It’s no surprise to see Hermutt Lobby bring an innovative hardware product to the market. The first time I met some of the team was at Music Tech Fest 2014 where they were part of the hackathon that I was judging. Their entry for that event was amazing to say the least.
Here’s the video description:
“Ever tried to add FX while scratching without breaking your flow? As both hands are already busy to control the fader and the record, it’s pretty much mission impossible… Unless you own a CTRLCap.
With its cutting edge technology, CtrlCap adds expressive controls at your fingertips!
Pinch it lightly or squeeze it firmly to send expressive midi controls to your FX, stage lights…you name it.
Replace your dead plastic fader Cap with a CTRLCap and get to the next level.
I’ve been a fan of the AC Sabre since before it came out. This is a truly amazing video from Hari, the maker of the app. It’s great to see it being used with another excellent iOS app, Moog’s Model 15.
What’s more, AC Sabre is on sale now, for just $4.99. Watch the video, grab the app …
Reactable have a long history in creating innovative musical instruments, starting out with their original Reactable, moving to Reactable Mobile, and now with ROTOR and their accompanying controllers.
Of course tangible controllers for an iPad aren’t actually a new thing. In fact, two years ago Tuna DJ brought out their control knobs (you can see them here in this post). Enough of those for the moment.
When Reactable brought out their first mobile app it was a very different beast to the other modular apps around at the time. When they recently followed up with their new ROTOR app it was another big step, but not just a software step, one that they aimed to provide users with an experience that is somewhere in between using the full hardware version of the reactable and an iPad app.
So the real question is, have they succeeded?
I’d say yes. In many ways. However, I’d also say that this is not a perfect solution, and if that’s what you’re seeking then you’re almost certainly looking in the wrong place. Before deciding whether the ROTOR tangible controllers are for you or not it’s worth understanding what to compare them against. A brand new Reactable will currently cost you 5900€ (that’s with an 800€ discount). A set of ROTOR controllers will set you back 39.90€, which is about 0.7% of the cost of a full Reactable. In my mind that’s a pretty good deal.
Personally, whilst I’d love to spend some time playing with a full Reactable, I’m more than satisfied with the new ROTOR controllers. I think that they represent excellent value for money.
Let’s move on to how they work and what you can do with them
I’ll start by saying that I think that the presentation of these is lovely. They come in a nice little round tin and are cushioned in foam. In my view presentation is important, and even though you’ve only paid less than 1% of the cost of a Reactable I still think that the whole experience is important.
When you get the controllers out they’re simple things, which initially made me wonder if they’d work at all. However, placing them on the ROTOR app, they work immediately. They will control any on screen ROTOR object.
One thing that quickly became apparent was that to use these controllers you absolutely need a flat surface to work from. Whilst I’ve not tried using these in a mobile environment (and by that I mean on a bus or a train), I’m fairly sure that they’re not going to perform at their best. Having said that, for indoor, flat surface use, they work better than you might expect.
But they are not perfect. And I think that it would be wrong to think that these little devices could be. They will slip and can change from controlling an object on screen to moving it around. In my view I think that with practice I could limit a lot of that slippage on the screen and end up being quite deft with these, but that would take a little time, and would be time well spent.
A quick try with the old Tuna DJ knobs
As I had mentioned them earlier I thought I’d give these older knobs a try out on the ROTOR app. Sadly they didn’t work at all which reminded me that I’d had trouble getting them to work originally. I can’t remember how much they cost so I can’t compare them to the ROTOR controllers.
My verdict …
If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to get an experience a little more like the full scale Reactable then the ROTOR controllers are worth it in my view as they cost less than 1% of the full device, and with a little time and practice I think they’ll be really useful.
If you think you’re going to get that full experience for 39€ then that’s a bit unrealistic and you probably shouldn’t bother.
Reactable has brought together the best aspects of both of their offerings with ROTOR controllers. This is something of a big step forward. When Reactable released the ROTOR app they promised the tangible controllers and now they’re delivering. Controllers are available on their site right now, and I can’t wait to try them out.
Also the app’s been updated at the same time to take advantage of the new hardware. Here’s what’s new:
Full ROTOR controllers support! Use the optional rotors to enhance the interaction with any of the modules; try our unique 3D control on 2D panels when using them
Play with Bluetooth MIDI enabled devices
Improved Virtual Keyboard control in the synth module
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).
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.
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.
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.
This is when you know that users matter and that developers listen. Roli is one such developer and they’ve done what lots of you have been asking for, bringing back what was lost from their Noise app. They’ve put it out in a new app called SEABOARD 5D. Here are all the details:
SEABOARD 5D: THE iPHONE and iPAD LIKE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD THEM BEFORE
Seaboard 5D unlocks the extraordinary potential of your iOS device as a touch-responsive surface for making music. It recreates the expressive possibilities of the Seaboard RISE, the award-winning instrument from ROLI. Shape sounds on-screen through the Five Dimensions of Touch: Strike, Glide, Slide, Press and Lift. You’ll discover the power and fun of Seaboard 5D as soon as you touch the screen. Seaboard 5D not only turns your iOS device into a powerfully expressive musical instrument, it is also the ultimate portable sound engine for your favorite MIDI controller.
ADD NEW DIMENSIONS Play a gentle woodwind melody, a rich textured pad or a killer synth lead. Players of any ability can pick up Seaboard 5D, make some tunes — and put the instrument back in their pockets.
The unique playing surface of Seaboard 5D is laid out like a piano keyboard from the future. Instead of white and black piano keys you now have a continuous set of “keywaves” — just like the Seaboard RISE. You can bend the pitch by gliding your fingers from side to side, modulate a sound by moving up and down a keywave, and — on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 — deepen sounds by pressing into the surface. You can create an astonishing variety of sounds and effects through the Five Dimensions of Touch.
FIND YOUR SOUND Seaboard 5D comes with the Fundamentals Soundpack, which offers 25 diverse, custom-crafted sounds. Polyrhythmic Loops morphs as you play up and down the keywaves. Breath Flute lets you simulate breath control on a wind instrument through pressure. Smoky Rhodes is a cool, modern reinterpretation of the Fender Rhodes. Expand your collection with additional Soundpacks. Hybrid Acoustic comes with over 500MB of unique samples. Expressive Electronic includes both vintage synths and contemporary pads. Synthetic Leads is for when you really just need to shred!
POWER YOUR KIT Seaboard 5D is also the ultimate mobile sound engine for a range of MIDI controllers. Using MIDI over Bluetooth, the app lets you make music wirelessly — with just a mobile device and a MIDI controller — wherever you want. It is also one of the first apps with MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) Mode, and it works plug-and-play with any MPE-compatible controller. To get the most out of Seaboard 5D, try it with our own Seaboard RISE, the multi-award-winning MIDI controller hailed as “the future of the keyboard” (MusicRadar). The Seaboard RISE and Seaboard 5D are the ultimate tools for making music on the go.
THE WORLD OF ROLI At ROLI, we are creating a set of connected tools for modern music creation. The Seaboard RISE, Seaboard GRAND, and ROLI BLOCKS are part of our family of beautifully designed, technologically cutting-edge products. Learn more at http://www.roli.com.
Tweak your sounds with onscreen macro controls and XY Touchpad
Vary the size of the onscreen keywave surface to suit your screen and preferences
Octave shift buttons and an onscreen sustain pedal add depth to real-time performance
Control Five Dimensions of Touch: Strike, Press, Glide, Slide and Lift
Purchase Soundpacks in-app and build your collection of sounds
Recreate the Seaboard RISE experience on the iPhone 6s and make the most of its new 3D Touch feature
MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS Seaboard 5D is designed for:
iPhone 5c and above
iPad Air 2 and above
iPad Mini 2 and above
Please note that while Seaboard 5D works well as a sound engine on all supported iPhones and iPads, you will only be able to use all of the Five Dimensions of Touch with an iPhone 6s or iPhone 7
Seaboard 5D from Roli is free on the app store with IAPs, many of which are free:
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.
“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
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.
RICH MUSICAL VOCABULARY:
Scale-synced, velocity sensitive note play
Harmonies, trills, arpeggios…
Note shift (for playing out-of-scale notes)
Circle of Fourths/Fifths key changes
Note range and octave shift
Legato and Portamento modes
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
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
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.
Ok, I’m starting to really want to get my hands on this stuff.
“Music Performance at IFA 2015 in Berlin using Soundcamp, Samsung’s powerful music creating app, and Samsung Gear S2. “Tak song”, specially composed for the show, was performed on Soundcamp Looper while its sound effects were controlled by Samsung Gear S2. “TAK song” was produced for Looper by DJ Tak and performed by DJ Raik.”
“Soundcamp Looper is a companion app that is exclusive to Soundcamp, Samsung’s powerful music creating application. With Soundcamp Looper, you can control sound effects without touching your device. The Soundcamp Looper controller uses hand gestures to control the XY parameters so you can add effects to your music performances by simply moving your Galaxy Gear watch. Soundcamp Looper also provides three modes for different watch positions: Left wrist, Right wrist and Hand-held. Simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see the options.”