Monday, April 22, 2013

Tools of the Trade – Meta-trombone Edition

After every show, someone always wants to get more information about the technology that makes my meta-trombone possible. For the benefit of those who cannot make it out to one of my concerts, I thought I would briefly list and describe the hardware and software I rely on at this stage of the instrument’s development.



Mac Book Pro (mid-2010 i7)

The central nervous system of my rig, my MBP is indispensable. These days you can use any manufacturer’s computer and almost any operating system to create music in real-time; however, there are advantages to using a Mac. Foremost is availability of replacement computers that precisely match the specs of my current machine. In addition, third-party developers can test their hardware and software on exactly the same system as the one you are using, which may not be the case with other computers. The result is better system integration that results in less setup time and more music making.

Apple iPod Touch (4G)

I use the iPod touch (attached to my trombone) as a heads-up display for system information and looper status. This way I don`t need to look down at my laptop too much. I can also use the iPod`s accelerometers to control parameters.

RME Fireface 800

RME are makers of audio interface of choice for anyone interested in reliability and sound quality. The FF800 features lots of ins and outs, direct monitoring and a matrix mixer with presets. This is more than I need, which is precisely what you want from your audio interface… your tools should not hinder your creativity.

ATM350 Cardioid Condenser Clip-On Microphone

I have been using this microphone for years… over a hundred gigs and I have never felt the need to look elsewhere.


The 12 Step is a great little controller with a piano keyboard layout and illuminated keys. It is small enough to fit in a 1U rack drawer, its USB powered, it is solid and it is spill proof. What else do you need?


I am still integrating the FBV into my set, but the four switches allow me to select what parameter the expression pedal affects. I think this will prove very useful as I continue development on the meta-trombone.

Gator GRC-Studio-2-Go ATA Case

I like this case because I can arrive at the gig with everything wired and ready to go. I added a 1U drawer to keep my microphone and my KMI 12 Step, so this single box contains almost everything I need for the gig.

YSL-697Z Professional Trombone

The 697z has been my horn of choice for the last five years. Yamaha built it for Al Kay, but it meets all of my expectations of what a great trombone should be.

K&M 15270 Trombone Stand (in-bell)

Since, you should never leave your trombone on the floor; always bring a stand with you. The convenience of the in-bell stand outweighs the inconvenience of an unbalanced trombone case.

Yamaha Trombone Lyre

After many false starts, it turns out the best way to attached anything to your trombone (iPod Touch, sensors or whatever) is with a lyre.

Sennheiser HD25-1 II Headphones

Since I could never get used to playing a brass instrument with something stuck inside my ears, I only use over the ear headphones to monitor the mayhem on stage. The HD25-1 II provides a good level of noise isolation and gives me a great signal.




I run TouchOSC on my iPod Touch to display system status information received wirelessly from my MacBook through OSC messages. I also use it to send the iPod’s accelerometer data to the MacBook. The long-term goal is to write my own performance software for iOS that will also display algorithmically generated musical notation.

Circular Labs’ Mobius

The Mobius looper is developed by Jeff Larson, who makes it available freely. A scriptable multitrack looper, Mobius brings a lot of creative potential to the table. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to make music without this tool, as I am unaware of anything quite like it.

Expert Sleepers’ Crossfade Loop Synth

While it is primarily a sampler, you can also view this versatile plugin as a creative delay or even a looper. I have a series of tips and tricks for this plugin that I will post shortly.

Audio Damage Eos

Eos is a good sounding reverb that does not tax your CPU too much.

Xfer records' Cthulhu

This nice little plugin consists of two independently selectable midi effects: a chord memorizer and an arpeggiator. The chord module allows me to assign a user-defined chord to any midi note. The arpeggiator takes the output of the chord module and sequences the chord notes according to a pre-defined pattern. Sending the output of Cthulhu to the Crossfade Loop Synth adds a lot of interesting possibilities.

Plogue Bidule

This is where the magic happens. Bidule is a graphical music programming environment. It is also a VST/AU host, so you can use your plugins as elements within your “code”. I use it to convert my trombone sound into MIDI notes and to route signals between plugins based on system state. I also use it to augment the functionality of the plugins I use. In a way, the Bidule patch is the instrument and the composition when I play meta-trombone.

Future Addition


GameTrak controller

The GameTrak controller is an intriguing option for gestural control of musical parameters. After reading on the development of the 3D Trombone, I ordered two GameTraks and I think I will incorporate them into my performance system. By determining the distance between the two hand units while playing trombone, I think I can use this controller to determine the slide position. There are other possibilities, of course.


I`ve been learning Max since last summer and I can think of a few ways it will prove useful down the road. Presently, I really appreciate how easy it was to integrate with the Arduino to read the values coming from the GameTrak controller or other sensors. I`ve also been playing with GEN and the sounds I get from it are very surprising. There are also a number of interactive music patches available for Max that makes it worthwhile to study this software.