Get with the pro­gram­mers

Roli’s VP of En­gi­neer­ing, Re­search & Tech­nol­ogy and FX­pan­sion lead pro­gram­mer talks Cypher2

Computer Music - - News - An­gus Hewlett

cm The key changes to Cypher2 are ob­vi­ous, but what’s changed in­ter­nally?

AH “The os­cil­la­tors have been tweaked rather than dras­ti­cally re­mod­elled; plus the ad­di­tional Sine cores, more FM paths, vari­able depth ring mod­u­la­tion, and a few more sub­tle things like a ta­per on the FM depths to make them re­spond more mu­si­cally to mod­u­la­tion-depth changes. The sum to­tal is an os­cil­la­tor that’s a lot stronger on FM-heavy sounds in par­tic­u­lar, while still ca­pa­ble of all the clas­sic VCO and hard sync sounds that the orig­i­nal was so great at. The shapers are a straight­for­ward up­grade, but don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the power of wave­fold­ing – very in­ter­est­ing tones there. As to the fil­ter, that’s a big­ger up­grade. There are en­tirely new fil­ter mod­els in the MS20-ish Fat, the JPT (sim­i­lar to Strobe’s), and a hotrod­ded ‘MGX’ lad­der fil­ter. Plus a dig­i­tal comb fil­ter – combs and FM are a lovely com­bi­na­tion. Fi­nally, the FX bus. It’s a dual ar­chi­tec­ture with three slots each, but what’s unique, I feel, are the poly­phonic aux sends.”

cm It’s quite un­usual for a VP in a ma­jor soft­ware de­vel­oper to also be the main pro­gram­mer. How do you do it?

AH “At Roli, my team is far big­ger than FX­pan­sion’s ever was. How­ever, I find hands-on pro­gram­ming to be both a ther­a­peu­tic an­ti­dote to the more tur­bu­lent as­pects of start-up life, and a way of shar­ing some of the same ex­pe­ri­ences as the team I man­age. Clearly, hav­ing fewer hours in the day to de­vote to cod­ing means that a pro­ject like Cypher2 takes a bit longer than it oth­er­wise would, but the end re­sult is worth wait­ing for.”

cm Cypher2 is an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful in­stru­ment, but in­tim­i­dat­ing for some. Any tips?

AH “Our tu­to­rial videos ex­plain it far bet­ter than a few sen­tences of mine. But also, ex­plore the pre­sets, don’t be afraid to ex­per­i­ment, and see if you can fig­ure out how each pre­set is con­structed. Tran­sMod makes it re­ally easy to do this, by high­light­ing which sources are mod­u­lat­ing a par­tic­u­lar pa­ram­e­ter when­ever you mouse over them – and vice-versa.”

“I find pro­gram­ming to be a ther­a­peu­tic an­ti­dote to start-up life”

cm With FX­pan­sion now part of Roli, you’re at the van­guard of MPE (MIDI Poly­phonic Ex­pres­sion) in­te­gra­tion. Do you think it will be a gamechanger for per­for­mance and in­stru­ment de­sign?

AH “It’s a huge leap for per­form­ers. And in­stru­ment and sound de­sign will both need to evolve to keep up with it. The pre­set de­signer’s art is re­ally ex­panded by MPE, as they now need to cre­ate patches that sound good across a whole range of play­ing styles and ges­tures, and deal with all the ex­tra ex­pres­sive con­trol com­ing in from the con­troller. They al­most have to start think­ing like a coder – if you look at the Ea­gan Ma­trix on the Haken Con­tin­uum, ar­guably the first MPE in­stru­ment, it’s so math­e­mat­i­cal, to the point that they’re es­sen­tially us­ing equa­tions as patch ca­bles. Tran­sMod doesn’t go quite that far, but plays a sim­i­lar role us­ing a much more ac­ces­si­ble (for most peo­ple, at least) visual metaphor. cm What’s next for FX­pan­sion? AH “I could talk, but then I’d have to beat you to death.”

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