I am pleased to give you another exclusive Wire to the Ear interview. This time I chat with Bert Schiettecatte of Percussa.
Briefly explain what Percussa AudioCubes are.
AudioCubes are a hardware platform for audiovisual creation. For the hardware there exists a number of software applications and development kits. Each of these integrates perfectly with the hardware, and lets you use AudioCubes in different situations. For example:
LoopShaper – a VST host that runs without needing other software – it lets you use 2 audiocubes for sound design. you can use hand gestures with the audiocubes. per cube up to 4 parameters can be controlled. The software records your interactions in a loop, and you can output the results as WAV files which you can use in your favourite DAW. It’s a very powerful application because it gives you access to a parameter space of your plugins which is hard to reach using knob boxes (try turning 4 knobs simultaneously!) The software works with professional audio interfaces through ASIO or CoreAudio. LoopShaper was made specifically for people who make sounds or loops.
MIDIBridge – our original software to use audiocubes with MIDI compatible instruments and software, for example, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Propellerheads Reason, EnergyXT2, Cubase, Logic, etc… The software lets you generate MIDI triggers and controllers based on interaction between cubes and your hands. You can use it to trigger clips or control FX parameters in Live, for example. At the same time you can control the full colour RGB LEDs in the cubes, so you can create visuals tightly synced to the audio clips in Live. Of course you can save your setup in presets. The app is perfect for live performers.
PluginWrapper – this is a great little VST instrument/FX plugin that hosts other instruments or plugins, and communicates directly with audiocubes. it automatically maps cube sensors to plugin or instrument paramters. You can drop it on a track in Ableton Live for example, select your plugin inside the PluginWrapper, connect a cube, and you’re ready to control parameters of the instrument or FX. You an use multiple PluginWrappers. You can also control colours of the cube using MIDI CCs or notes (one colour per note). PluginWrapper is perfect for music production people or live performers, or even for vocal performers who just want to apply some VST FX to their voice and at the same time control the FX using their hands and a single audiocube.
DeckaBridge – this is a variation of MIDIBridge to use audiocubes with Deckadance, DJ software made by Image Line here in Belgium. Deckadance is great DJ software with unique features, like beat slicing, VST hosting, MIDI clip playback, DMX features, vinyl and MIDI controller support, etc. We decided to make a special app to use AudioCubes with Deckadance, because this way people don’t have to MIDI-map anything. They can start the app, select MIDI ports, load the preset file in Deckadance and it works. Cubes can be used in pairs to control the relooper beat slicer, or to control the EQ section, CUE/seek functions, or X-Y FX control. DeckaBridge was made for new skool digital DJs who do more than pressing “play” and actually want to put on a real and challenging performance.
Modulor – this is the most recent application we made and was in development for more than a year. We developed new firmware for the cubes that let you detect any kind of network configuration of AudioCubes. the cubes can detect each other and communicate wirelessly, and forward their info in their own network and to the computer. The computer can also send info in the other direction, to control colours for example. Modulor takes advantage of this new functionality, it’s a VST host application with MIDI effects and sequencing features. You can connect your ASIO or CoreAudio interface to it, connect your favourite MIDI keyboard or other controller, host your VST instruments in a rack, and you can then record and play loops onto AudioCubes, and put the loops together simply by putting physical cubes together. At the same time you can route MIDI within the wireless cube network, and set a MIDI effect per AudioCube, and create processing chains, e.g. MIDI input => transpose => arpeggiate => make chords => VST rack. Modulor is basically a very minimal but powerful sequencer, focused on musical idea development and improvisation. What’s great about it is that you can physically touch and manipulate loops through physical objects on your table, so you listen more and explore more, and pay less attention to the computer.
Of course, all software is free and runs on both Mac and windows, without needing drivers. We use the high speed USB HID protocol, so speed and resolution are better than MIDI.
For developers and hackers we have a C/C++ library available, so you can make your own software that works with AudioCubes. If you are a Max/MSP or PD user you can use the kit we have for those applications. Finally, if you prefer to use OSC (OpenSoundControl), we have a max patch for that and are developing a standalone software app for OSC.
Are there any famous artists using the AudioCubes?
Richard Devine, Nortec Collective (latin grammy award nominees), … see http://www.percussa.com/artists/
Did you own a Litebright and play with Legos when you were a child?
I don’t know about Lite-Brite .. I don’t think it was in the toy stores here in Belgium. I did have a very big lego collection, I was primarily interested in the Technics series.
I used to get all the technics kits for my birthday as a kid, especially the very complicated ones, like the computer controller plotter kit. I didn’t care so much for the lego cities or trains.
Do you find artists using AudioCubes in the studio or are they solely for a live performance situation?
Up to now artists have been mostly using them Live I believe, but now there are more and more people using them for various applications, because we’ve released all this new software for the hardware, so the applications are now really wide and people are really enthusiastic about it.
Can you pick up an AudioCube and throw it? I could use a studded black leather AudioCube in my show maybe? Imagine if I lift it up and it triggers a sample that screams “hit me hit me!” or “watch out!”.
Not really, because AudioCubes were not made to throw around. Also, they’re not a gadget, but more like an integrated hardware-software solution to use in your workflow, whether live or in your studio…
I am really enjoying the music apps on my iPhone and am looking forward to an Apple Tablet. What do you think of multi-touch touch screen technology?
I think it’s great technology and a big and important step in user interface innovation. Many companies have been working on multi-touch technology over the past years. I don’t think Apple is the only company that should get credit for multi-touch, as many came before that made important contributions. However, I do believe Apple is one of the first that made it work well enough that it would be generally accepted and used … I have to say though that some user interface tasks are not ideal to perform with multi-touch technology. I got this iPhone a while ago, and I’m not convinced about sending SMSes using the multi-touch keypad. Also, dialing numbers when you’re in a hurry is also not that easy. If the screen is smudged it becomes harder to use the interface, etc. And then there is the fact that the screen is fragile. However, it does have its advantages, like navigating with gestures, or zooming in and out. I guess it depends on what you like to use it for.
What’s next? AudioSpheres? Something else?
That’s top secret :-) I think right now we’re focused on developing more software and perhaps a few hardware addons for AudioCubes too. We’d also like to get more open source developers involved from non-music areas, maybe visual artists or game developers.
What are a few websites you visit regularly?
I’m on Facebook quite a lot these days. I do like to visit createdigitalmusic.com, xlr8r.com, cycling 74’s website, lifehacker, rhizome, soundcloud, …
What is a typical Belgian dinner like? What food and drinks are on the table?
There are a few typical belgian dishes, like steak and fries … or mussles with fries.. there are also some desserts, like chocolate. waffles is not very much a breakfast or dinner thing, you eat them in the afternoon maybe around 4pm or so. of course, lunch or dinner should be with a belgian beer, like Leffe or Duvel.
Do you make music yourself? If yes where can we hear it?
I was making music when I was about 16-17 years old. I was into ambient music quite a lot, listening to Biosphere, etc. I had a Korg wavestation, Akai sampler, etc. I have a classic music education, unfortunately the jazz and pop schools developed after I got into university and by then I had little time to continue playing or making music. Also, the gear was super expensive, you could not get anything done if you didn’t have 10,000 EUR to buy all the gear for a home studio. By the time I got into university I was also very much interested in music technology itself and developing software and hardware. Lately I’m getting back into it though, I think the development of computer hardware and availability of software these days has made it easier to make music.
Big thanks Bert! We are looking forward to all the new toys you make. For more info: www.percussa.com