OTOH is a plug and play hardware interface for manual beat slicing of audio samples.
The technique of slicing a beat into small pieces and then rearrange them to create new beats has shaped the music industry since the 70’s. New technologies allowed to make it easier and more affordable, but at the time this project started (2008) the industry had never explored interfaces that go beyond a grid of buttons or computer software.
Moreover a certain degree of setup and editing was always necessary, which almost sounds (pun intended) contradictory with the analog qualities that often these processed beats carry with them. There was no, plug and play, but rather, plug sit down, edit, program, have-the-machine-play — especially in the case of drum and bass.
I wanted to create a plug and play instrument that would free up the producer from programming a machine and allow to manipulate the sample with their hands.
In designing the hardware I wanted to give a shape to the matter it would have dealt with. Thus I designed a way to represent the audio sample and used is as a foundation to give shape to the instrument itself.
To unlock the process I approached the problem in a basic way, defining the most obvious properties of a sample like, beginning, end, length or frequency, and sketched different visual representation for each of them. Fast forwarding the process a little I then put the best solutions together and got to the basic circular representation of the audio sample.
The goal for the interface design was to create an instrument that, when played, it would provide a feeling as close as possible to being manipulating and touching the actual audio sample. Informed by a series of user testing done with a basic working prototype I decided to design a product which shape would start from the representation of the matter being manipulated: the audio sample. Fast forwarding the process a bit I, here is how I solved the representation of the sample.
If we take a drumbeat’s waveform, it may very much look something like this
I then divided the samples in 64 parts and assigned to each a value going form 0 to 4, according to the highest value of the waveform in each region.
What I ended up with at this point were most of the time symmetric visualizations leading me to decide to keep only positive values. The result was a low resolution representation of the waveform, enough to provide a visual clue to the performer on which piece was just being played.
The decision of giving it a circular shape was mostly affected by the progress bar behavior when looping a part that starts towards the end of the sample and ends at it’s the beginning. The image below shows how in a horizontal representation the looped region will cause the progress bar to jump between end and beginning of the sample. On the right, the circular shape allows to loop the same region without the disturbing jump.
The 90 degrees corner was introduced to be able to allocate sliders and other controllers, as well as a way to indicate where the sample beginning point is.
The design and development of OTOH included a wide range of activities many of which were way beyond my skill set as a designer. That includes:
- Designed and implemented software in Max/MSP
- Designed and manufactured the printed circuit board
- Designed pads’ keyboard
- Designed pads molding and manually molded component
AWARDS / RECOGNITIONS
- Mention of honor from the Raymon Lowey Fundation Italy – Lucky Strike T. Designer Award, 16 March 2010
- Featured by Arduino’s founder Massimo Banzi in his talk at TEDGlobal (8:14”)