other boards are also more form efficient if you’re willing to do some additional work designing a board around it.)

Sensimidia, for Croatian dub act “Homegrown Sound.”

Tannin and Ceylon, two MIDI controllers.

Morten Berthelsen built this Elektron Analog controller.

Elektron’s Octatrack gets a custom controller … and foot pedals, too. By Anthony Vogt.

OpenDeck also features open source firmware under a GPLv3 license.

GitHub project page including full feature set (lots of nice stuff)

Here’s the underlying platform itself:

OpenDeck’s own custom hardware – though if this is overkill, various Arduino/Teensy variants work, too.

Configuration via Web interface.

Project site:

https://shanteacontrols.com/

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The guts of Tracktion are now open source for devs to make new stuff

Game developers have Unreal Engine and Unity Engine. Well, now it’s audio’s turn. Tracktion Engine is an open source engine based on the guts of a major DAW, but created as a building block developers can use for all sorts of new music and audio tools.

You can new music apps not only for Windows, Mac, and Linux (including embedded platforms like Raspberry Pi), but iOS and Android, too. And while developers might go create their own DAW, they might also build other creative tools for performance and production.

The tutorials section already includes examples for simple playback, independent manipulation of pitch and time (meaning you could conceivably turn this into your own DJ deck), and a step sequencer.

We’ve had an open source DAW for years – Ardour. But this is something different – it’s clear the developers have created this with the intention of producing a reusable engine for other things, rather than just dumping the whole codebase for an entire DAW.

Okay, my Unreal and Unity examples are a little optimistic – those are friendly to hobbyists and first-time game designers. Tracktion Engine definitely needs you to be a competent C++ programmer.

But the entire engine is delivered as a JUCE module, meaning you can drop it into an existing project. JUCE has rapidly become the go-to for reasonably painless C++ development of audio tools across plug-ins and operating systems and mobile devices. It’s huge that this is available in JUCE.

Even if you’re not a developer, you should still care about this news. It could be a sign that we’ll see more rapid development that allows music loving developers to try out new ideas, both in software and in hardware with JUCE-powered software under the hood. And I think with this idea out there, if it doesn’t deliver, it may spur someone else to try the same notion.

I’ll be really interested to hear if developers find this is practical in use, but here’s what they’re promising developers will be able to use from their engine:

A wide range of supported platforms (Windows, macOS, Linux, Raspberry Pi, iOS and Android)
Tempo, key and time-signature curves
Fast audio file playback via memory mapping
Audio editing including time-stretching and pitch shifting
MIDI with quantisation, groove, MPE and pattern generation
Built-in and external plugin support for all the major formats
Parameter adjustments with automation curves or algorithmic modifiers
Modular plugin patching Racks
Recording with punch, overdub and loop modes along with comp editing
External control surface support
Fully customizable rendering of arrangements

The licensing is also stunningly generous. The code is under a GPLv3 license – meaning if you’re making a GPLv3 project (including artists doing that), you can freely use the open source license.

But even commercial licensing is wide open. Educational projects get forum support and have no revenue limit whatsoever. (I hope that’s a cue to academic institutions to open up some of their licensing, too.)

Personal projects are free, too, with revenue up to US$50k. (Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but many small developers are below that threshold.)

For $35/mo, with a minimum 12 month commitment, “indie” developers can make up to $200k. Enterprise licensing requires getting in touch, and then offers premium support and the ability to remove branding. They promise paid licenses by next month.

Check out their code and the Tracktion Engine page:

https://www.tracktion.com/develop/tracktion-engine

https://github.com/Tracktion/tracktion_engine/

I think a lot of people will be excited about this, enough so that … well, it’s been a long time. Let’s Ballmer this.

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This software is like getting a modular inside your computer, for free

Modular synthesizers present some beautiful possibilities for sound design and composition. For constructing certain kinds of sounds, and certain automated rhythmic and melodic structures, they’re beautiful – and endure for a reason.

Now, that description could fit both software and hardware modulars. And of course, hardware has some inarguable, irreplaceable advantages. But the same things that make it great to work with can also be limiting. You can’t dynamically change patches without some plugging and replugging, you’re limited by what modules you’ve got bolted into a rack, and … oh yeah, apart from size and weight, these things cost money.

So let’s sing the praises of computers for a moment – because it’s great that we can choose either, or both.

Money alone is reason. I think anyone with a cheap-ass laptop and absolutely no cash should still get access to the joy of modular. Deeper pockets don’t mean more talent. And beyond that, there are advantages to working with environments that are dynamic, computerized, and even open and open source. That’s true enough whether you use them on their own or in conjunction with hardware.

Enter Automatonism, by Johan Eriksson.

It’s free, it’s open source, it’s a collection of modules built in Pure Data (Pd). That means you can run it on macOS, Windows, and Linux, on a laptop or on a Raspberry Pi, or even build patches you use in games and apps.

And while there are other free modular tools for computers, this one is uniquely hardware modular-like in its design — meaning it’s more approachable, and uses the signal flow and compositional conception from that gear. Commercial software from Native Instruments (REAKTOR Blocks) and Softube (Modular) have done that, and with great sound and prettier front panels, but this may be the most approachable free and open source solution. (And it runs everywhere Pd runs, including mobile platforms.)

Sure, you could build this yourself, but this saves loads of time.

automatonism

You get 67 modules, covering all the basics (oscillators and filters and clocks and whatnot) and some nice advanced stuff (FM, granular delays, and so on).

The modules are coupled with easy-to-follow documentation for building your basic West Coast and East Coast synth patches, too. And the developer promises more modules are coming – or you can build your own, using Pd.

Crucially, you can also use all of this in real-time — whereas Pd normally is a glitchy mess while you’re patching. Johan proves that by doing weird, wonderful live patching performances:

If you know how to use Pd, this is all instantly useful – and even advanced users I’m sure will welcome it. But you really don’t need to know much about Pd.

The developer claims you don’t need to know anything, and includes easy instructions. But you’ll want to know something, as the first question on the video tells me. Let’s just solve this right now:

Q. I cannot get my cursor to change from the pointer finger to an arrow. I can drag modules and connect them but I can’t change any parameters. What am I missing?

A. That’s because Pure Data has two modes of operation: EDIT mode and PERFORMANCE mode. EDIT mode, the pointer finger, lets you drag stuff around and connect cables, while PERFORMANCE mode, the arrow, lets you interact with sliders and other GUI objects. Swap between the two easily under the EDIT menu in Pure Data or by shortcut cmd+e [ctrl-e Windows/Linux]

Now you’re ready!

This is also a bit like software-with-concept album, as the developer has also created a wild, ear-tickling IDM EP to go with it. This should give you an idea of the range of sounds possible with Automatonism; of course, your own musical idiom can be very different, if you like, using the same tools. I suspect some hardware lovers will listen to this and say “ah, that sounds like a computer, not warm analog gear.” To that, I say… first, I love Pd’s computer-ish character, and second, you can design sounds, process, mix, and master to make the end result sound like anything you want, anyway, if you know what you’re doing.

Johan took a pretty nerdy, Pd purist angle on this, and … I love it for what it is!

But this is truly one of the best things I’ve seen with Pd in a long time — and perhaps the best-documented project for the platform yet, full stop.

It’s definitely becoming part of my music toolkit. Have a look:

https://www.automatonism.com/

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New Open Grid Gear: DJ Mixer Meets monome Grid in MIDI + OSC Controller

It had to happen — button triggering, as popularized by the monome, here meets a conventional two-channel DJ mixer. But the layout I must say is quite spare and lovely, the work of the Japanese-based PICnome project. Furthermore, it’s Open Source Hardware, covered as I have recommended by a ShareAlike Creative Commons license (with no commercial restrictions) and GPL v3. (The creator prefers the term “Free Hardware,” which I love theoretically but have avoided for fear of people demanding we mail them MeeBlips by sending us a self-addressed, stamped box.)

With clean, subtle markings and a nicely-composed layout, it’s hardware that doesn’t scream out its design with big decals or overblown features. It’s just a (colored) monome combined with a two-channel mixer, with the sorts of features you’d expect of each. I love the angled labels, at least aesthetically.

The controller works with both OSC (OpenSoundControl) and MIDI for maximum flexibility. And, incidentally, this could be an ideal live visual controller, too, especially with that native OSC support.

Good grief; I realize I filled this post with nothing but technical jargon. Hopefully, those of you who speak in such tongue-twisted terms have followed along, and everyone else just looked at the pretty pictures and video.

Carry on.

PICratchBOX – Sneak Preview [atelier.tkrworks]

http://made-in-yamamoto.com/

Japan, hope to come visit you some day soon. Thanks, Regend, for the tip!

Courtesy tkrworks.