Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Minimalistic octave remapper plug-in in Max For Live for Ableton Live

Gregory Taylor's article for Cycling'74, where he talks about 'One Big Knob' effects plug-ins, made me think...You might have noticed that I'm not exactly a 'minimalistic' user interface person - some might say that I provide too many controls. So I'm trying an experiment...

Recently, I released MIDIchromatixN, a 128x128 MIDI note number remapper that has quite a few controls... Well, I have just released the exact opposite, a remapper with one big rotary control, and one small rotary control! It does something different with remapping, but the core code for doing the remapping is identical - the differences are all in the fine detail of the controls and what they do. Because I really wanted to boil it down to a single 'big knob', but failed, I have called it MIDIchromatixONE, in an attempt to distract you from the two controls.

MIDIchromatixONE


MIDIchromatixONE creates inversions of notes or chords in sequence clips - musical transformations of some of the notes, and not the 'invert' function where low notes become high and vice-versa. There are two controls (but you already knew that!); a big 'Map' rotary control that selects from the initial  20 presets, and a smaller 'Pitch' rotary control that 'tunes' the internal mapping to suit different input notes. Preset number 1 on the Map rotary control is a 'Thru' setting, where notes pass through unchanged, so it is more accurate to say there are 19 presets (at the moment) that do stuff other than nothing. The presets are arranged in 5 groups, based around modifying in groups of twelve notes, six notes, four notes, three notes or two notes. In each of the groups, the mapping starts out sparse and open, and gets more complex and thicker for higher numbered presets. So 'Preset 5 : Six Notes 1' is simple, whilst 'Preset 8 : Six Notes 4' is complex. The best thing to do is to put some notes from a clip through it, and listen to the presets.

The Pitch control shifts the internal mapping by up to +/- 24 semitones. This doesn't mean that it pitch shifts the output, it means that the way that the remapping is done can be shifted by 2 octaves up or down. I did wonder if I should call it 'Tune' instead of 'Pitch', but the word 'Tune' sounded too vague - this is one of the 'not fully nailed down yet' bits of the design, so it may still change in the future. Again, the best way to see what it does is to put some notes through it and to listen. Kind of what you might do with a plug-in with just 'One Big Knob', really.

Note really a control, the '!' button is a 'Panic' button that attempts to clear up any hanging notes, and also sends an 'All Notes Of' MIDI Controller message. I did think about restricting the Map button to changes only when the Ableton Live transport was stopped, but discovered that using an LFO to change the presets was rather cool, so I didn't put any limits on it - which means that if you change the Map button whilst a chord is held, then you may get held notes... Take care!

Inside

Inside MIDIchromatixONE, there are lots of lookup tables, kind of 'hand crafted' by myself, using assistance from a variety of tools that I wrote in Max For Live. (Which may or may not be a good thing - there's certainly quite a lot of 'tool artefact' in most of the presets... This might end up in a blog post one day - how do you avoid your tools affecting what you do?) I used source note clips from monophonic 'synth' sequences and polyphonic orchestral arrangements, and deliberately went for a range of effects, rather than just choosing the most complex ones - kind of how you would create presets for a real device...


The screenshot above shows part of the development environment for MIDIchromatixONE, where I'm using my 'Huge Noter' tool devices to show the input and output notes. Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot that I'm still in my 'Muted Impure' phase...


And above you can see just one or two of the simple tools that I use to assist me... Normally, you never get to see what happens behind the scenes... One programmer that I know told me that his tool-to-release ratio was about 100:1, so he wrote one hundred times as much code for the tools that he wrote to enable him to write the one final device that he then released.

Sometimes tools and utilities DO get released - examples from me on MaxForLive.com include the following:

- Aud Colours (inspired by Adam Neely @adamneelybass)
- Huge Noter (big display of notes, as used in this blog post!)
- DLS Helper N (Explore MIDI DLS...)
- MIDI cc tool (MIDI Continuous Controller message analysis...)
- MIDI cc  (simulation of a MIDI Continuous Controller...)
- Wavetable Creator ('512 sample' wavetables are increasingly becoming 'retro', these days...)

Regular readers may have spotted that one of these is closely related to my 'should be famous' M4L device which still has zero downloads!

Demo

There's a demo on SoundCloud here. It starts off with 16 bars of plain source material, then fades out and is followed after a pause of one second, by the same material processed by MIDIchromatixONE with a slow LFO running gradually through all of the presets - even the 'Thru'. There's also a bit of probability-based note pruning and some added random velocity from my MIDIprobNV plug-in. they sound gratifyingly different, at least to my ears. The material is not quite in 'Lamb of God' territory... and it isn't done using the Spitfire Audio BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover! Instead it uses an edited version of one of my 'mrOrchestra' Instrument Racks, and so exploits some of the articulation capabilities very nicely. (which is based on 'Quick_Arranger', which is still available...) I really should do another blog post about the 'Quick_Arranger' Instrument Racks...

In Use

MIDIchromatixONE doesn't do anything other than a few note transpositions, which sounds easy and trivial until you look at all of those lookup tables. My advice would be to start with Preset 1: Thru to create your clip, and then to audition the presets and find one that you like the sound of. There's a tiny bit of influence from the MiniMoog front panel design for waveshape selection, because the presets tend to get more complex and thicker as you go to the higher values. This doesn't mean that Preset number 20 is the best, of course! Don't forget to explore fine-tuning things with the 'Pitch' control, and remember that the effect it has depends on the source material, so don't expect huge changes!

One important thing to remember is that MIDIchromatixONE is not your standard effect plug-in. It is perfectly possible that many of the presets will have little or no effect on most of the MIDI Notes that you pass through it. Conversely, it can change notes in ways that would take quite a lot of manual editing time. Finally, the presets are my first pass through creating ways of using the underlying transposition engine - I intend to make more presets (probably less than 107 more!) for a future update when I have time, and these might use the tools less and be be done with more manual editing of the tables - I did worry that the tools were doing too much of the driving...

A final thought: the presets so far are very tame: chromatic and very constrained inversions. If you look at MIDIchromatixN, then there's lots more power lurking in the underlying engine... In the 107 available preset slots that are left (can you figure out why?) then there is space for more 'challenging' presets, but would people like something that would produce discordant outputs? For a while I have been considering releasing some of the 'broken' abandoned devices that don't, and in many instances, can't work properly, or whose output is imperfect in some way. Maybe MIDIchromatixOOPS will get released one day...

Getting MIDIchromatixONE_mr

You can get MIDIchromatixONE_mr here:

     https://maxforlive.com/library/device/6273/midichromatixone

Here are the instructions for what to do with the .amxd file that you download from MaxforLive.com:

     https://synthesizerwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/where-do-i-put-downloaded-amxd.html

(In Live 10, you can also just double-click on the .amxd file, but this puts the device in the same folder as all of the factory devices...)

Oh, yes, and sometimes last-minute fixes do get added, which is why sometimes a blog post is behind the version number of MaxForLive.com... and pictures may not always be the current version... but Schrodinger's cat's status is permanently uncertain...

Modular Equivalents

In terms of basic modular equivalents, then implementing MIDIchromatixONE_mr is just about as awkward as MIDIchromatixN, even though the transpositions are much simpler. The 'mapping' of the 128 MIDI notes is the problem, unfortunately, and I still haven't found a neat solution. The Make Noise 'Maths' module starts to get somewhere close, but not entirely. The Expert Sleepers 'Disting mk4' also gets close, and maybe the Quantizer can be tweaked suitably, or possibly the Waveform Animator, maybe. But I couldn't find a direct equivalent. This means, of course, that I will get a comment pointing me to a classic module that I have overlooked, or never heard of, or forgotten, or didn't know about - there are lots of modules out there. Anyway, until then, I don't have an ME for this device...

The obvious solution goes outside of a purist interpretation of 'Modular' and 'DAWless' synthesis, and takes us into 'Hybrid' territory: use a dual DC-coupled 'audio' interface to connect Ableton Live into your modular system so that you can use MIDIchromatixONE (or N).

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