E 16 – From Samples to MIDI

 

A MOMENT OF TRANSITION

Recently, my project had a big shift; I abandoned the idea of creating a virtual drum machine, in favor of a standalone sequencer that can trigger VST synths as well as external hardware gear via MIDI.
I realized that I got much closer to my original intention of designing a simple tool to support my creative process.
While playing with the previous version, I felt that there were various issues; therefore I immediately decided to shrink the patch’s content, to turn it into a more essential and focused device.
I chose to reduce the number of channels available in order to make it light on the CPU and ergonomic. As a result, the interface got less busy, allowing to better focus on all the parameters and to exploit all the possibilities offered by the device.
 
 

WHAT DID I GET RID OF?

The first thing that I got rid of is sample playback, because I wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality and with the constraints that the use of samples imposed on the process of making music. I found browsing into my sample library particularly boring and compromising for the creative flow; when I am on the run, I don’t want to stop to browse, search, choose, select…
Instead, the possibility of triggering sounds without writing the notes, inspired me a lot of sound design. Working with a device that is able to create rhythms on its own while providing precise control over pitch and velocity is simply fantastic!
I noticed that working with E 16 brought me much closer to a modular approach, where the instruments create a more genrative experience. Changing the sound/pattern/flow of events is so immediate when playing modulars, that the brain is encouraged to keep improvising. The use of “computer technology” instead, conceives a different perpective on creativity; using a computer can lead us to perform actions that are so precise and mechanic, that it is extremely difficult to stay with the flow and be inventive while improvising.
 
I got rid of the “Retriggering Function” as well, because it was strongly related to sample playback.
I guess that my problem with it was the sonic outcome. Using buffer~ doesn’t guarantee a good quality, especially when changing the sound’s pitch.
Yet, I like that function and I will consider introducing it into a future version of E 16.
I’ll make some experiments in the days to come, because I’m convinced that it can make my instrument unique.
 

 

WHAT DID I ADD?

Because I turned the sample-based sequencer into a MIDI device, I can control pitch and velocity individually on each step; the pitch ranges between C-1 and C6, while the velocity follows the standard MIDI values of 0 – 127.
I got also inspired to create a random function for pitch and velocity. It is now possible to randomize them “once-per-click”; the “Depth” control determines the range of random values generation.
The device offers pitch (only) modulation as well; random values are generated continuously. The user can set the modulation rate via a dedicated knob.
 
 

WHICH ARE THE STRENGTHS OF THE NEW VERSION?

I deem that E 16 has improved under various aspects:
 
  • The device is more versatile
  • The interface is less busy
  • It “sounds” much better
 
The device is more focused, allowing the user to exploit its full potential without getting tricked by its complexity. Moreover, the fact that it fires MIDI signals allows to trigger various types of machines – both software and hardware. This is fantastic, because it gives me the possibility to increase the use of hardware instruments into my performances – that are usually built in Ableton Live.
 
The interface is less busy because I got rid of 4 channels and the relative controls.
With the previous version, I reached a point where the device didn’t fit into a big monitor screen, which is absolutely not functional and counter productive… nobody wants to scroll throughout the instrument channel to access the other devices.
Despite new controls have been introduced, such as pitch/velocity controls and the relative randomization and modulation, the UI is cleaner and easier to manage.
 
I say that the device “sounds” much better because it doesn’t produce sound anymore. Remember what I said about sound quality being at the core of my musical research? Well… that’s exactly why I chose to get rid of the old system based on sample playback.
I found that using buffer~ and groove~ cannot guarantee a good sonic result. The main reasons that pushed me to abandon such system are:
 
  • the clicks, which are wild beasts to deal with
  • the pitch control, which doesn’t really sound how it should
 
To conclude, I’d like to mention one more aspect related to creativity enhancement: the positive impact that the device had on my sound design practice.
Having the possibility to trigger VSTs, immediately led me to jump into intense sessions, where I synthesized and saved a lot of new sounds using Vital and Serum. The main stimulus to making a whole lot of sound design is that I don’t have to deal with keyboards and grids; by taking that side of the process away, I can focus on the sound generation without thinking about notes and where to place them, which is something that I’ve been chasing for a while!
 
“E 16” will be out very soon as a free Max4Live device. Stick around for further news!

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