Watch this $30 kit turn into all these other synthesizers

DIY guru Mitch Altman has been busy expanding ArduTouch, the $30 kit board he designed to teach synthesis and coding. And now you can turn it into a bunch of other synths – with some new videos to who you how that works.

You’ll need to do a little bit of tinkering to get this working – though for many, of course, that’ll be part of the fun. So you solder together the kit, which includes a capacitive touch keyboard (as found on instruments like the Stylophone) and speaker. That means once the soldering is done, you can make sounds. To upload different synth code, you need a programmer cable and some additional steps.

Where this gets interesting is that the ArduTouch is really an embedded computer – and what’s wonderful about computers is, they transform based on whatever code they’re running.

ArduTouch is descended from the Arduino project, which in turn was the embedded hardware coding answer to desktop creative coding environment Processing. And from Processing, there’s the idea of a “sketch” – a bit of code that represents a single idea. “Sketching” was vital as a concept to these projects as it implies doing something simpler and more elegant.

For synthesis, ArduTouch is collecting a set of its own sketches – simple, fun digital signal processing creations that can be uploaded to the board. You get a whole collection of these, including sketches that are meant to serve mainly as examples, so that over time you can learn DSP coding. (The sketches are mostly the creation of Mitch’s friend, Bill Alessi.) Because the ArduTouch itself is cloned from the Arduino UNO, it’s also fully compatible both with UNO boards and the Arduino coding environment.

Mitch has been uploading videos and descriptions (and adding new synths over time), so let’s check them out:

Thick is a Minimoog-like, playable monosynth.

Arpology is an “Eno-influenced” arpeggiator/synth combo with patterns, speed, major/minor key, pitch, and attack/decay controls, plus a J.S. Bach-style generative auto-play mode.

Beatitude is a drum machine with multiple parts and rhythm track creation, plus a live playable bass synth.

Mantra is a weird, exotic-sounding sequenced drone synth with pre-mapped scales. The description claims “it is almost impossible to play something that doesn’t sound good.” (I initially read that backwards!)

Xoid is raucous synth with frequency modulation, ratio, and XOR controls. Actually, this very example demonstrates just why ArduTouch is different – like, you’d probably not want to ship Xoid as a product or project on its own. But as a sketch – and something strange to play with – it’s totally great.

DuoPoly is also glitchy and weird, but represents more of a complete synth workstation – and it’s a grab-bag demo of all the platform can do. So you get Tremelo, Vibrato, Pitch Bend, Distortion Effects, Low Pass Filter, High Pass Filter, Preset songs/patches, LFOs, and other goodies, all crammed onto this little board.

There, they’ve made some different oddball preset songs, too:

Platinum hit, this one:

This one, it sounds like we hit a really tough cave level in Metroid:

Open source hardware, kits available for sale:

https://cornfieldelectronics.com/cfe/projects.php#ardutouch

https://github.com/maltman23/ArduTouch

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Vectors are getting their own festival: lasers and oscilloscopes, go!

It’s definitely an underground subculture of audiovisual media, but lovers of graphics made with vintage displays, analog oscilloscopes, and lasers are getting their own fall festival to share performances and techniques.

Vector Hack claims to be “the first ever international festival of experimental vector graphics” – a claim that is, uh, probably fair. And it’ll span two cities, starting in Zagreb, Croatia, but wrapping up in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana.

Why vectors? Well, I’m sure the festival organizers could come up with various answers to that, but let’s go with because they look damned cool. And the organizers behind this particular effort have been spitting out eyeball-dazzling artwork that’s precise, expressive, and unique to this visceral electric medium.

Unconvinced? Fine. Strap in for the best. Festival. Trailer. Ever.

Here’s how they describe the project:

Vector Hack is the first ever international festival of experimental vector graphics. The festival brings together artists, academics, hackers and performers for a week-long program beginning in Zagreb on 01/10/18 and ending in Ljubljana on 07/10/18.

Vector Hack will allow artists creating experimental audio-visual work for oscilloscopes and lasers to share ideas and develop their work together alongside a program of open workshops, talks and performances aimed at allowing young people and a wider audience to learn more about creating their own vector based audio-visual works.

We have gathered a group of fifteen participants all working in the field from a diverse range of locations including the EU, USA and Canada. Each participant brings a unique approach to this exiting field and it will be a rare chance to see all their works together in a single program.

Vector Hack festival is an artist lead initiative organised with
support from Radiona.org/Zagreb Makerspace as a collaborative international project alongside Ljubljana’s Ljudmila Art and Science Laboratory and Projekt Atol Institute. It was conceived and initiated by Ivan Marušić Klif and Derek Holzer with assistance from Chris King.

Robert Henke is featured, naturally – the Berlin-based artist and co-founder of Ableton and Monolake has spent the last years refining his skills in spinning his own code to control ultra-fine-tuned laser displays. But maybe what’s most exciting about this scene is discovering a whole network of people hacking into supposedly outmoded display technologies to find new expressive possibilities.

One person who has helped lead that direction is festival initiator Derek Holzer. He’s finishing a thesis on the topic, so we’ll get some more detail soon, but anyone interested in this practice may want to check out his open source Pure Data library. The Vector Synthesis library “allows the creation and manipulation of vector shapes using audio signals sent directly to oscilloscopes, hacked CRT monitors, Vectrex game consoles, ILDA laser displays, and oscilloscope emulation software using the Pure Data programming environment.”

https://github.com/macumbista/vectorsynthesis

The results are entrancing – organic and synthetic all at once, with sound and sight intertwined (both in terms of control signal and resulting sensory impression). That is itself perhaps significant, as neurological research reveals that these media are experienced simultaneously in our perception. Here are just two recent sketches for a taste:

They’re produced by hacking into a Vectrax console – an early 80s consumer game console that used vector signals to manipulate a cathode ray screen. From Wikipedia, here’s how it works:

The vector generator is an all-analog design using two integrators: X and Y. The computer sets the integration rates using a digital-to-analog converter. The computer controls the integration time by momentarily closing electronic analog switches within the operational-amplifier based integrator circuits. Voltage ramps are produced that the monitor uses to steer the electron beam over the face of the phosphor screen of the cathode ray tube. Another signal is generated that controls the brightness of the line.

Ted Davis is working to make these technologies accessible to artists, too, by developing a library for coding-for-artists tool Processing.

http://teddavis.org/xyscope/

Oscilloscopes, ready for interaction with a library by Ted Davis.

Ted Davis.

Here’s a glimpse of some of the other artists in the festival, too. It’s wonderful to watch new developments in the post digital age, as artists produce work that innovates through deeper excavation of technologies of the past.

Akiras Rebirth.

Alberto Novell.

Vanda Kreutz.

Stefanie Bräuer.

Jerobeam Fenderson.

Hrvoslava Brkušić.

Andrew Duff.

More on the festival:
https://radiona.org/
https://wiki.ljudmila.org/Main_Page

http://vectorhackfestival.com/

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Creative software can now configure itself for control, with OSC

Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of manually assigning every knob and parameter, software was smart enough to configure itself? Now, visual software and OSC are making that possible.

Creative tech has been moving forward lately thanks to a new attitude among developers: want something cool? Do it. Open source and/or publish it. Get other people to do it, too. We’ve seen seen that as Ableton Link transformed sync wirelessly across iOS and desktop. And we saw it again as software and hardware makers embraced more expression data with MIDI Polyphonic Expression. It’s a way around “chicken and egg” worries – make your own chickens.

Open Sound Control (OSC) has for years been a way of getting descriptive, high-resolution data around. It’s mostly been used in visual apps and DIY audiovisual creations, with some exceptions – Native Instruments’ Reaktor has a nice implementation on the audio side. But what it was missing was a way to query those descriptive messages.

What would that mean? Well, basically, the idea would be for you to connect a new visual app or audio tool or hardware instrument and interactively navigate and assign parameters and controls.

That can make tools smarter and auto-configuring. Or to put it another way – no more typing in the names of parameters you want to control. (MIDI is moving in a similar direction, if via a very different structure and implementation, with something called MIDI-CI or “Capability Inquiry.” It doesn’t really work the same way, but the basic goal – and, with some work, the end user experience – is more or less the same.)

OSC Queries are something I’ve heard people talk about for almost a decade now. But now we have something real you can use right away. Not only is there a detailed proposal for how to make the idea work, but visual tools VDMX, Mad Mapper, and Mitti all have support now, and there’s an open source implementation for others to follow.

Vidvox (makers of VDMX) have led the way, as they have with a number of open source ideas lately. (See also: a video codec called Hap, and an interoperable shader standard for hardware-accelerated graphics.)

Their implementation is already in a new build of VDMX, their live visuals / audiovisual media software:

https://docs.vidvox.net/vdmx_b8700.html

You can check out the proposal on their site:

https://github.com/vidvox/oscqueryproposal

Plus there’s a whole dump of open source code. Developers on the Mac get a Cocoa framework that’s ready to use, but you’ll find some code examples that could be very easily ported to a platform / language of your choice:

https://github.com/Vidvox/VVOSCQueryProtocol

There’s even an implementation that provides compatibility in apps that support MIDI but don’t support OSC (which is to say, a whole mess of apps). That could also be a choice for hardware and not just software.

They’ve even done this in-progress implementation in a browser (though they say they will make it prettier):

Here’s how it works in practice:

Let’s say you’ve got one application you want to control (like some software running generative visuals for a live show), and then another tool – or a computer with a browser open – connected on the same network. You want the controller tool to map to the visual tool.

Now, the moment you open the right address and port, all the parameters you want in the visual tool just show up automatically, complete with widgets to control them.

And it’s (optionally) bi-directional. If you change your visual patch, the controls update.

In VDMX, for instance, you can browse parameters you want to control in a tool elsewhere (whether that’s someone else’s VDMX rig or MadMapper or something altogether different):

And then you can take the parameters you’ve selected and control them via a client module:

All of this is stored as structured data – JSON files, if you’re curious. But this means you could also save and assign mappings from OSC to MIDI, for instance.

Another example: you could have an Ableton Live file with a bunch of MIDI mappings. Then you could, via experimental code in the archive above, read that ALS file, and have a utility assign all those arbitrary MIDI CC numbers to automatically-queried OSC controls.

Think about that for a second: then your animation software could automatically be assigned to trigger controls in your Live set, or your live music controls could automatically be assigned to generative visuals, or an iPad control surface could automatically map to the music set when you don’t have your hardware controller handy, or… well, a lot of things become possible.

We’ll be watching OSCquery. But this may be of enough interest to developers to facilitate some discussion here on CDM to move things forward.

Follow Vidvox:

https://vdmx.vidvox.net/blog

And previously, watching MIDI get smarter (smarter is better, we think):

MIDI evolves, adding more expressiveness and easier configuration

MIDI Polyphonic Expression is now a thing, with new gear and software

Plus an example of cool things done with VDMX, by artist Lucy Benson:

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Apple to open source, cross-platform GPU tech: drop dead?

Apple’s decision to shift to its own proprietary tech for accessing modern GPUs could hurt research, education, and pro applications on their platform.

OpenGL and OpenCL are the industry-standard specifications for writing code that runs on graphics architectures, for graphics and general-purpose computation, including everything from video and 3D to machine learning.

This is relevant to an ongoing interest on this site – those technologies also enable live visuals (including for music), creative coding, immersive audiovisual performance, and “AI”-powered machine learning experiments in music and art.

OpenGL and OpenCL, while sometimes arcane technologies, enable a wide range of advanced, cross-platform software. They’re also joined by a new industry standard, Vulkan. Cross-platform code is growing, not shrinking, as artists, researchers, creative professionals, experimental coders, and other communities contribute new generations of software that work more seamlessly across operating systems.

And Apple has just quietly blown off all those groups. From the announcement to developers regarding macOS 10.14:

Deprecation of OpenGL and OpenCL

Apps built using OpenGL and OpenCL will continue to run in macOS 10.14, but these legacy technologies are deprecated in macOS 10.14. Games and graphics-intensive apps that use OpenGL should now adopt Metal. Similarly, apps that use OpenCL for computational tasks should now adopt Metal and Metal Performance Shaders.

They’re also deprecating OpenGL ES on iOS, with the same logic.

Metal is fine technology, but it’s specific to iOS and Mac OS. It’s not open, and it won’t run on other platforms.

Describing OpenGL and OpenCL as “legacy” is indeed fine. But as usual, the issue with Apple is an absence of information, and that’s what’s problematic. Questions:

Does this mean OpenGL apps will stop working? This is actually the big question. “Deprecation” in the case of QuickTime did eventually mean Apple pulled support. But we don’t know if it means that here.

(One interesting angle for this is, it could be a sign of more Apple-made graphics hardware. On the other hand, OpenGL implementations were clearly a time suck – and Apple often lagged major OpenGL releases.)

What about support for Vulkan? Apple are a partner in the Khronos Group, which develops this industry-wide standard. It isn’t in fact “legacy,” and it’s designed to solve the same problems as Metal does. Is Metal being chosen over Vulkan?

Cook’s 2018 Apple seems to be far more interested in showcasing proprietary developer APIs. Compare the early Jobs era, which emphasized cross-platform standards (OpenGL included). Apple has an opportunity to put some weight behind Vulkan – if not at WWDC, fair enough, but at some other venue?

What happens on the Web? Cross-platform here is even more essential, since your 3D or machine learning code for a browser needs to work in multiple scenarios.

Transparency and information might well solve this, but for now we’re a bit short on both.

Metal support in Unity. Frameworks like Unity may be able to smooth out platform differences for developers (including artists).

A case for Apple pushing Metal

First off, there is some sense to Apple’s move here. Metal – like DirectX on Windows or Mantle from AMD – is a lower-level language for addressing the graphics hardware. That means less overhead, higher performance, and extra features. It suggests Apple is pushing their mobile platforms in particular as an option for higher-end games. We’ve seen gaming companies Razer and Asus create Android phones that have high-end specs on paper, but without a low-level API for graphics hardware or a significant installed base, those are more proof of concept than they are useful as game platform.

And Apple does love to deprecate APIs to force developers onto the newest stuff. That’s why so often your older OS versions are so quickly unsupported, even when developers don’t want to abandon you.

On mobile, Apple never implemented OpenCL in the first place. And there’s arguably a more significant gap between OpenGL ES and something like Metal for performance.

Another business case: Apple may be trying to drive a wedge in development between iOS and Android, to ensure more iOS-only games and the like. Since they can’t make platform exclusives the way something like a PlayStation or Nintendo Switch or Xbox can, this is one way to do it.

And it seems Apple is moving away from third-party hardware vendors, meaning they control both the spec here and the chips inside their devices.

But that doesn’t automatically make any of this more useful to end users and developers, who reap benefits from cross-platform support. It significantly increases the workload on Apple to develop APIs and graphics hardware – and to encourage enough development to keep up with competing ecosystems. So there’s a reason for standards to exist.

Vulkan offers some of the low-level advantages of Metal (or DirectX) … but it works cross-platform, even including Web contexts.

Pulling out of an industry standard group

The significant factor here about OpenGL generally is, it’s not software. It’s a specification for an API. And for the moment, it remains the industry standard specification for interfacing with the GPU. Unlike their move to embrace new variations of USB and Thunderbolt over the years, or indeed the company’s own efforts in the past to advance OpenGL, Apple isn’t proposing an alternative standard. They’re just pulling out of a standard the entire industry supports, without any replacement.

And this impacts a range of cross-platform software, open source software, and the ability to share code and research across operating systems, including but not limited to:

Video editing
Post production
Generative graphics
Digital art
VJing and live visual software
Creative coding
Machine learning and neural network tools

Cross platform portability for those use cases meets a significant set of needs. Educators wanting to teach how to write shaders now face having students with Apple hardware having to use a different language, for example. Gamers wanting access to the largest possible library – as on services like Steam – will now likely see more platform-exclusive titles instead on the Apple hardware. And pros wanting access to specific open source, high-end video tools… well, here’s yet another reason to switch to Windows or Linux.

This doesn’t so much impact developers who rely on existing libraries that target Metal specifically. So, for instance, developing in the Unity Game Engine means your creation can use Metal on Apple platforms and OpenGL elsewhere. But because of the size of the ecosystem here, that won’t be the case for a lot of other use cases.

And yeah, I’m serious about Linux as a player here. As Microsoft and Apple continue to emphasize consumers over pros, cramming huge updates over networks and trying to foist them on users, desktop Linux has quietly gotten a lot more stable. For pro video production, post production, 3D, rendering, machine learning, research, and – even a growing niche of people working in audio and music – Linux can simply out-perform its proprietary relatives and save money and time.

So what happened to Vulkan?

Apple could have joined with the rest of the industry in supporting a new low-level API for computation and graphics. That standard is now doubly important as machine learning technology drives new ideas across art, technology, and society.

https://www.khronos.org/vulkan/

And apart from the value of it being a standard, Apple would break with important hardware partners here at their own peril. Yes, Apple makes a lot of their own hardware under the hood – but not all of it. Will they also make a move to proprietary graphics chips on the Mac, and will those keep up with PC offerings? (There is currently a Vulkan SDK for Mac. It’s unclear exactly how it will evolve in the wake of this decision.)

ExtremeTech have a scathing review of the sitution. it’s a must-read, as it clearly breaks down the different pipelines and specs and how they work. But it also points out, Apple have tended to lag not just in hardware adoption but in their in-house support efforts. That suggests you get an advantage from being on Windows or Linux, generally:

Apple brings its Metal API to OS X 10.11, kicks Vulkan to the curb

Updated: Yes, of course you can run Molten, the latest OpenGL tech, atop Metal. In fact, here’s a demo from 2016. (Thanks, George Toledo!)

https://moltengl.com/moltenvk/

https://github.com/KhronosGroup/MoltenVK

That’s little comfort for larger range backwards compatibility with “legacy” OpenGL, but it does bode reasonably well for the future. And, you know … fish tornadoes.

Side note: that’s not just any fish tornado. The credit is to Robert Hodgin, the creative coding artists aka flight404 responsible for many, many generative demos over the years – including a classic iTunes visualizer.)

Fragmentation or standards

Let’s be clear – even with OpenGL and OpenCL, there’s loads of fragmentation in the fields I mention, from hardware to firmware to drivers to SDKs. Making stuff work everywhere is messy.

But users, researchers, and developers do reap real benefits from cross-platform standards and development. And Metal alone clearly doesn’t provide that.

Here’s my hope: I hope that while deprecating OpenGL/CL, Apple does invest in Vulkan and its existing membership in Khronos Group (the industry consortium that supports that API as well as OpenGL). Apple following up this announcement with some news on Vulkan and cross-platform support – and how the transition to that and Metal would work – could turn the mood around entirely.

Apple’s reputation may be proprietary, but this is also the company that pushed USB and Thunderbolt, POSIX and WebKit, that used a browser to sell its first phone, and that was a leading advocate (ironically) for OpenGL and OpenCL.

As game directors and artists and scientists and thinkers all explore the possibilities of new graphics hardware, from virtual reality to artificial intelligence, we have some real potential ahead. The platforms that will win I think will be the ones that maximize capabilities and minimize duplication of effort.

And today, at least, Apple are leaving a lot of those users in the dark about just how that future will work.

I’d love your feedback. I’m ranting here partly because I know a lot of the most interesting folks working on this are readers, so do please get in touch. You know more than I do, and I appreciate your insights.

More:

https://developer.apple.com/macos/whats-new/

https://www.khronos.org/opengl/wiki/FAQ

https://www.khronos.org/vulkan/

https://developer.apple.com/documentation/metalperformanceshaders

… and what this headline is referencing

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Here’s what to learn to get a jump start on the new monome thing

SuperCollider? Lua? Huh? The latest creation from the makers of monome, norns, looks great. Here’s where to start learning the powerful sound engine underneath – which you can use on your PC or Mac right now, for free.

So far, from recommendations from the https://llllllll.co/t/approaching-norns/13236/”>thread introducing norns:

Supercollider tips, Q/A [thread on the monome forum]

The SuperCollider Book [a massive treeware tome from MIT Press – LinuxJournal have even done a review]

Learn Lua in 15 Minutes [the scripting engine that powers norns – but also a solid way to script SuperCollider in general]

Recommended tutorials for SuperCollider [from the source – and multiple languages]

Nick Collins’ tutorial

You may also want to check out simpler entry points into SuperCollider:

TidalCycles live coding environment [actually, this should also run on norns]

Sonic Pi

I’m sure there are other resources, so I’m just going to leave it there. Sound off if you’ve found a resource that helped you teach or learn.

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Bela Mini gives you 1ms sound anywhere, to turn into anything, for £120

Make anything you want, with free music software of your choice, and <1ms latency. Bela is back, smaller than ever - a pocket-sized £120 computer for sound.

Embedded mobile tech has in recent years brought us pocket-sized, low-power boards that can match the performance of what not so many years ago we actually called a desktop computer. And that’s led to high-profile boards like the cheap Raspberry Pi. The problem has been, many of the cheapest of these machines were limited in computational power, and more importantly, had audio performance that ranged from middling to disastrously awful, both in audio quality and reliability/responsiveness.

But you shouldn’t settle for that. The whole point of building an embedded audio system dedicated to the task of music making – like a DIY effects pedal or synth or sound installation – ought to be that audio performance is better than on your PC. You’ve got a pocket-sized board that isn’t running weird file indexing, OS updates, buggy Facebook code open in twenty tabs, and the like. It ought to just do the number crunching you need for the granular delay you want to sing along with, and do it really well.

A few audio engineers have decided to brave the challenge. It’s not an easy thing to do: these little boards are so cheap that there’s not a whole lot of money to be made on them.

But one of the better projects has been Bela, first introduced in 2016. And today, its makers are taking advantage of a new board PocketBeagle board from beagleboard.org. It’s more powerful than that much-hyped Raspberry Pi, but runs on a battery and is absurdly small – the Bela Mini measures just 55x35x21mm. (Please do not eat your Bela Mini, or Tide Pods, or anything that isn’t food.)

It’s not just a small computer, though – there’s more.

Low latency. 1ms round-trip for audio, or a minuscule 100us round-trip via analog and digital I/Os.

Run your favorite free audio software. Support for the graphical patching environment Pure Data (Pd), the crazy-powerful code world of SuperCollider, plus C and C++, and community support for FAUST, Python, etc.

An IDE in your browser. Fire up your browser and use a built-in IDE with oscilloscope and spectral analysis and documentation and more.

Sensors! High-resolution sensor inputs onboard open up interesting interfacing with the real world, whether you’ve got a wearable technology idea, an interactive installation, or a unique custom interface.

The applications should be clear here. You could ditch your laptop and run a granular looper on a pocket-sized box. You could hook up some sensors and invent your own weird instrument. You could make a custom vocoder and bring this with a mic and croon along at “robot lounge night.” You could produce a runway show of electronically singing couture. You could devise a series of installations and turn into the next Nam June Paik and someday have a solo show at the Guggen– well, possibly at least some hipster gallery somewhere. You get the idea.

For now, that unique focus on audio makes this possibly the best game in town. There is one rival – the Pisound, a board that hops atop the Raspberry Pi, and couples with a custom case. The Pisound does have the advantage of onboard MIDI – both USB MIDI and MIDI DIN – but for computational power with audio, the Beagle looks stronger. (I could imagine doing an audio/MIDI application with Pisound and coupling it with an audio/sensor creation with Bela.)

https://blokas.io/

Bela winds up pricing out pretty nicely, too. The smart buy is a £120 all-in-one kit (£110 intro price through March 9). That gets you cables, the Bela, the PocketBeagle base board, and a pr-flashed SD-card. If you prefer to source your own parts, you can get just the Bela Mini for £60 (£55 intro).

Here’s what’s in the kit.

It’s bigger, but the original Bela has basically the same specs and ships now if what I’ve done is make you impatient to own one now, rather than wait for May.

Basically, what’s new on the Bela Mini is really the tiny size. That opens up projects where small size matters. (The Pisound above is really just about music projects, more than wearable tech and the like, by contrast – but of course by virtue of being larger affords more space for full-sized ports!) The original Bela will remain available, with “capelets” for adding additional features.

Either way, if you’re quick, you can get out of the studio and have your battery-powered box to make weird experimental music for your friends at the beach all summer long. (Or, southern hemisphere readers, let’s say keeping your friends warm with your July beatbox busking.)

And all for the price of one basic Eurorack module. Who said electronic music was just for the rich kids?

Full specs:

Based on the PocketBeagle (http://www.beagleboard.org/pocket) with a custom hardware cape and low-latency operating system
1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 512MB RAM (based on Octavo Systems OSD335x system-in-package)
Stereo audio I/O with integrated headphone amplifier (16 bit, 44.1kHz)
8x 16-bit analog inputs for sensors (DC-coupled; up to 44.1kHz for 4 inputs or 22.05kHz for 8 inputs)
16x digital I/Os (3.3V level)
USB host and device ports
Dimensions 55 x 35 x 21mm (including PocketBeagle)

Software:
Latency as low as 0.5ms (analog/digital input to audio output) or 1.0ms (audio input to audio output)
Browser-based IDE including oscilloscope, spectrum analyser, interactive pin diagram and onboard documentation
Support for C, C++, Pd and SuperCollider languages. Community-contributed support for FAUST, Python and others

Bela Mini launch + FAQ

Buy it:
https://shop.bela.io

Sample projects:
http://blog.bela.io/

Resources:
http://github.com/BelaPlatform
http://github.com/BelaPlatform/bela/wiki
http://forum.bela.io

The post Bela Mini gives you 1ms sound anywhere, to turn into anything, for £120 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Bela Mini gives you 1ms sound anywhere, to turn into anything, for £120

Make anything you want, with free music software of your choice, and <1ms latency. Bela is back, smaller than ever - a pocket-sized £120 computer for sound.

Embedded mobile tech has in recent years brought us pocket-sized, low-power boards that can match the performance of what not so many years ago we actually called a desktop computer. And that’s led to high-profile boards like the cheap Raspberry Pi. The problem has been, many of the cheapest of these machines were limited in computational power, and more importantly, had audio performance that ranged from middling to disastrously awful, both in audio quality and reliability/responsiveness.

But you shouldn’t settle for that. The whole point of building an embedded audio system dedicated to the task of music making – like a DIY effects pedal or synth or sound installation – ought to be that audio performance is better than on your PC. You’ve got a pocket-sized board that isn’t running weird file indexing, OS updates, buggy Facebook code open in twenty tabs, and the like. It ought to just do the number crunching you need for the granular delay you want to sing along with, and do it really well.

A few audio engineers have decided to brave the challenge. It’s not an easy thing to do: these little boards are so cheap that there’s not a whole lot of money to be made on them.

But one of the better projects has been Bela, first introduced in 2016. And today, its makers are taking advantage of a new board PocketBeagle board from beagleboard.org. It’s more powerful than that much-hyped Raspberry Pi, but runs on a battery and is absurdly small – the Bela Mini measures just 55x35x21mm. (Please do not eat your Bela Mini, or Tide Pods, or anything that isn’t food.)

It’s not just a small computer, though – there’s more.

Low latency. 1ms round-trip for audio, or a minuscule 100us round-trip via analog and digital I/Os.

Run your favorite free audio software. Support for the graphical patching environment Pure Data (Pd), the crazy-powerful code world of SuperCollider, plus C and C++, and community support for FAUST, Python, etc.

An IDE in your browser. Fire up your browser and use a built-in IDE with oscilloscope and spectral analysis and documentation and more.

Sensors! High-resolution sensor inputs onboard open up interesting interfacing with the real world, whether you’ve got a wearable technology idea, an interactive installation, or a unique custom interface.

The applications should be clear here. You could ditch your laptop and run a granular looper on a pocket-sized box. You could hook up some sensors and invent your own weird instrument. You could make a custom vocoder and bring this with a mic and croon along at “robot lounge night.” You could produce a runway show of electronically singing couture. You could devise a series of installations and turn into the next Nam June Paik and someday have a solo show at the Guggen– well, possibly at least some hipster gallery somewhere. You get the idea.

For now, that unique focus on audio makes this possibly the best game in town. There is one rival – the Pisound, a board that hops atop the Raspberry Pi, and couples with a custom case. The Pisound does have the advantage of onboard MIDI – both USB MIDI and MIDI DIN – but for computational power with audio, the Beagle looks stronger. (I could imagine doing an audio/MIDI application with Pisound and coupling it with an audio/sensor creation with Bela.)

https://blokas.io/

Bela winds up pricing out pretty nicely, too. The smart buy is a £120 all-in-one kit (£110 intro price through March 9). That gets you cables, the Bela, the PocketBeagle base board, and a pr-flashed SD-card. If you prefer to source your own parts, you can get just the Bela Mini for £60 (£55 intro).

Here’s what’s in the kit.

It’s bigger, but the original Bela has basically the same specs and ships now if what I’ve done is make you impatient to own one now, rather than wait for May.

Basically, what’s new on the Bela Mini is really the tiny size. That opens up projects where small size matters. (The Pisound above is really just about music projects, more than wearable tech and the like, by contrast – but of course by virtue of being larger affords more space for full-sized ports!) The original Bela will remain available, with “capelets” for adding additional features.

Either way, if you’re quick, you can get out of the studio and have your battery-powered box to make weird experimental music for your friends at the beach all summer long. (Or, southern hemisphere readers, let’s say keeping your friends warm with your July beatbox busking.)

And all for the price of one basic Eurorack module. Who said electronic music was just for the rich kids?

Full specs:

Based on the PocketBeagle (http://www.beagleboard.org/pocket) with a custom hardware cape and low-latency operating system
1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 512MB RAM (based on Octavo Systems OSD335x system-in-package)
Stereo audio I/O with integrated headphone amplifier (16 bit, 44.1kHz)
8x 16-bit analog inputs for sensors (DC-coupled; up to 44.1kHz for 4 inputs or 22.05kHz for 8 inputs)
16x digital I/Os (3.3V level)
USB host and device ports
Dimensions 55 x 35 x 21mm (including PocketBeagle)

Software:
Latency as low as 0.5ms (analog/digital input to audio output) or 1.0ms (audio input to audio output)
Browser-based IDE including oscilloscope, spectrum analyser, interactive pin diagram and onboard documentation
Support for C, C++, Pd and SuperCollider languages. Community-contributed support for FAUST, Python and others

Bela Mini launch + FAQ

Buy it:
https://shop.bela.io

Sample projects:
http://blog.bela.io/

Resources:
http://github.com/BelaPlatform
http://github.com/BelaPlatform/bela/wiki
http://forum.bela.io

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Kickblast makes kick drum sounds for you, free, powered by Csound

There’s a classic fairy tale in which elves make shoes during the night for a shoemaker. Imagine that, but with kick drum sounds.

The last time we caught up with Micah Frank, he was sharing free software that generates rhythms for you:

Leave this free software running, and it’ll come up with rhythms for you

It’s all built using a classic free and open source software tool called Csound – a tool so rooted in digital music history, it has a direct lineage to the very first real computer music synthesis software created by Max Mathews back in 1957. That may seem archaic, but Csound remains simple, direct, and musical – which is how it has endured.

With Micah’s tool, you can set the software in motion and use your ears to choose what you like – going as deep (or not) as you want in the mechanics of those sounds. He writes:

Kickblast is a little tool I built for quickly generating electronic kick drums. It will create a variety of sounds from classic 909-esque sustained basses, to modular and even acoustic sounding kick drums. You can define the parameters and how many kicks you wish to generate. It also has offline rendering capabilities so you can instantly populate a folder full of 17 billion* kick drums if you like.

* if you attempt this quantity, please let me know how it works out

Here’s what you can expect as far as sounds:

How to get going:

Kickblast is a Csound program that populates a folder full of computer (Csound) generated bass drums.

github.com/chronopolis5k/Kickblast

1) All you need is Csound: csound.com/download.html CsoundQT comes with Csound and will enable you to run Kickblast.

2) Once installed, open the Kickblast.csd file and hit “Render” for offline file generation or “Run” for real-time.

3) You can define a number of parameters up in the top section, including how many kick drums you wish to generate.

4) The folder which contains the Kickblast.csd will become populated with your kick drums.

There’s no need to get bored with kick drums. Billions of possibilities await. Let us know if you make something you love.

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Learning To Program With Python & A Video Synthesizer

Kirk Kaiser, author of Make Art With Python, shared this playlist of videos, looking at learning to program with python and the Critter & Guitar ETC video synthesizer. The Critter and Guitari ETC is an open source video synthesizer that runs Python and Pygame, and generates visuals meant to accompany a musical performance. It can… Read More Learning To Program With Python & A Video Synthesizer

Roland and MIT want to use music to teach kids programming

Millions of children worldwide use Scratch to enter the world of programming. Now there’s a new way to connect to music, as Roland teams up with MIT.

There’s a long, amazing history of teaching programming and creativity to kids. A lot of this legacy traces back to Cambridge and Wally Feurzeig, Seymour Papert, and Cynthia Solomon, with their late 60s introduction of the Logo programming language and accompanying Turtle Graphics, alongside a physical turtle robot. (Cynthia Solomon by the way has had an ongoing career contributing to this work and was one of the people instrumental in seeing this tool introduced to Apple’s 80s computer initiatives, which is how I grew up with it.)

If you understand topics like programming, logic – and machine learning, artificial intelligence, and related fields – as an extensive of how we think, then this is more than simply vocational prep. It’s not just making sure we have a generation of cheap coders, in other words. Learning programming, creativity, and media in this way can help how we think – so it’s really important.

Scratch is one of the latest to follow in these footsteps. It’s a free visual programming environment available on all operating systems and in 70+ (human) languages, built in its latest iteration with Web technologies. You can use it in a browser, and it has some surprisingly sophisticated interactive sprite and behavior capabilities, merging some of the best of past tools like Smalltalk, HyperCard, Director/Lingo, ActionScript, and others.

You know – for kids.

The GO_KEYS keyboard from Roland. Its price is a bit above the entry level (around $300). The main thought here is to reach new musicians by offering different ways of playing with loops and discovering music.

So now, where Roland comes in – now there’s an extension that lets you plug in a Roland GO:KEYS keyboard and use the GO:KEYS both as controller and sound source. Roland tell us “the SCRATCH X Extension combined with new firmware on the Roland GO:Keys allows for bi-directional communication via USB.”

You can program the GO:KEYS – and its musical capabilities – from Scratch. And you can control Scratch interactively using the keyboard’s notes and velocity, without any manual setup. So you can trigger animations or interactions from the keyboard, and Scratch can rely on GO:KEYS unique looping and sound generation facilities to add musical elements. Roland explains: “The GO:Keys Extension for SCRATCH X includes “blocks” which can select Loop Sets, play back specific patterns, determine the musical key, and so on.”

The SCRATCH X extension is the work of Roland; Scratch itself comes from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Scratch programming interface with the new Roland module.

There’s some really cool potential here. HyperCard allowed kids (and adults) to create interactive storybooks and the like; with Scratch and GO:KEYS, you can imagine using keys to trigger story events, program logic creating musical events, and live control of music both from Scratch and the keyboard. Creative kids could turn this into a wild new instrument, complete with physical controls.

Now, of course, whether you specifically need the GO:KEYS for this or not is another matter. But it’s nice to see Roland even interested in this area. (And there’s an opportunity for the company to follow up with hardware loans and the like, and to work with other partners.) It’s also an excuse to look at this theme and where it could go.

Creative coding and teaching have long been a passion for me and this site, so I’ll be sure we follow up on this one!

GO:KEYS

scratch.mit.edu

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