2 comments on “A first look at BLOCKS from Roli”

A first look at BLOCKS from Roli

Last week I spent a very pleasant couple of hours at Roli HQ in East London. You might remember Roli  as the maker of the expressive keyboard, the Seaboard, and more recently the Seaboard Rise. The technology behind these products is very interesting in its own right, but for the purposes of this piece I’m only really going to explore it from the perspective of their most recent product BLOCKS.

However, before we get into the detail of BLOCKS I think it’s worth understanding how Roli got here and the pieces that they’ve put together to make this happen. So I’m going to spend a little time in exploring some of the work that Roli have been involved in to get to BLOCKS. I hope you’ll find it useful.

Understanding the jigsaw, seeing the picture

Over the last few years Roli have made a series of acquisitions which, up until very recently, hadn’t made any sense to me at all. However, with the release of BLOCKS things start to come into focus a lot more. For example, Roli acquired JUCE back in late 2014. JUCE is a cross-platform C++ library used in a lot of music apps. This gave Roli a real advantage in building the iOS apps that they have on the store now. But JUCE isn’t something that they’re keeping to themselves. Roli have an annual JUCE event, The Audio Developers Conference. The last of these was held at the beginning of November and had around 250 delegates attending.

Just under a year later Roli acquired Blend.io, a collaborative music network which allows artists to share work and involve other artists in tracks. This of course gives Roli its own platform for sharing and collaboration.

Finally, and most recently Roli acquired FXpansion, makers of very high quality VST instruments and FX. Given the above and also Roli’s direction with BLOCKS this makes perfect sense.

When you connect all of these pieces together with their existing technology that powers the Seaboard it all starts to fit together, and when you get to use BLOCKS you can see exactly where this is heading.

From Seaboard to Noise

Just over a year ago Roli brought out their first app, NOISE 5D which enabled a user to take advantage of the brand new 3D Touch features in the iPhone 6S and 6S+. Releasing this as a free app gave Roli a great platform to show just what could be done with this kind of expressive technology.

The app also had the whole Seaboard sound engine (Equator) inside it. The app could pair with the Seaboard Rise using BLE and worked like a dream.

As an aside I’m still somewhat confused as to why more apps don’t make use of the 3D Touch functionality inside the 6S and up. It’s confused me for about a year now and as far as I know there are only a tiny handful of apps that have incorporated it, and two of those are from Roli themselves.

Let’s talk about BLOCKS itself

If you’ve seen photos or video of BLOCKS then you’ll already know that it’s a modular music studio that uses the same hardware technology that is in Roli’s Seabaord but in a smaller, more accessible, and affordable format. The basic hardware unit is the Lightpad which retails for £170. You can do a lot with just this unit, but of course you can scale up too, add more units and expand your set up. That’s the idea of course, and I think that when artists start to get to grips with the hardware they may well just do that. Whatever you buy you’re going to use their iOS app NOISE as that is what powers this stuff.

The Lightpad does just about everything that you can do in the app but with a much deeper layer of expression available to it by virtue of its pressure sensitive surface. The interaction with the app is seamless. When you press down on the Lightpad you can see what happens in the NOISE app. You can see what I mean in this short clip which shows the ‘learn’ function.

Every instrument in NOISE has a learn mode which shows you what the instrument does and how it works. When you’re running NOISE with a Lightpad this works even better, and as you can see from this short clip you can quite clearly see what you’re doing on the Lightpad from your iOS screen, and this includes pressure data too.

The Lightpad is paired directly with the iOS device, and pairs quickly and without issues, which is more than I can say for other BLE devices I’ve used. However, when you have two Lightpad units together you don’t need to form a second pairing (although you can and I’ll explain that later).

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Above you can see two Lightpads working together with the iOS device. When you magnetically clip one lightpad to another the connect over what Roli call DNA connectors. You can see these connectors around the sides of the device, and clipping them together means that are instantly sharing data and useable as a part of your set up. The connection to the iOS device is made via a single BLE pairing.

If you wanted to use multiple Lightpads over different pairings that is possible too, but the point I’m making is that you don’t need to worry about that if you’re working on something on your own. This makes for very flexible hardware configurations.

Some thoughts …

I have to say that the time I’ve spent playing with BLOCKS has been really enjoyable, and I think that the main reason for that is the level of expression that you can achieve with the surface. For many, myself included, having this degree of expressivity from a mobile device / set up will be quite a new experience, and I think that this is something that will distinguish BLOCKS for users.

It’s important to remember that Roli has only just released BLOCKS. It is perhaps a month old now, and in many ways is only at the start of its journey. Roli have made a very good start with the hardware, with the app, and, most importantly, with how the two work together. Which is critical in my opinion.

What’s next

When I was with Roli last week we did talk about the future. Of course they were cautious about talking future plans. That’s understandable. But we also talked about the community and how they’re responding to users. I think that the fact that they brought the original NOISE functionality back in a new app (see this post) can only be taken as a clear signal that they are listening, and that’s very positive.

They also have an API for BLOCKS, which I haven’t investigated so far, but could be a massive hook to increase adoption of the platform. More about that another time I think. For now I’m impressed with what Roli have brought out. It really is an accessible and affordable music platform. I think that Roli have made an excellent start. Where they go next with BLOCKS and with NOISE will be critical to making it a big success.

0 comments on “Remember the AC Sabre, well you need to see this”

Remember the AC Sabre, well you need to see this

When the AC Sabre came out I raved about it, and I haven’t changed my mind about the app at all since then, it is amazing. It gives a performer incredible gestural control using just an iPhone. The range of expression that is possible using the AC Sabre is phenomenal. But don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at this video which shows Hari demonstrating just a tiny part of what Sabre can do.

Sabre has also recently been update …

“Hey! Nice to see you. We’ve fixed that annoying bug where the QuickPanels gets stuck halfway open. We also fixed an issues involving the Ribbons and MIDI Channel not acting properly. And we’ve updated for iOS10. More to come soon. In the meantime, might you help us with a nice rating?? Cheers! Hari Karam Singh, AC Sabre inventor”

It’s on the app store for only $12.99, and considering how useful this app is, and how much you’d have to pay for a gestural controller, it’s more than a bargain.

0 comments on “Why DJ’ing via a Pizza box might not be such a funny idea after all”

Why DJ’ing via a Pizza box might not be such a funny idea after all

A couple of days ago I was sent this video (below) of the a pizza box DJ set up.

Yes, that’s right. You might have seen it before, and you might have thought it was a bit of a gimmick too. That’s fine. I think that for Pizza Hut it probably was, but beneath the gimmick is a serious technology that has almost endless applications that we haven’t really thought through.

Some time ago I’m fairly sure that I shared this video …

I first saw this at Music Tech Fest in 2014 and then Novalia unsuccessfully brought their technology to Kickstarter, which was a real shame. They still have an amazing technology that could do some seriously cool things and I hope that we’ll see more of them in time.

But of course they’re not the only ones. Bare Conductive have their conductive ink and TouchBoard combo that is not only easy to use and very versatile, but entirely affordable too. If that wasn’t enough they’re also about to launch their PiCap too, in fact I think it arrives tomorrow.

Using inks to create your own MIDI interface can be amazing. I used Bare Conductive’s ink and TouchBoard back in November at an event with Heart n Soul in NESTA’s offices in London. I used two ink pads as proximity sensors to control volume and filter on a track in Live. It worked out really well, although it was difficult to calibrate to begin with.

But what it shows is that there are some amazing possibilities to use a conductive ink solution with MIDI. I probably haven’t spent enough time exploring what you can do with it enough. But it is on my to do list.

So I’m saying that whilst the pizza box is a nice gimmick, it shows that this can do a lot, a hell of a lot, and perhaps the gimmick will lead to something much better for controlling music.

3 comments on “The AC Sabre arrives, delivers, changes iOS music making”

The AC Sabre arrives, delivers, changes iOS music making

Every now and then an app comes along that you really think is going to change how things work, is going to change how people perceive making music on iOS. It doesn’t happen often because it’s a big change, but I think that this is it.

Yesterday the AC Sabre launched on the app store. It’s an app, but that doesn’t really describe it properly at all. The Sabre is an instrument that gives you real control over your synths, VST’s and libraries. It’s one of those things that has to be seen to be understood, has to be used to be appreciated.

Let’s face it, gestural control has been around for a while now. There have been all sorts of approaches to it. Lots have used MIDI, back in the early days some used OSC. Lots of gestural apps worked well, but none really caught on as instruments in their own right. That is, not until now.

The AC Sabre brings truly instrument like control to an iOS device. It transforms your iPhone / Touch into a real instrument with emotional range and expressivity you won’t have experienced before.

You’re going to be hearing a lot more about the AC Sabre over the coming weeks, not just from me, but from lots of people!

Here’s all the app details …

AC Sabre is a revolutionary wireless MIDI instrument and motion controller for electronic music producers, composers, performers and DJs which brings the dynamic richness and performance energy of traditional instruments to your digital music library, in a way that is not possible with the existing studio and stage tools.

“A very unique and sophisticated virtual musical instrument” –The Next Web

AC Sabre reads your movements with the built in gyroscope and accelerometer and translates them into musical actions. It lets you pluck invisible strings in the air while controlling up to 7 additional parameters, intuitively with your movements, via MIDI CC messages.

VIDEOS: http://air-craft.co/demos/

“I had to check AC Sabre out and it immediately lived up to the hype…surreal and instinctive…like Augmented Reality” –Discchord

PLEASE NOTE: AC Sabre contains no sounds of its own. You’ll need a computer with MIDI compatible music software (Ableton, Logic, Cubase, FLStudio, Reason, Garage Band, Massive, Kontakt, Sylenth…), or other apps which support MIDI input (Animoog, Nave).

PUSH THE BOUNDARIES

PRODUCERS…

  • Use AC Sabre to compose distinctive hooks that go beyond the MIDI keyboard
  • Conduct automation in realtime with human sensitivity instead of spending painful hours with the mouse
  • Add sophisticated musical elements without the need for years of theory and training

DJs & PERFORMERS…

  • Play electronic instruments without being shackled to your gear
  • Introduce spontaneity into your live digital performances
  • Infuse signature attitude and style into your performances
  • 3 words: Live Bass Wobble.

FEATURES

RICH MUSICAL VOCABULARY:

  • Scale-synced, velocity sensitive note play
  • Harmonies, trills, arpeggios…
  • Gesture-based vibrato
  • Note shift (for playing out-of-scale notes)
  • Circle of Fourths/Fifths key changes
  • Note range and octave shift
  • Legato and Portamento modes
  • Note-clamping pitchbend
  • A Drone for sustain and guitar “tapping”-style effects

HONED FOR PROFESSIONAL USE:

  • Low latency (<10ms), 50m+ range via Wi-Fi
  • QuickPanels allow realtime access to most common parameters
  • Save/load/export configuration Patches
  • Wi-fi/Bluetooth support + Bonjour auto-detect
  • Supports multiple devices running AC Sabre as separate MIDI inputs into your DAW
  • MIDI Learn wizard for quick CC assignment
  • MIDI channel selector for playing multiple instruments

POWERFUL EXPRESSIVE CONTROL:

  • 6 assignable Motion Controls
  • Pitch, Roll and Yaw angles
  • Linear Shake & Shuffle
  • Play Intensity
  • 2 configurable Touch Ribbons
  • 1 configurable User Button
  • Vibrato on Shake

OVER 150 MUSICAL SCALES

  • Major, Minor and Pentatonics
  • Jazz modes: Dorian, Phrygian, etc
  • Bebop Dominant, Octonic, Nine-tone scale and other exotics
  • World scales like Hungarian Gypsy, Hirajoshi, and Mississippi Blues
  • Arpeggio scales like Dominant 7b5
  • 1-4-5-b7 and other Bassline scales
  • A few centuries worth of Indian Raag scales

TWEAKABILITY

  • Vibrato amount from 1/4 step up to full PB range
  • MIDI CC’s and output range are fully customisable
  • Motion range calibration
  • Virtual MIDI support, play other apps

AIR CRAFT ONLINE

Online manual: http://air-craft.co/support/ac-sabre-manual/
Videos: http://air-craft.co/demos/
Website: http://air-craft.co
Forum: http://community.air-craft.co
Questions? Email us: hq@air-craft.co

NOTES & SUPPORT

AC Sabre is a high performance application that requires iPhone 4s+ (iPhone 5+ recommended), iPod Touch 5th gen+, or newer running iOS 8.1+. Also, while playing is definitely tailored more for handheld devices, it works splendidly on the iPad.

Windows users: You’ll also need a (free) copy of rtpMIDI for connecting AC Sabre to your computer

AC Sabre is 50% off and on sale until the 19th of August.

Get it on the app store now!

1 comment on “Orion Studio Remote arrives, and it’s universal and free!”

Orion Studio Remote arrives, and it’s universal and free!

I know that this will make a few people very happy indeed. A bespoke remote for Orion? Good news indeed.

I haven’t been an Orion user for a long time, but when I was I did like it a lot.

Here’s the details of the app:

Orion Studio Mobile App is specifically designed to work with Antelope Audio’s Orion Studio 12-Mic Pres Audio Interface. The app will turn your iOS device into a professional audio interface remote control, allowing you to fully manage Orion Studio’s functionality. Both the producer and the recording artist will be provided with fast and easy access over all controllable features of the device.

Orion Studio Mobile App offers:

  • Input/Output Selection
  • Flexible Monitor Adjustment
  • Input/Output Trim
  • Independent HP Volume Selection
  • Stereo Effects Selection

Orion Studio on the app store, it’s free:

0 comments on “From the beginning … PalmSounds on video, back in 2013: Palm OS controls”

From the beginning … PalmSounds on video, back in 2013: Palm OS controls

0 comments on “From the beginning … PalmSounds on video, back in 2012: Hardware synths”

From the beginning … PalmSounds on video, back in 2012: Hardware synths

0 comments on “Like Lego for a MIDI controller, this thing looks awesome”

Like Lego for a MIDI controller, this thing looks awesome

Discchord posted about this yesterday and it looks like a lot of fun to be honest with you. The concept seems sound too. I hope it’ll get off the ground.

It’s worth checking Discchord to see the translation from the Japanese site.

0 comments on “Bare Conductive Sale ends today!”

Bare Conductive Sale ends today!

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There are some great bargains in there, but the sale ends today, so go take a look before it’s too late.

Find their site here.

0 comments on “Bare Conductive Sale is on”

Bare Conductive Sale is on

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I’ve found that using their ink and their TouchBoard has had some very interesting outcomes.

Find their site here.