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The Figure Five-man Orchestra

posted by Leo Nathorst-Böös 2012-05-04 at 17:34

Tage on Trombone, Ryan on Trumpet, me on Bass Guitar, Mattias playing the lead and Markus doing the drums.

As Ryan said: "hands down the lamest we've ever been."


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The Making of The Echo

posted by Mattias Häggström Gerdt 2012-05-03 at 12:51

In this second behind the scenes look we’ll talk about how The Echo was designed and created, from early concept to your favorite delay unit! Like Pulveriser, The Echo was born in Mats Karlöf’s twisted, geeky imagination.

- DDL-1 had some functionality left to wish for and you had to build a lot of different Combinators to get really flexible delays, especially for stereo. It felt more practical and useful to have a dedicated stereo delay that was a bit more advanced and it’s something our users have asked for too.

The first step—as with Pulveriser—was to list the requirements and features on the “design poster”. Compared to Pulveriser, The Echo actually looked very different at this stage compared to how it ended up! The feature list and mockup shows almost another device than The Echo you know and love:

Features

• Based on the Scream 4 UI

- 1 Algorithm selector

- 2-3 Specific parameters for each delay type 
- Separate components out side the algorithm that is common for all algorithms


• Limiter in the feedback loop


• External feedback loop


• Few, but great Patches per algorithm

- The first version was pretty much just like Scream4 but for delay, Mats tells us. Then as the design progressed more and more feature were both added and “lifted out” and made as their own sections. 

- There were also many ideas that were considered. Should we have a resonator in the feedback loop? How exactly should the ducking feature look? The original ducking feature was much more advanced to begin with but in the end it didn’t add much and took up too much space.

- At one time there was even a “morph” section where you could morph between two different delay settings. The problem with this was automation conflict. Because you could automate the morph AND the parameters that the morph affected, it wasn’t very predictable. Whichever control gave the last instruction to a parameter “wins” in this system, something that made it very unwieldy.

Even on this early design poster however, Mats did detailed some of the unique features that he wanted The Echo to have. Many of these ended up in The Echo anyway but in a different form than in the original designs. This is how Mats described some of them:

Breakout jacks

This lets the user set up his own effect chain in the feedback loop. This keeps things interesting for the more advanced user as it adds to the geek factor of this device.

 

Pitch neutral

Want to change the delay time without having the resulting pitch shift? No problem, use this algorithm.

 

Stereo delay

The stereo delay has controls that offsets delay time and feedback for the right channel from the left channel.

 

Read Only

This enables the delay memory to be read without writing to the memory. There is a CV input on the back that can enable this function.

- Breakout jacks were there from day one, it’s a great feature and makes The Echo much more flexible.  We also added a limiter in the feedback loop so it can’t actually break your speakers when you’re messing around with it.

- With the stereo delay, the offset was always the thought too. It makes it possible to change the delay time for both left and right with just one rotary. If there were separate delay times for left and right that would make it less usable, especially considering the cool effects you can do with the “Keep Pitch” feature.

A device can really change its appearance and features during development and The Echo is a really good example of this. In the end as more and more features got “lifted” from the original Echo design and put as their own section it became clear that this made the device easier to work and more flexible.

- The big reason it moved away more and more from the original Scream-like design is that we realized a problem. What if you want a stereo delay that’s also pitch neutral? Or a tape delay with tube distortion? We sacrificed flexibility by letting one algorithm be active at a time. When we lifted out the various “characteristics” as their own sections (Color, Modulation, Ducking etc.) it became a much better device with more freedom.

Some changes to The Echo also came from people other than Mats.

- We had a tester here who was a DJ and used quite a few effects live, Mats remembers. I asked him what his coolest live effect was and what he described is what we made the Roll feature for.

- Then the Diffusion section is something Pelle came up with actually, it’s similar to the diffusion in RV-7000, which we’ve always liked. He also came up with the envelope!

The feature set wasn’t the only thing that changed with The Echo either. The Echo was actually a purple device for a very long time but Mats disliked the color so much when he saw it that it had to be changed.

- I said something along the lines of “It can’t be purple, no way. Any color but purple! It can even be orange!” and before I knew it, it was released and it was indeed orange. 

That’s it for this behind the scenes look! Hopefully you enjoyed reading some of the thoughts behind The Echo. We still have Alligator to cover so watch this space for the next behind the scenes look!


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The Making of Pulveriser

posted by Mattias Häggström Gerdt 2012-04-30 at 14:18

With Rack Extensions around the corner – and the open Reason rack that comes with this – we thought we’d give you an inside look at how designing and creating a rack device can actually work. This will give you a unique behind the scenes look at how we work and if you’re an aspiring Rack Extension developer, maybe it can also help you in designing your own devices!

In Reason 6 we introduced Pulveriser, The Echo and Alligator—three creative effect devices we’re very proud of. These were actually an early form of Rack Extensions so it feels very fitting to talk about these too- So, with a little help from product manager Mats Karlöf, let’s take a look!

Pulveriser

Many devices begin their life as an idea or a sound in someone’s head. In our case, that someone is Mats Karlöf. Not only a product manager but a gear collector and geek extraordinaire, Mats knows a thing or two about both music technology and fun.

Pulveriser was first designed as a set of “requirements” and features. The requirements are basically characteristics that the device needed to have to be a good product. These can many times be the same between projects and in Pulveriser’s case, were defined like this:

• Easy to understand

• Possibility to experiment (geek factor)

• Terrific sound quality

• Quick results

• Not too time consuming to create

Mats also listed some key features to get a good overview of the device, not only for himself but so the rest of the team can get a bird’s-eye view.

• A heavy-hitting sound mangler, add personality to clinically clean sound

• Hard compression and amazing distortion with a filter to shape it all

• Envelope follower and LFO to control the filter frequency

• Few, but great patches

- The problem with today’s music making to me is that everything sounds TOO good, explains Mats.

- Amazing audio interfaces, brilliant algorithms, it’s all too clinically clean. We lost the dirt, which I think is the reason people still sample old records. Pulveriser was to be the solution to this problem. It brings back the dirt.

Together with this feature list a device mockup is made, basically a visual representation of the rack device complete with all controls and connections. These are most often made in OmniGraffle and actually use a pre-made set of device "parts" so it’s easy to get the idea across.

– It’s like a sort of prototype where you can easily “fake” how something will work and even imagine how it sounds, says Mats when asked why you would make it as an image first.

– It also makes it easier to run the design by my colleagues, for example Mattias or Stoffe. In one way it’s also a kind of checklist, you can see if there’s something missing when you see it as a device. You gain insight into the relationship between various functions and features.

We’ve actually uploaded the mockup so you can take a look at it:

While most devices go through tons of iterations to get the feature-set right (“Do we really need this?” “What about adding this?”), the Pulveriser ended up almost exactly the same in its final form as in the mockup!

– The only real additions after my first design was the LFO to master level, the envelope to LFO and the LFO stereo "spread". We also decided to add some cool CV stuff, something that’s often added last, says Mats.

Once this was all set, the mockup was delivered to Pelle so he can make the actual DSP code. At this stage there’s always a lot of discussion about how things should actually sound too.

- I actually took a trip to a stomp box shop called “These go to 11” and sat down for 2-3 days and tried their entire catalogue of distortion pedals, explains Mats with a laugh.

- Everything from the Tube Screamer to one-of-a-kind boutique pedals. I tried pretty much every single one of them on both a guitar, a Roland SH-101 and a Roland TR-808 to find something that sounds cool on many different things. There was one I thought really shined and I ended up buying that and giving it to Pelle for inspiration for the distortion.

At the same time, work started on the GUI. Since the rotaries and buttons are decided and the layout is there, Andreas Karperyd can start working on the design.

- Andreas and I sat down to discuss the graphical design, as we always do. We talk more in terms of feelings and “mood boards” actually, what feelings does this device stir up? After talking about it, I asked Andreas to make it look really old, like an old radio field unit from the 1940s.

Mats continues:

- An old, worn out device with a soul – that’s the character it had to me. The change in the name from “Pulverizer” to “Pulveriser” was because when the graphic design fell into place it become apparent that it was of course British! 

Finally when everything’s in place, the final acceptance testing of the device begins. This starts internally but eventually branches out to include alpha testers and eventually the public beta.

- This is where I discovered that we needed a lag processor because of the clicks caused by changing the LFO rate when it was locked to tempo, explains Mats.

- So it’s a result of actually trying the device and hearing it in action. This is also where we had to experiment with the internal levels to make sure the envelope follower reacted properly. Speaking of the envelope follower, one change also came from our Test Pilots! Our beloved alpha testers said that it's too bad we didn't have a CV output for the envelope follower. I agreed and decided to add it last minute! It really made the device better, a second pair of eyes can really help.

- Another thing is that initially we were supposed to have a switch for the compressor release time. To get two good values we could use Pelle added a rotary so I could find them myself. This rotary worked so well that we actually kept it!

So there you have it! A bit of information about how everyone’s favorite sound mangler was actually created. We still have The Echo and Alligator to cover so watch this space for the next behind the scenes look and make sure you leave a comment if you have any questions—we'll answer what we can!

Oh and if you haven't upgraded to Reason 6 and used the Pulveriser yet, there's no better time than now. Reason 6 owners get a free upgrade to Reason 6.5 so there's no need to wait!

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Thursday in the kitchen

posted by Tage Widsell 2012-04-19 at 13:12

club monome

Thursday at lunch is the meeting time for Club Monome Couch  - Klara & Craig's club to enjoy monome, software setup and awesomely ergonomic workspace configurations.


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Figure: Post-Release Thoughts

posted by Mattias Häggström Gerdt 2012-04-06 at 21:54

Wow... the Figure release was really something! We've gotten some amazing feedback from users and press alike, I'm quite humbled! Very happy to see that other people can appreciate this app like we did – something that's both creative and truly fun. I personally think TIME raises an interesting point when they say:

"Just as simple, casual games like Angry Birds brought gaming to a wider audience, Paper and Figure can do the same for art and music."

It's easter (4 day holiday!) but I can't help myself so I keep checking Twitter and Facebook, reading up on all the feedback and talking to you guys. We really appreciate your kind words and suggestions and try to read them all.

But it is a holiday after all so I'm gonna try to relax now with the amazing combo "beats and beer"... skål!


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Figure released!

posted by Kalle Paulsson 2012-04-04 at 15:57

So, this past night the iTunes store released Figure in a sweep around the globe, beginning in Japan. First signs was some japanese night owls tweeting about not getting any sleep. That was a good sign, right there.

Right now we're #1 in the Music category in 13 countries, and top #5 in 36 countries. In Sweden we're at #2 Top overall, chasing the tail feathers of Angry Birds! Whatever the outcome, we consider ourselves very lucky to be in such great company!

We're having a blast reading all the twitter/facebook/blog/forum comments, they are all truly super-valuable to us! So thank you, and keep them coming!

Keep up the music making!

Kalle


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More Musikmesse!

posted by Mattias Häggström Gerdt 2012-03-26 at 10:17

I was also at Musikmesse but at the public day, Saturday. During the "industry days" I was still running around the mighty internet talking to everyone and everything about Rack Extenions and reading up what people think! 

In any case, here are some pictures I took at Messe:

Magnus enjoys the first (but not the last) weissbier of the trip!

I couldn't help myself and ordered Schweinshaxe. It was giant but good!

Anders Molander and Fredrik Littmarck possibly discussing something interesting.

Magnus took a moment to sit down with Softube and talk about... well, who knows?

u-he's prototype Diva controller - glorious!

u-he also proudly wore the Rack Extension logo!. In fact you could even try the first two Uhbik Rack Extensions on their demo computer!

Magnus, Marcus (Propellerheads) and Clemens (u-he) - talking about programmer stuff of course. It was all quite over my head!

There were vintage synths! This is the glorious Polysix.

And here's one of my favorites, the Pro One.

Mats looking good at the coolest couch ever. The Minitaur sounded pretty great too!

Jacob Palicki's getting his modular on. Great noises were made!


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New crew blogger intro and MusikMesse report

posted by Kalle Paulsson 2012-03-23 at 23:47

Hello!

My name is Kalle Paulsson, and I'm the new-ish Product Manager for Apps here at Propellerhead since August. Mattias has finally wore me down enough to write a crew blog update, and now that we announced Figure it's a whole lot easier too. :-)

I'll post more about Figure later. in the meanwhile, here are some photos from my first MusikMesse. It was a fantastic experience!

(Feel free to follow me on Twitter for more real time updates on all things me, mobile and Figure: @kallepa)

Leo is falling asleep while rehearsing his Figure performance on the plane.

You can't get Mats on photo without a pose. It's like he's always ready to strike!

Magnus Lidström (Sonic Charge) makes some last minute changes to something.

The night after the press conference was spent in the hotel bar reading forums, checking Twitter and Facebook for comments. Tage gets something in the eye.

The next day was spent at the Messe. High amounts of synths and knobs will follow.

Nice modular cabinet.

Doepfer Dark Energy and Time. The leftmost one is a prototype Dark Energy II.

Leo really wanted to buy this sofa, but it was a one-off thing.

The Minitaur shook our bones with subwoofery bass.

This guy was silently drumming very loudly and aggressively. But silently.

Three crepes for lunch. Geschwipt!

Tage and Tim wasn't sure about the nutritional benefits of my three crepe lunch.

Nice controllers from Livid.

In the Synthesizer Magazine booth there was much vintage fun to be had.

Also digital PPG waveform thingies with huge diskettes with almost no storage at all. Those where the days!

This makes a perfect campfire instrument!

The Reactable table environment is a lot of fun to play with!

And then, guitars. Lots of guitars. Huge amounts of guitars.

Yamaha are so huge, they have a hall all to themselves.

This arena was a booth for a event tech company. We were treated to a huge arena tech demo of epic proportions!

Then Leo beamed back to the Enterprise.

This is some drummers wet dream. Or some drummers actual cymbal setup, not sure.

Tage is checking out the latest cutting edge synthesizer from Casio.

Buchla. Amazingly beautiful, insanely expensive. We could only make it go "bleepblorpfrrztutloop".

The huge Doepfer A-100. We could make go "GDRAWPtut".

This huge kinetic statue saw us off when our first and last day of MusikMesse 2012 was over. Thank you, see you next year!


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Quote of the day

posted by Tage Widsell 2012-03-21 at 01:14

" If rack extensions are 1/10th as good as Billy Joel, we have a winner." 

What?


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All set and the count

posted by Tage Widsell 2012-03-20 at 17:21

Kalle

All set and ready to go. 39 minutes to showtime.


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