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Surface Pro 4 Meets a Soft Synth

A little video about touch screen music software

I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 for the next few weeks. I don’t think I’m going to keep it, but I may yet switch from my MacBook Air to the Surface Pro 5 when that device comes out, supposedly later this quarter (early 2017). This video is simply a glimpse at how the touch screen works for music, specifically in this case how the Aalto synth, from Madrona Labs, works. Aalto is running here from within Ableton Live. The sound quality is poor because I’m just using my phone for both the video and the audio.

The short version is that the screen is great for this sort of software, something with lots of virtual knobs and patch cords and buttons intended for touchpad/cursor use. Aalto is fine with a keyboard and trackpad, but it’s even better with the touch screen. (Less great was finding an angle that would allow me to play the instrument and yet have the screen fairly visible. This is the best I could manage. I’m not much of a videographer. I annotated the video using iMovie. My iMovie skills are pretty limited, so forgive the junior-grade typography.)

The main thing that happens once you start using a synth like Aalto with a touch screen is that things that aren’t touchable, such as the shape of an envelope, suggest themselves as touchable. Perhaps software will become more touchable as time proceeds, with some features only available on touch screens. As a friend said elsewhere, once some things are touchable, you want everything to be touchable.

Shortly after I posted the video, Randy Jones of Madrona Labs took note of it and said interface adjustments were possible: “Nice. Yes, I could probably do something with those envelope areas.”

In related news, late last year I started this modest subreddit for Surface Pro audio discussion: reddit.com/r/winSurfaceMusic.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , / Comments: 6 ]

5 Comments

  1. Lloyd W Barrett
    [ Posted January 6, 2017, at 12:22 am ]

    Hi Marc.

    If you have a chance check out Usine Hollyhock (http://www.sensomusic.org/)

    It is designed with Touch Interfaces in mind.

    I still use it on Mac with a Touchpad but i’d be keen to know how it works with a Surface Pro 4.

    ][oyd

  2. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted January 6, 2017, at 8:39 am ]

    Thanks! I haven’t tried that before.

  3. Marc Weidenbaum
    [ Posted January 6, 2017, at 8:40 am ]

    Major thanks to Synthtopia.com, which I woke to found had reposted the video:

    http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2017/01/05/has-the-microsoft-surface-pro-leapfrogged-macbooks-for-music-software/

  4. Neurogami
    [ Posted January 8, 2017, at 9:04 pm ]

    I’ve a Surface Pro 3, but typically prefer the more recent and beefier Lenovo X1 Yoga.

    I’ve been poking around some with a new, still beta, OSC (Open Sound Control) tool called TWO (The Wizard of OSC).

    http://thewizardofosc.com/

    It’s a sort of router/multiplexer for OSC, and the UI is designed for touch screens. Looks quite promising.

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted January 9, 2017, at 8:43 pm ]

      Those new X1s do look promising.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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