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Interesting Posts Series:

Looper in the Computer

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 12:49:36 -0500 (CDT)
From: Dave Stagner

And as long as I'm talking... I have to admit, as many of us do, I'm beginning to despair of ever seeing a low-cost, high-function, musician-oriented looping device on the commercial market. They're all either too pricy (TC 2290), too limiting (JamMan), poor sound, or (worst) out of production. But... I think there may be a solution. And that solution is software.

Ordinary desktop PCs and Macs these days offer 16 bit full duplex sound recording, huge memories (16 bit stereo sound is about 10mb/minute), and blazingly fast CPUs. And pleasant input devices, in the form of MIDI faders, expression pedals, and footswitches, are also commercially available. So why not just turn a PC into our looping device? It may be a little impractical for the stage, but it'd be GREAT for home recording and playing. Performance interaction could occur via any MIDI device, and new/clever functionality could be added at the software level. A gui with a keyboard and mouse could be used, rather than the tiny knobs, buttons and LCD screens that can fit on a 19" rack. Save your loops? Use the computer's filesystem. Process your loops in real time. Switch instantly between loops. Reverse them. Extend them.

I really like this idea. Once you take the hardware issues (digitizing, user interface) out of it, it's just a matter of throwing CPU and RAM at the problem until it goes away.

Anyone wanna buy me a new computer so I can write this?

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 1996 07:39:24 -0400
From: "S. Patrick Hickey"

Get me in on the programming. I'd love the opportunity to learn DSPs and other digital audio stuff well. My knowledge of these toys is only precursory/perfunctory/(perversity?) currently. I've long wanted to avoid all the prefab and give algorithmic control to the musician (me!:). Loops, forwards, backwards, pitch shift, harmony, editing, ...

This would be a whole lot more fun than coding C++ client/server foundation programs for metering tool platforms (which is what my current contract is).

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 1996 03:59:35 -0800
From: kflint@annihilist.com (Kim Flint)

MacLoop! Matthias has been evangalizing for this idea for ages. Somebody definitely has to do it. A protools plug in and a standalone would be my choice.

>Anyone wanna buy me a new computer so I can write this?

Be careful what you wish for Dave..... How are your programming chops?

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 1996 10:00:22 -0500 (CDT)
From: Dave Stagner

Actually, I'm a professional programmer, and I have a pretty good grasp of numeric analysis programming and how audio works. My usual environment is Unix, but I'm sure I could pick up Mac/Windows programming easily enough if I tried.

Yeah, I'm seriously considering buying a new Power Mac just to work on this idea. What do y'all think? Would you be willing to use a personal computer for a looping device? Do you HAVE a computer capable of this sort of thing? All the necessary hardware is built into Power Macs and most modern PCs. The whole thing could be sold as software, or even given away.

Let's think about this. What sort of features would we like to see? What about the user interface?

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 1996 20:37:21 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ray Peck

>A protools plug in and a standalone would be my choice.

Way too expensive. I've been thinking more along the lines of Deck or Logic Audio. The machines are getting fast enough that one doesn't necessarily need to drop $10k on ProTools hardware. If people balk at $900 for an Echoplex, do you think they're gonna drop $15k for a machine and ProTools?!?

It should be able to work with the upcoming Korg audio card, 'cause the Mac audio inputs are only around 70 db s/n.

I'd also like to write a virtual analogue synth (patchable) that would work with it.

I wonder if cmusic could be bent to the task. My understanding is that you can now do realtime stuff with cmusic on the Mac. Since it's all algorithmic, and the sources are available, this could be a very good foundation.

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 1996 20:56:08 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ray Peck


Mac. Screen. Panel of momentary and on/off footswitches and pedals (preferably with giant backlight LCD displays on each one that the software could program to say something meaningful).

The system would show you the waveform of what you've played, like Deck or any other digital audio recording SW does, so you could see what you were doing.

You could automate effects, pans, level envelopes, or whatever, on the fly with footpedals. You could also fade loops in and out with pedals.

The system could also use spare time, if it has any, to do pitch-to-sheet music conversion so you could *really* see what you were doing.

A PowerMac could do all this with no additional hardware (although you might want a Digidesign AudioMedia card for better a/d d/a). Deck will do 8 tracks off of the hard disk on the slowest PowerMac (my 6100/60). Should be easy to do tons of tracks out of DRAM.

Now. . .
Would anyone buy it?

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 03:40:28 -0800
From: kflint@annihilist.com (Kim Flint)

My thinking for a digi plug-in is that there is already a large installed base, and there are plenty of other tools that can work well in conjuction with a looping tool.

And by "standalone", I meant something like Deck, same as you're talking about. A cheap software app that takes advantage of the audio and processing in the pc. Problem with that, though, is you only have a stereo input so you can't record multiple sources into different loops at once. And you have a crappy multimedia codec digitizing the audio. The other problem is that most sound cards don't let you record and play back at the same time.

Using a pc/mac for looping is really something that would only apply to studio use, though. Not many people are willing to lug their computer to rehearsals, gigs and on tours. Its a big risk, and expensive to do it safely.

One thing that concerns me, design wise, is the real-time performance of the mac/pc while its handling lots of I/O, audio processing, and disk accesses. The reaction time is critical in looping, and desktop os's are not designed for this.

This is a key reason why I'm much more interested in designing the ultimate looper as rack gear specifically designed for these tasks. Then you have much more control over the real time performance, and can optimize busses for good audio/dsp performance. And you can include the appropriate I/O to meet looping needs, have very good quality audio, professional jacks, a rugged chassis, etc. Also, it would be a simple matter to include networking interfaces to hook it up to your pc for expanded control interfaces. I think this can be done at a reasonable cost, easily in line with what other quality audio processors cost.

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 11:29:43 -0400
From: matthias@bahianet.com.br (Matthias)


I ended up developping the stand alone version first, mainly because the computers did not become adapted to stage. Independent LCD screens came around then but did not turn popular as I had expected. Why?

Can anyone understand why under the zillion models of Apple, there is none made for the musician, who always was the most faithfull mac client? It would be very easy to do a 19" rack version with a LCD screen for stage and a ordinary monitor for home!

All the musicians and studios and probably even some industries would want that model!

>What sort of features would we like to see?

- One thing would be a shareware version, that does the basic for everyone to play. Go ahead.

- Another thing would be the soft version of the ECHOPLEX which I could help with soft modules for the functions. All that rounding and syncing is nothing easy!

- The real thing would be a HD recording program which works with integrated loops, so we can record what we loop, loop what we record and edit the loops we recorded by relooping. This is definitally a comercial project that has to be done in colaboration with a enterprise that developped HD recording.

>What about the user interface?

A MIDI Pedal board with "volume" controller input for the FeedBack and maybe other parameters.

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 10:58:22 -0500 (CDT)
From: Dave Stagner

The sound source should be irrelevant. It should be able to get sound off the stock Mac inputs, Digidesign, Turtle Beach, or Korg cards, or any standard-format sound files off the disk. It should also be able to save your loops in standard audio formats, as well as a custom format for the system (collections of loops, a set of performance notes attached, etc).


I'm used to seeing PCs in industrial-strength rackmount cases, and it amazes me that the same isn't available for the Macintosh. Maybe one of the new clone makers will pursue this market. Reliable rackmount VGA monitors are available, as are robust pointing devices. All that really needs to change is the case.

Well, if I do this, I'll either give it away, or find some distribution channel to sell it. Those of you in the audio industry, do you think a major vendor might pick up something like this and redistribute it? I'm a programmer by nature, which is the logical complement of marketing. :}


> This is definitally a comercial project that has to be done in
>colaboration with a enterprise that developped HD recording.

Now I'm starting to think. Why would it have to be done in collaboration with an existing company? It seems to me that the existing companies have been practically the enemies of our musical needs... the marketing problems of the Echoplex and Vortex are cases in point. Or maybe the reality is that we're such a tiny subculture that there simply isn't a real market for such tools. :/

But what I'm talking about here is a purely software project. I don't want to build new hardware; I want to take advantage of existing hardware to get it to do what I want. This flies in the face of the electronic music equipment industry. It's all about selling you another rack device. If I want to give myself headaches arguing with managers and marketers that the developers and users know what to build better than they do, I'll just go to work. If I could build something like this and then convince Digidesign or Lexicon or whomever to distribute it for me and pay me royalties, all well and good. But mostly, I'm doing this so I can make the music that's in my head, struggling to get out. :}


Controllers should be virtual and arbitrary. There are basically two classes of controllers - on/off switches and continuous controllers. Any given software function should need one or the other. Users should be able to arbitrarily assign controllers to functions. For example, you might want to control feedback via a footpedal, or via an onscreen fader controlled by the mouse. That's the problem with dedicated hardware... it ties you to specific input devices and limits your controls. All the physical controllers we need... expression pedals, footswitches, faders... are available on the open market from specialized vendors, with nothing more than a MIDI port needed to use them. So why invest effort reinventing the wheel, at least at this point?

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996
From: matthias@bahianet.com.br (Matthias)

>If people balk at $900 for an Echoplex, do you think they're gonna drop
>>$15k for a machine and ProTools?!?

The idea would be, that any looper could step into a professional studio and play with the features he is used to, only that the recording goes on a HD and with all layers separate so editing and mixing is possible. Without this, there never will be serious loop music CD products on the market! In other words, if there are enough of us coming out of the kitchen (someone mentioned something likely?), all studios will buy the Loop Plug In to serve us...

Sure we need a cheaper version for everyone to fool around at home.

Date: Sun, 15 Sep 1996 22:07:57 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ray Peck

>Not many people are willing to lug their computer to
>rehearsals, gigs and on tours. Its a big risk, and expensive to do it

The interface could be made so much more powerful, that it's worth thinking seriously about. All we need is a PCMCIA I/O card. Powerbook 5300s are ~1700 in color. That would not be unreasonable at all.

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