Livid @ SF Music Hackday 2014

May 27, 2014

Last weekend, Livid participated as a sponsor for the 2014 Music Hack Day, a hackathon where companies presented their platforms, and programmers and designers created teams to realize their ideas in the space of 24 hours. Generously hosted at the Github and Spotify headquarters in San Francisco, there was food, drink, recreation, and plenty of space to focus on making ideas come to life.

2014 SF Music Hackaday at GitHub HQ San Francisco

GitHub thinking octocat, Tables of hackers, Lunch is served

We were a bit out of place, as most participants are interested in the data of music to help create playlists, share tunes, discover music, and create web-based analogs/metaphors of how we already enjoy music. I say “out of place” because we at Livid are concerned with encouraging people to MAKE music, rather than CONSUME it! As someone with a lifelong love of vinyl and great friends who share music, I’m a bit skeptical of the value of a robot serving up your favorite hits. But enough of my ol’ man luddism…

I partnered with Chris Wilson of Google, who has been very hard at work on the Web Audio and Web MIDI standards. We’ve been interested in these developments because they allow you to control software instruments in a browser with a controller, which really opens up some interesting ways of distributing creative music apps to Livid customers. As of today, the Web Audio standard works in most recent browsers, which means you can build instruments that work natively in a browser. The Web MIDI standard is mostly a proposal at this time, and only works in the latest version of Chrome – Firefox coming soon, however! To see what other people thought of these things, we challenged people to use our controllers and the Web Audio and Web MIDI APIs to “make a cool instrument.”

Oddly, people seemed more enamored with ideas like DJ’ing with a Pebble smart watch or letting everyone at a party take over the DJ duties on their smartphones. Whatever, I guess we’re old-school and think you should use real equipment to DJ, and have a DJ, well, DJ! That said, there were still plenty of really neat ideas that people hacked together in a day, so here’s some highlights:

Neal Riley took me up on an offer of a loaner Base, and made the FreeSound Drum Machine in Cycling 74′s Max. This patch uses the search API of the FreeSound archive to search for sounds, load them into his app, and instantly drop them into a step sequencer using the Base. It’s a simple, but powerful idea for easily accessing a huge library of sound and simultaneously composing with it. The source code is on Neal Riley’s github site.
He didn’t use the Web Audio or Web MIDI APIs, but it’s a really great way of leveraging internet technologies with a controller.

Cycling74 Max and Freesound controlled with Livid Base.

Freesound Sequencer hacking.

The newly-minted “Mixcandy” group of Ching-Wei Chen, Micah Elizabeth Scott, and Francis B combined several forces to make the most impressive performance of the hack fest. Combining Scott’s super bright LED panel using her Fadecandy controller, Gracenote’s immense music database, and a <name withheld> controller, Mixcandy created a song remixer that visualizes the song based on the descriptions of the song parts from Gracenote. MIDI is handled natively in the browser using Web MIDI, and music is controlled using Web Audio. The source code is on the Mixcandy GitHub site.
I’ve done a bit of work to remap this app to the OhmRGB, and hope to have some video of the improvement soon!

Mixcandy Audio Video instrument using WebAudio and LEDs

Mixcandy Audio Video instrument using WebAudio and LEDs

Ray McClure has done a few installations and projects using Web Audio including a multi-player synthesizer, remote controlled from participants’ phones. For the hackathon, he extended his “” generative music player with some Eno-like notation for the pieces that are generated when the site is loaded. It’s a work in progress, so it’s not quite live, but you can see a video of his work-in-progress here:
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(Ray is the same person who did the impressive 808 Rubik’s cube which generates samples of 808 drums on a virtual Rubik’s Cube)



RISD Code Studio: Sound + Space: a hardware and software workshop.

May 7, 2014
Providence, RI, home of the Rhode Island School of Design

Providence in Spring

We just wrapped up an amazing two-evening workshop in partnership with Cycling ’74 and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Code Studio group. With 20 Brain Jr. starter kits in hand, the genial code-teaching of Cycling 74′s Darwin Grosse, my own version of expertise, and a roomful of eager, bright students from a variety of disciplines, the stage was set for the basics of creating and capturing sound and video in Max 6, building a controller with a variety of sensors on a breadboard, and combining them all to “do stuff.”

Most of the students had no familiarity with Max 6, and a handful had some experience using Arduino. As a result, Darwin and I had a distinct challenge ahead of us: introducing the students to a variety of technical concepts in both hardware in software, using mostly unfamiliar tools to the point where they were comfortable enough in taking what they learned and making it “their own.” Most importantly, we wanted to make it fun!

We structured this as a tag-team effort – Darwin introduced some of the basic principle of Max using the built-in visuals system called VIZZIE, then handed the class to me to get the students filling up their breadboards and introducing the concepts behind hardware and MIDI. Then, a pizza break. After all, there’s only so much one can digest with an empty stomach.

Cycling 74 Max Jitter VIZZIE

Starting with the modular video system VIZZIE

By the end of the evening, we had a couple LEDS blinking, a button sending a note, and a potentiometer hooked up to a breadboard. These sent data into Max, where they were scaled and routed to the video modules of VIZZIE. We showed them how to light the LEDs using both local control, and using MIDI notes out from Max. Every screen had something different and unique on it, even though we were working with the most basic tools in this art. We cleaned up, hopefully leaving the students dreaming of wires and patch cords.

Building a controller with Brain Jr

Dreaming of wires.

The next evening, Darwin and I swapped. I started with the hardware, getting everyone to rebuild their simple circuit as a good review of the previous evening. The next step was to add the force-sensing resistor (FSR – the same sort of thing found under the pads of our Base controller), and a photoresistor (light sensor). This introduced the concept of the voltage divider, which is essential to wiring up many analog sensors. Now that every student had a button, pot, a couple LEDs, an FSR, and a light sensor, I handed it off to Darwin to add sound to their existing visuals mix.

Max MSP and Brain Jr.

Controlling sound with a breadboarded controller.

Darwin patched up the “groove~” object so we could load arbitrary sound files and control it with the sensors on the Brain Jr. He then introduced the “jit.vcr” object so we could record both audio AND video, creating “unique artifacts.” Within a short amount of time, students had hands-on, realtime control of audio and video, generating parcels of audio-video art available for distribution.

Remarked Darwin: “Ten years ago, this system would have gotten me a PhD. Tonight, it got me a nice sandwich at a diner in Providence.”

That we could so quickly get from breadboard to multi-media control is the essence of the Max and Brain Jr. combination. Because all the systems are running real-time, and there is no need to compile, de-bounce, or otherwise distract from the essential activities of human-computer interaction, we were able to keep a body of students engaged, in spite of their different levels of experience and scholarship. Their shared creativity and enthusiasm trumped the complexities of computer and electronic engineering.

Code Studio at Rhode Island School of Design

Code Studio at Rhode Island School of Design

We wrapped up the instruction portion to free the rest of the time for re-wiring, trying new things, asking questions, extending the patches, and dreaming up new ideas. One student, who had been working on a python script for controlling and old pen plotter, used two knobs to send coordinates to the plotter, creating crude modernist scribbles with his baroque sort of etch-a-sketch. The room filled with the tinny sounds of laptop speakers squelching out the untamed screeches of sound files manipulated with crude hardware. Bready pizza sat unattendend in favor of patches and wires, questions were asked, projects proposed, and eventually, a hint of reluctance intruded on enthusiasm as wires were pulled, electronics tucked away in their boxes, and the haphazard workspaces set aside for the next session of Code Studio hacking with the Brain Jr and Max.

Many thanks to our hosts from RISD Carl Lostritto, Clement Valla, and Shawn Greenlee.



Guitar Wing takes flight!

February 27, 2014

Wing SmallThe Guitar Wing Kickstarter campaign finished successfully, concluding on Friday Feb. 21 and raising far more than the original funding goal. Having met the critical threshold of early supporters needed to make this controller come to life, Guitar Wing production is set to begin within the next several weeks. 

The new has been launched and is your future destination for all things Guitar Wing. Currently, anyone who missed out on this campaign will be able to pre-order through the Livid Shop. The first production run is expected to be delivered in May 2014.

Guitar Wing Website

If you’ve missed any of the Guitar Wing videos, you may want to check out the Livid TV YouTube channel:

Here are a few highlights:

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Livid Controller Series: Guitar Wing

February 14, 2014

Guitar Wing is an expressive control surface for guitar and bass players, letting you control the functions of software plug-ins, DAWs, iOS apps, MIDI effects units, even lighting and visual platforms, right from your instrument.

Our very own product specialist KC started to explore using the Guitar Wing as a controller in Live 9. In his first tutorial he shows you three simple things you can do with Guitar Wing. Watch him in the studio as he creates some infectious dub reggae tracks and explains his approach to using Guitar Wing.

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In this second controller series video, KC explores more uses for Guitar Wing with bass and guitar in different DAWs  and VSTs. Watch and listen as he walks you through triggering loops, using stomp box effects, and setting up your working environment in different DAWs.

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Go to for more information.



Shotgun Vinyl

February 6, 2014

Livid Sample Pack: Shotgun Vinyl - samples from random records.Vinyl: The shiny disc that started a revolution! First, it let people hear music in their homes. Then it let teenagers drown out the world around them. Eventually, the recordings themselves became the raw material for a new kind of music. Now seemingly only appreciated by 40 year-olds nostalgic for their youth (I’m over 40, I can say these things), the Long Playing record has provided a wealth of sound opportunity for today’s music and an endless discussion about pointless matters. While crate diggers have mined the bins of all the obscure breaks and legendary grooves, there’s no lack of good sonic material for the resourceful cut-and-paster.

As the title of this set implies, these samples are sourced from an extremely random cross section of my vinyl collection. There is no theme or organizing principle to my selections – I was simply looking for some good strings, hits, snare, bass, spoken word, and whatever else I happened to come across. It is highly unlikely that any of these records are in print or even desired anymore, as I tend to dig through the dollar section, often buying by cover art rather than artist.

The Ableton Live Pack is a 32-pad drum rack with with nine sample clips to provide inspiration and/or demonstration. All samples are incredibly short to emphasize sound, rather than original artistry. Nothing is mixed or eq’ed – everything is raw and rough, waiting for your own spit and polish. For example the dry funk kick drum has quite a bit of distortion from the vinyl and a ghost of a high hat that some might want to clean up. I rather like the rhythm it imposes on the clips, so I work with it. If you dig deeper into the samples, you’ll see several of them are clipped in Simpler, so if you want more from the file, it’s there. As a bonus, the zip of WAV files has a few more files that aren’t used in the set.

Some pads contain some instrument racks.
Velocity Toms pad is velocity-split, with the harder velocity tuning down the sample a few semi-tones.
Horns Hits pad is also velocity-split for 3 different samples of the horn’s harmonies.
Russian Vocab pad has a velocity randomizer in the chain, and the chain is split by velocity, meaning that every time that pad is triggered, the resulting word is a random Russian word.
Several of the samples have sustain loops that provide unusual rhythms to give the tracks a unique feel.
Don’t believe me? Take a listen to the demo track on our Soundcloud page:

Download the Ableton Live Pack here. or Raw WAV files here.

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