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Making Music: Pugs Luv Beats' Theory and Fun
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Making Music: Pugs Luv Beats' Theory and Fun

August 1, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

To expand on that -- I am not a coder, and in all likelihood I never will be. I have a really hard time with text on a screen, but a graphical representation of code makes it a lot easier for me to understand.

That was what led me to Max/MSP, a commercial graphical programming system that is very popular in the contemporary art and music world. I became rather adept at Max/MSP during my studies and used it to make the Wii Loop Machine, among other things.

Pure Data is effectively a free version of Max/MSP (there is a lot more to that story, but it is heroically uninteresting), so when we had the possibility to integrate that into our projects we jumped at the chance.

Working with Pure Data provided several big advantages (beyond being free). First, it allowed us to be far more agile in our development. We are a tiny three-person team, with only one coder. Using Pure Data allowed me to handle all of the audio development, including previewing, prototyping, experimentation, and much more. I could play with the audio engine and make really complex tweaks without ever bothering Jon.

Second, we were able to take advantage of 20 years of audio research and development, rather than having to build everything ourselves. Say we want a sample accurate wavetable playback system? Using Pure Data we didn't have to build it ourselves, it comes with the package. How about a reverb system? A quick Google search will result in dozens of different reverbs made in Pure Data by researchers and developers around the world that are easily reconfigurable and adaptable to our project.

Click for large version

To explain a bit about how it works, the entire sound engine for Pugs Luv Beats is contained within this patch. It receives messages from the Lua/openFrameworks code that Jon put together, and sends those messages around the subpatches to generate and modify sounds. The simplest thing is does is trigger sounds, for things like menu actions, building things, etc. You can see on the far right the object "route sounds", which is handling all of these standard sounds. Each "sounds" object contains a little subpatch that plays the sound on a trigger.

While it may seem needlessly complicated to use this system just for playing a sound, this does offer a lot more flexibility, and more importantly allows me (the sound designer) to change anything sound-related without bothering Jon (who is in all likelihood doing something insanely complicated to do with multithreading or whatever).

A slightly more complex section of the engine can be seen in what we called the Pugglesynth. The challenge here was to create a sound library for Mr. Puggles, the friendly pug who guides you through the tutorial. We wanted him to make some noise every time he popped up, but we didn't want to use any more sound files. It needed to be funny and charming, without being repetitive. I therefore built a two oscillator subtractive synth, and every time he appears, a series of random numbers are triggered, controlling the pitch and filter frequency. Every time he disappears, however, the same two notes are played. This gives him recognizable character, without making him annoying.

Speaking of synthesizers, the galaxy synth in Pugs Luv Beats was so popular that we actually decided to spin it off into its own application altogether -- Pug Synth! There's nothing like an x-y pad synthesizer to get everyone excited. Here's a snapshot of the patch for the Swamp synth, which features a dubstep-style filter whose rate is linked to the x axis, along with the pitch.

Click for large version

Rather than being smoothly linked, however, the rate is locked into multiples of master BPM, which is also controlling a drum machine. This means your ripping pugstep is always in time with your beats. It also meant we were able to build some wicked generative drum machines, and add variations really easily, while keeping everything within a strong musical framework.

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