Sevcom 2018 Annual Report, and New Year Resolutions.

2017 being such a frantic year with shows here and in North America, it was inevitable that 2018 would be anticlimactic. It was that – but at times the climate fell into bleakness.

IMG_1814

I’m sure VR will take off soon!

In 2017 we happily sailed the mainstream, the safety zone – live shows of elderly music. Like setting up at a trade show, you’re showing off your existing wares while delaying the development of new ones. It’s instantly rewarding with lots of praise and feedback for what you do – or to be very honest what you once did.

But we can’t continue to work for an audience that’s gone from the most forward looking to the one most adverse to new experience. Right now, they have the money and will pay for the excitement they once felt – the nostalgic T Shirt, the cassette. But that’s not what we wanted – back then or now. We’re supposed to keep pushing.

Thus 2018 was set aside for experimentation – real experiments that could fail. And they did fail – slipping slowly, fingernails scraping, off a cliff.

Clearing the decks

First there were some releases of projects that had been underway since 2017 or before. In April we released Aversion 2, being an album constructed of small splinters of classic rock music. A limited edition of 200 small plastic cases, each with a wire lab rat and USB card. The concept was loosely based around lab rats and experimentation.

Then Publicist, my follow up album to 2015’s Rhine. In June 2018 came Barbara UFOr, which completed the Barbara Island series that began in 2006. These three albums fill up the time in which things other than music albums must be the focus.

An album of ambisonic music was delayed until the concept became clearer.

Seeing the Future

So, what do most people call an experience in 2018? I think it’s useful to put aside your limitations for a moment and ask, ‘if I had unlimited resources…’. Back at the end of 2017 it seemed that surround audio/vision was a focus, and I upgraded our capabilities. We organised travel to the USA to see some of the state of the art in the entertainment industry. There is a movement for game engines to become the stage for motion pictures and experiences in general. I dedicated myself to mastering the Unity engine, at least to the point where I hoped to direct a team.

Puppet show at Halloween Horror Nights. Yeah, puppets.

Puppet show at Halloween Horror Nights. Yeah, puppets, low tech and it works.

Problems became apparent over the months.

VR is only part of a failed concept which I might label ‘constrained experience’. Quickest way to sum it up – once your brain gets used to augmented presentation – 3D, binaural, motorised seating etc. it disappears, as it no longer contributes to the story experience after a few minutes. Wearing a helmet doesn’t seem worth the effort. A standard 2D movie holds 99% of the story. A movie =/= a ride.

I’d rendered VR versions of two videos back in 2016, with little interest. I set about some new ones but found the whole VR realm to be dropping away, even for the largest players. When Google announced VR180, the game was up. Time wasted. I do see the worth in expanding the viewing space ­– with satellite (non-focussed) imagery on side screens. Projection mapping is also a successful area.

I believe that an engine such as Unity is the ‘studio’ for our future production. But even if you are given an entire film studio for free, you need sufficient staff to run it. I found it impossible to hold all the disparate elements in my head – humanoid animation, lighting, material design, coding … once I’d mastered one aspect, another would fall out of my head. I also fell into an endless loop between intentions and capabilities. I would intend something, it would come out differently, which suggested a different intention. This can be great in music, but in a complex world building exercise it’s a nightmare. Time wasted.

I was able to clock a ‘world’ with a sequencer. I have so far not been able to perform the ‘world’ with standard musical instruments, partly because live MIDI is alien to game design and partly because I haven’t yet made one worth the effort. That would have come before performing the ‘world’ over a network connection, a goal that was supposed to be finished by now.

At least I get job offers for Unity now. Yay team. Shrug.

Our trip to see theme parks in California was instructive – I saw that some of the failures I’ve realised were ones they’ve suffered as well. I saw that big teams are not just small ones grown up – I’ve been taught the difference between ‘fine art’ and the team work of experience design. Given that few music artists are serious about current forms, and that I identify as an artist, I have to pick those battles I can win unaided.

Picking up the fragments

Ambisonic sound is still worthwhile, as earphones and smart phones are already clothing. If a visual analogue appears, well and good. Wait for that. Making music in surround is itself not easy to do well.

Let’s just convert one or two video clips into game worlds. That keeps the intention/design steady and gives an idea if the conversion provides any real benefit. Once built it’s easier to make modifications to provide MIDI controls, networking etc. I can then demonstrate this to try get support.

Satellite screens for existing videos are achievable. I’m creating some multi-channel work and showing in Adelaide in March 2019.

Continue to study experience design, perhaps enrolling in coursework.

In general, smaller bites, less chewing.

2019 is already happening as we try book gigs. Europe is on but it’s being very difficult to set up. I think we were a novelty in 2016, maybe you have to die and be reborn each time. Like Jesus.

Have a nice Christmas break!

Man Cave Review: Roland Clown

I have to admit some bias – that I have already paid for some of these ‘plug outs’ – both hard and software, and am seriously annoyed to have to rent (‘rent’ is such an ugly word when ‘subscribe’ sounds so charming) them again to be able to have the others. I acknowledge that Roland have some vague offer in mind for people that have helped them in this way, but it’s been long coming ‘soon’.

Like Adobe, Roland have found that holding their customers by the balls is rather warm and comfy – not for the customer mind you. And like Adobe, Roland’s cloud has some great stuff mixed with wiffy leftovers, and you can’t pick and choose. It obviously can’t compare to Arturia’s collection, which ranges across a wide swath of manufacturers, and even KORG’s small collection has more sonic variety, because KORG. I don’t know how hard things are for Roland at the moment, surely accordion sales are evergreen – but let it pass, we should talk about the software.

D-50_Marquee

Start with the good – By far the best deal in the box is the D50. It’s such a odd machine when you try program it yourself, but the people that made the original patches included here did an excellent job. The sounds are varied and useful, they complement the analogue sounds so popular at the moment. Yes, it’s ‘legendary’ but it’s also useful and you will use it. It comes with a reproduction of the original programmer which is a pity, that was a confused monster which was later improved upon by third parties. I would buy this.

Great disappointment that the JV1080 is CPU crazy, and unusable. From the moment you load it, the CPU meter surges up to 100 and bangs against it like a bird trapped in a house. It’s a ROMpler – why on earth does it need more CPU than the virtual analogues? Was the wiring in the JV that crucial? Same goes for the derivative SRX plugins – they aren’t optimised yet. I own a XV5080 and it’s a wonderful machine once you understand the way it thinks – just go the whole hog and give us an Integra-7. That’d be instantly worth the rent.

You’d think that the JUPITER-8 would be the one with the CPU problems, but it’s fine. I guess Roland has had to make it work in their little boutique boxes. I set it up next to Arturia’s JUP-8. Only this has original factory sounds so there’s much fluffing required to compare them – I found that the JUPITER was generally louder and more modulated/lively than the JUP, but with adjustment they were close. Other virtual analogues like the SH101 are much the same – where I know them, they’re spot-on, where I don’t, they seem spot-on.

I don’t really get some of the choices here – a software PRO-MARS doesn’t offer that much over other mono-synths and the SH2 is as dull as ditch water. The JUNO-106 is fair enough I guess, but the JX-3P was originally designed for people who didn’t care much for synthesisers, and it has maintained that distinction since. A collection should be based on sonic versatility, that each component has a virtue not covered by the others. The Roland ‘sound’ is here, repeatedly, and you’ll end up using only a few of these instruments for actual music.

I almost forgot to mention the TR808 and TR909. They’re fine. They sound like the old drum boxes, as do a thousand other replicas out there.

Back to me – and I did admit bias up front – the legendary thing is not working, because the SYSTEM-8 does all that stuff quite well thank you – as does alternatives like U-He DIVA. The D-50 is sonically different, as are the JV series. But how many things Roland actually sound different? They’re trying to sell breadth, where breadth isn’t their strong point. If I was running things, ASAP get the damn CPU under control, but try to get some un-legendary things like the V-Synth and Integra-7 in the mix so that everything in the box isn’t a different coloured spork.