randy's Recent Posts

@yasha, thanks for the report. I'll look into what could cause this.

I know it's a big CPU hog and hope to improve it lots over the next month or so.

Logic validation is fixed in the demo version now.

With the update and sequencer host synchronization, will that include DAW >automation of parameters? If so I'm totally sold.

Thanks for the feedback.

Have you tried parameter automation? It should work now. I tested it mostly in Logic. If it's not working for you, what's your host?

failed AU validation:

blast! of course i checked validation but this was the result of a last-minute bug fix that made another bug.

the problem is with parameter settings and should be totally benign. Will make a new version soon, probably tomorrow.

thanks for your support.

@davedove, later this fall is my plan.

Our first product, Aalto, will be released this coming Monday the 13th of September. Exciting news! But I know Aalto's introduction has left a few people wondering what happened to the innovative hardware we announced. Let me explain.

I started Madrona Labs to make the Soundplane, developed as part of my Masters work in Computer Music at the University of Victoria, into a reliable, portable instrument. The prototype required a bulky and expensive external audio interface, and had low resolution. But it felt great to play and generated enough excitement that I took a leap of faith and started working on it full time. I luckily found a great hardware engineer who wanted to help me make a self-contained version, and borrowed money to fund six months of development.

Six months later we had a great case and mechanical design and a mostly working main board built around a fast DSP from Texas Instruments. But it was clear we wouldn't have a working prototype for at least a few more months.

I had already started working on Aalto, which I had planned to release along with the Soundplane in order for folks who aren't Max/MSP wizards to have something fun to play out of the box. So I decided to release Aalto as a standalone product in order to get some income. Supporting it very well, as I intend to do, will necessarily slow down Soundplane development, but you gotta do what you gotta do! It has been a long road, but we get ever closer to working Soundplanes. Soundplane is still the center of our business model and a driving passion of mine. I badly want to play one. Expect more news soon.

@ignatius: partly CPU efficiency, partly a few tenacious bugs. There was a stuck note happening every once in a blue moon. Hard to fix if you can only reproduce every 15 minutes! I think it's gone now.

@asquare: it's a great idea to share patches here somehow! I will look into how we can embed files here... after Monday.

Eventually, I think it would be great to share/browse patches on a server from inside the plugin.

Yes, Monday the 13th. I really should update the front page.

The work I'm finishing up, mainly optimization, took longer than I'd hoped. I have now set the 13th as the definite release date. Sorry to make you wait another week.

I do plan to do Mac VST quite soon. The decision to do AU only at first came about because of patch management. Hosts like Live, for example, have very usable management for AU patches. But once I started putting the VST version together I realized that I needed to do my own patch mgmt. to make it something I would want to use. And this is a project that could take a little while. So, AU version now, AU/VST update with integrated patch management in ... well, a month would be my guess.

And I'll add your vote to the list of people who want RTAS. I will do this eventually if enough customers want it.

It won't be too far from $100.

Thanks for the support! Currently I am planning for an AU release on Sept 7. It could always slip a bit if something goes wrong but right now it's looking good.

If you're a synth head, it's probably clear that Aalto is inspired by Don Buchla's work. I think that Buchla's 100 and 200 series designs are high water marks of what can be achieved by focusing on the experience of playing rather than on the technology. Design not from a feature set out, but from the knobs in...

Above you see the 259 Complex Oscillator, which is the closest cousin to Aalto's algorithm from among the Buchla modules. If you want 259 sounds, of course you need to get a 259. It is more complex than my oscillator, both in sound palette and interface. What I tried to do was capture the qualities of its sound that made my ears particularly happy, where that was technically possible in a real-time algorithm. I also took cues from how Buchla's designs do more with less, and distilled the interaction down to make a few knobs that did a lot.

For example, having only one scale control per signal input on Aalto (except for the oscillator pitch) was a conscious decision I made with simplicity in mind. It seems to cover around 90% of the sound making possibilities (designers might call them "use cases") with 50% of the UI.

Who else besides musicians needs precise and intuitive UI? Airplane pilots, that's who. These gauges were another inspiration. Note that when you look at a number, your gaze is also taking in the filled-in area of the dial, not darting back and forth to some number box across the screen. I'm assuming these designers knew what they were doing.

Another musical device that works really well is the Weiss DS1. Note all the breathing room around the knobs. Simple, uncluttered and a joy to use. That it sounds phenomenal doesn't hurt.

Check out the Tone Board for the Yamaha GX1. If you spend your year's development budget making a $60,000 synth, you can put some time into UI. See the clear layout of signal flow and how the knobs connect to it and are grouped by the panel graphics. Also, precise markings in seconds on the sliders as opposed to an arbitrary range of 1-10, or no range at all. If only those drawings of envelope shapes were able to move... you'd have something a lot like Aalto's envelopes. It's no coincidence.

In my view the best way to respect the innovators is to innovate. So instead of trying to reproduce some elusive and hyped "analog magic" I am combining all of the influences above and more into the best design I can make for today's technology. I look forward to sharing this work soon.

Photo credits: from my "inspirations" folder on my hard drive, attributions long gone. If they are yours, please let me know and I'll give props.

coding coding coding

Nope, just as an AU and VST plugin. If you just want to play it live, you can find a free host program that will host the plugin.

The beta is closed now. We'll do one for Windows in fall so stay tuned if that's your platform.


I have thought of it. I'm going to wait and see. I'm using the JUCE framework which supposedly allows compiling on Linux, though I'm not sure anyone has tried making a plugin with it on Linux.

The thing I'm most concerned about is support. When I sell a copy of the software to someone I'm making a personal commitment to help make it work for them on any system I support. I'm not sure that I could do this well enough on Linux because of the many versions out there and my lack of experience with them.

So it's not a high priority but I'm interested and appreciate your offer. If you have any ideas about the support thing let me know.

@asquare: You actually hit it right on the head. Aalto is good at making complicated sounds easy to program. It's also quite heavy on the CPU because I'm making sound quality absolutely top priority, and because it's so patchable. And finally, it's more oriented towards helping people make the next Silver Apples than the next Howard Shore soundtrack. So for all these reasons I think topping out at four voices would be fine.

Hi kickprod, thanks for the good words. This summer for OS X, hopefully fall for Windows.

Hi there!

Here's how I think it will work. One purchase gives you a copy for every platform we release it for when available. Your license will let you use one copy at a time.

There won't be copy protection because I think that if you buy software, you should be able to make copies of it. At runtime, however, the software may check to see that you are holding up your end of the license agreement.

Thanks so much!

Aalto will only have the one combination of modules. I wanted it to be something that you get your head around quickly and start making sounds with. I wouldn't rule out doing a configurable modular ... later.

Here's a little movie that shows off some of Aalto's sounds, UI and charming personality. Enjoy!

We are shipping for the Mac this summer, Windows to follow shortly.

Price will be comparable to other high-quality softsynths out there. It will also depend on whether this version is released as a poly synth, which I haven't decided on yet. I'm working to get the CPU usage down to the point where that is reasonable... wish me good speed!

Microtuning most definitely. There will be some kind of aftertouch but I'm not sure about the details yet.

cbm: thanks and well put. Aalto is definitely inspired by Buchla's work. The Music Easel was a model for me in how good design could give a small collection of modules a huge variety of sonic possibilities.

I also like how the Easel lends itself to programming distributions of events, not just single notes. I tried to make Aalto's sequencer flexible enough to offer a lot of possibilities here.

And then there are the woodblock and 259-like sounds that are new sonic territory for plugins. My goal is not to emulate hardware but to make new sounds that satisfy me in the ways the original ones do. In return for all the inspiration I take pains to point out that, if you want to make Buchla sounds, you gotta get a Buchla!

I'm not sure. I am planning to do a closed beta, but may invite a few more people. Rabid followers of the list for example... :-)

Aalto is a new synthesizer coming from Madrona Labs this summer. It looks like this:

Aalto can make many different kinds of sounds, including some that have been difficult or impossible to do with softsynths until now.

Here is a bouncing-ball-style patch made with FM:

Aalto FM Bounce by Randy AKA Caro

Here's a clip demonstrating the timbre and waveshape knobs of the complex oscillator.

Aalto Timbre+Shape by Randy AKA Caro

MP3s do not compress single-oscillator sounds very well---to hear the full-quality sound, use the download links on the Soundcloud players.

Aalto came about because I wanted Soundplane owners to have a rich and expressive sound making tool right out of the box. I designed a small synth that would be easy to learn, easy to use, rich in possibilities, and tightly connected to the controller. Though we still have some work to do on the controller, the synth is nearly done. So we are releasing a MIDI-controlled version of Aalto as an AU and VST plugin this summer.

There's a lot more to say about Aalto, so please stay tuned for more info including a demo movie very soon. If you have questions or suggestions, please visit our forums. I'll post some more info there to get things started.

The Soundplane remains the reason we are doing all of this, and we continue to make progress on it. Brian has recently shifted gears from hardware design to firmware programming. Please check back or subscribe via RSS for an update on the Soundplane A soon!

We are aiming for a price of under $2000 here in the USA. It is possible it will be significantly under, but it's too early to say for sure.

@walker: thanks for sharing your excitement-- we are thinking very much the same, and will have some new hardware parts to show off soon, please stay tuned.