karma~

May 13, 2015

karma~

Here it is. Finally…

I am incredibly proud to present karma~, a dynamically lengthed, varispeed record/playback looper external for Max.

karma

And here is a tutorial video showing some of what karma~ can do:

karma~, has been in somewhat active development since September 2014, when I first contacted raja to see if he would be interested in writing the C code for it. Thankfully, he was interested and able to. From that point we’ve exchanged hundreds of emails discussing the feature set, implementation, and bug fixery. I am eternally grateful for his programming wizardry and endless patience with me.

If you want to skip the trip down memory lane, you can click here to download karma~ 1.0 for Mac/Win.

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Before there was karma~, there was my desire to do any kind of live sampling in Max. I first started learning Max in 2003/2004, in the Max/MSP 4 era. Even back then, Max/MSP (as it was then known) was a mythical beast of a program. You could make it shit unicorn gold if you knew how to use it, and I desperately wanted to. Over the next few years I went through a cycle of drilling the tutorials hard, then getting frustrated because I couldn’t do anything with live audio, and then quitting. I did that 2-3 times.

Enter the Where’s The Party At 8-bit hardware sampler. I found this cool looking and sounding DIY hardware sampler, and it was intriguing as fuck. I’m a big fan of DIY stuff, and the lo-fi sound was right up my alley. I built a complex setup around the WTPA sampler, and used it in various contexts over the next couple of years. It was simple, it was streamlined, and it kicked ass. But I realized I wanted more. I wanted to be able to sample live audio, and not just the electronic instruments I was running through the sampler. So I started conceiving and planning a beast of a setup, originally based around the WTPA 2.0 sampler which was due to come out.

WTPA2_Green_ON_FIYAH

Here’s a page from my sketchbook showing the front/back/top/side panels of what I had in mind:

wtpa2_sketch

It was a brutally elaborate setup based around the idea of having an Arduino controlling the WTPA 2.0 via MIDI. It was ambitious as shit, as you can see from the sketch. It had an LCD screen, over a dozen buttons, and lots of audio I/O, including a built in condenser microphone.

I got weeks into the development before it hit me: I was going to have to drown in Arduino code to pull this off. I’m ok at writing Arduino code due to its similarity to Javascript, but the idea of creating such a massive project around it was kind of scary. I then thought that if I was going to do an assload of programming, I might as well do it in a language that’s easier to understand, and more powerful. This is when I decided to give Max/MSP one more push. A really big push. I was going to do it this time. I was going to push and push until I was live sampling. So I started off by trying to rebuild the WTPA sampler in Max. I began with the buffer shuffling function of the WTPA.

Having something rigid to start building towards proved to be invaluable. It removed the “terror of the infinite” which can happen when working with an open programming environment. It also showed me that design was as much about what you don’t include as what you do. I designed with laser focused constraints, and made those work musically. What I built eventually turned into The Party Van, a monster of a program that I am very proud of, and endlessly humbled by seeing how, and how many, people use it. To this day, the main core modules of The Party Van are called the ‘WTPA modules’.

party1.0

I initially released The Party Van at the end of 2011. It’s been through a dozen major updates and is currently sitting at a mature 1.1 release. I learned many things along the way while writing it, and developed a passionate belief in sharing things for free. I was only able to learn how to program because people would share their patches with me, so it was something I needed to do as well.

karma~ follows a long line: from initial experiments and frustrations with Max/MSP, through my hardware-based sampling days, to my rekindled passion for programming in Max. One of the things I found incredibly frustrating in Max was how difficult it was to do any kind of live sampling, or sampling of any kind. Declicking became a thankless, near endless chore, which got increasingly difficult the moment I wanted to dynamically change the size of a loop, or jump around the loop arbitrarily, or change the playback speed, etc…. Basically, looping is some of the hardest and unsexiest coding you can do in Max. A real shit show.

karma~ is born out of this really. This frustration. Why is it so fucking hard to create a looper in Max?! Well, not any-fucking-more. karma~ is incredibly easy to use. It is super streamlined, while at the same time deep, with a powerful and esoteric feature set. It is, without a doubt, my dream looper. The accompanying helpfile and reference doc are super detailed, presenting each aspect of its functionality thoroughly, and includes a whole set of real-world applications, so that you can be up and running in no time at all.

karmareference

karma~ is at the center of a massive patch that has been in development since before karma itself was conceived. I will post that soon enough, as soon as it is ready to roll out. In time, I will also replace the core ‘WTPA modules’ in The Party Van with karma~ modules. I will be sad to see that homage to my hardware days go from The Party Van, but digital art grieves for no one (Do androids dream of electric sheep? The answer is NO). The 1s and 0s are boot kicks to the ass of the past.

And with that I leave you with karma~. It is currently in its initial 1.0 release. There are 32/64bit versions for Mac and Windows (thanks to Barbara Cassatopo for compiling it for 32bit Windows and Alfonso Santimone for compiling it for 64bit Windows). karma~ was lovingly coded by raja, and I can’t thank him enough! And the linear interpolation used in the recording stage of karma~ is based on ipoke~ by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay.