Jason Grlicky is the founder of Portland, OR based software company, Paracosm. Paracosm is slated to release Lumen, a standalone video synthesis app for the Mac OS, a little later this summer and I know a lot of people are stoked to get their hands on it. I recently had a chance to sit down and spend some time with the beta and I’ve got to say, Jason cooked up something real tasty for the occasion. It boasts a straightforward layout, an incredible snapshot feature (which reminds me a lot of audiomulch) & visuals that are indeed bananananananas. Prior to my beta experience Jason and I caught up at the Albina Press here in NE Portland to chat about Lumen over some seriously tasty crack cocaine coffee.
Thank you for your time Jason, I’m dying to know more about Lumen. In short, what is Lumen? What can people expect?
Of course, it’s always a pleasure! Lumen is the world’s first analog-style semi-modular video synthesis app. It can process external video or generate images all on its own, just like an traditional hardware video synthesizer, but with all the convenience and flexibility of software.
I’m really excited — visual artists and VJs who have always wanted to use an analog video synthesizer but haven’t been able to are going to be very very pleased! Electronic musicians who would like to add visuals to their live shows are going to love it.
What was the inspiration behind Lumen?
Firstly, I probably wouldn’t even know what video synthesis is if it wasn’t for the wonderful work thatLiz Larson has done with LZX! That said, what ultimately kicked off my path to building Lumen was reading about Dan Sandin’s Image Processor, one of the first video synthesizers from the early 70s. Regarding its origins, he said he was basically aiming to do a video version of the Moog modular synthesizer.
Thinking along those lines, I thought: audio soft synths are fantastically useful, so why don’t we have the same thing, but with video? I could have sworn that someone would have already made a video soft-synth in a packaged, high-quality way, but I looked around and was shocked to find absolutely nothing.So immediately I started working as hard as I could to make it happen.
Were you seeking to accurately emulate analog video synthesis or is Lumen more a nod to the analog realm?
One thing that makes video synthesis such a powerful medium is that it’s a vastly different mode of thinking than that provided by any VJ or visualization software that’s out there right now. Just likemodular audio synthesis, it’s very spontaneous, improvisational, and difficult to predict where it will take you.Each time I boot up Lumen, I create something that’s never been seen before.That magic of the the video synthesis process is what I was aiming to accurately reproduce.
As far as the way that oscillators or anything low-level works, I’ve taken liberties to make things as easy to use as possible, without losing the flavor of the video synthesis process.I can’t wait to release it, because I think you’ll agree – Lumen feels like a hardware video synth, but easier to use.
Was Lumen inspired by any video synthesizers in particular?
Yes! I was very inspired by the design of the LZX modular system, especially the oscillators. We’re amazingly lucky to have Liz from LZX as a consultant on the synth design of Lumen as well.
The overall architecture was also partially inspired by the3TrinsRGB from Bleep Labs. The idea of having 3 cross-modulating oscillators, each of which can operate on a channel of incoming video – I think that’s an easy-to-understand framework for getting started with video synthesis.There’s still going to be a learning curve, of course, as the concept of creating video from oscillators is foreign to most artists, but my goal was to soften that curve as much as possible.
That said, I also wanted to make sure that Lumen is powerful enough to create a really wide variety of video effects and patterns. To this end, I added an effects section, more patch points on the oscillators, built-in colorizers and keyers, and a separate signal processing section. I’m still discovering new territory just patching it myself, so I’m counting that as a success.
What am I looking at on the main page? It looks like I have a couple of oscillators, input options, an alternate patch interface…..
Yep, exactly! The high-level signal flow of the synth is that you have three oscillator blocks. Their output get mixed together and processed by an effects section. The best part is that this simple signal flow can be totally customized when you flip to the patch panel on the “back” of the synth, which allows you to drag virtual cables to connect any submodule to any other submodule. We’ve really worked hard to pack a lot of flexibility into the architecture that’s hidden if you don’t want it to get in your way.
Going over the default routing in detail, at the very top, you have camera input going into an RGB splitter, so you get three channels of video, where each one of those gets fed into an oscillator block. For each oscillator block, you get to choose between either the oscillator’s waveform output or the incoming video signal. Each block also has a built-in keyer, waveshaper, and colorizer. This is already a very powerful setup, especially when you start doing feedback loops with phase modulation.
From there, through the mixer, the output is then routed to an effects submodule, which is composed of three parts. There’s Transform, which can offset, rotate, or scale incoming video. From there it goes to Kaleidoscope, which is a single-knob kaleidoscope effect that has rotation build into it, so you can transition as smoothly as possible between different numbers of divisions. After that is the Trails effect, which uses a video feedback trick to make the brightest parts of the image fade out slower than the darkest. It’s really amazing how you can use it to calm down chaotic patches or do light painting with it.
Next comes the secret sauce of the whole default routing — the main output, which is taken from the output of the Trails effect, is also fed back into the modulation input of the first oscillator. This means that without patching anything you’ve got the potential for very complex, organic, and downright fractal results.
To top it all off, you’ve got the snapshot pad, which lets you save four sets of knob positions on the synth and crossfade smoothly between them.
I’m excited about that snapshot option!
Me too, it’s totally mind-blowing to see it in action! Once I used it for myself for the first time, I knew Lumen was going to be very special to a lot of people. I had always imagined that artists could use snapshot pad to save different variations on a patch, so that when you’re creating live visuals for music, for example, you could smoothly fade between different visual moods for different parts of a song. But it also ends up being a great way to discover interesting knob settings as well, since the places in between the saved states are usually something you’d never come up with on your own.
Each parameters that is represented as a knob on the interface has been designed to work smoothly with the snapshot pad, even down to the frequency knob – you’ve got a seven-turn fine control knob in front, and behind that is a range knob that allows you to sweep through the entire frequency range without any jumps, dead zones, or jarring transitions in the middle. Even the transitions between the various oscillator sync states have been tuned to be as smooth as possible when crossfading.
How is Lumen controllable?
Currently just by mouse. The vision is to have each knob and switch controllable by MIDI, just as you would use an audio soft synth in a DAW. That would be amazing, right? Unfortunately, MIDI control is one of the features that might get postponed until after launch, just to make sure we can start getting Lumen in the hands of artists as soon as possible. Fingers crossed, though!
Does Lumen have any audio visualization aspects?
For the initial release we’re focusing on making it a cohesive standalone visual instrument first and foremost. I’m not sure we’ll get audio or MIDI input in there for version 1.0, but we’ve got big plans. The potential synergy between audio and video is one of the main draws to video synthesis for me personally, so we won’t be overlooking that in later updates.
How long has your company, Paracosm, been around and what are it’s previous releases?
We’ve been around for about a year and half now! I can’t believe it’s gone by so quickly. We launched our first app, Polymer last summer. It’s Mac software for electronic musicians that allows you control multiple synthesizers as if they’re a single polyphonic instrument.It’s been very well received, and it’s really encouraging to hear about the different ways people are using it in their projects.
Polymer is all about abstracting control so that you feel like you’re playing your entire studio as one instrument.Going forwards I’d like to push that even further and to make it a tool that will be useful to every synthesist, not just ones with walls and walls of synthesizers in their studio.I’ve still got so much I want to add to it, but naturally we’re focusing on Lumen until it’s launched.
When can people expect to get their hands on Lumen?
Very soon! We’re holding ourselves to our deadline of releasing this summer, even if it means we have to cut features from the first version and add them in via free updates later.
On a side note, Portland sure is lovely in the Spring, eh? Get out to enjoy any of it or have you just been indoors slaving over machines?
I have actually managed to get out quite a bit this year!Over the weekend I was just tossing a frisbee around in the Willamette with friends, getting way way way too much sun. Sometimes I even manage to slave over machines on patios, which is one thing I really love about living here. Of course Lumen is amazing partly because it’s a video synth that fits in your backpack and you can take it anywhere – some of my favorite patches were created up on the benches in Washington Park!
Any word on future releases? Are you seeking to do more video releases or are you back and forth between audio and video?
We’re really interested to see what people do with Lumen before deciding where to go next. It would be amazing to spend some time creating educational materials about video synthesis and organizing events to bring video artists together. Lumen’s got the potential to take video synthesis to a much wider audience, and that opportunity is just too good to pass up. I’d also love to see our audio and video releases converge and cross-pollinate more in the future – that’s what art is all about, right?
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Big Pauper Modified Circuitry
BPMC (est. 2009) creates quality custom psychotronic modified glitch video art devices for creative types. A collaborative capitalist enterprise forged between man (Big Pauper) & machine. BPMC is based out of Portland, OR in the United Snakes.
BPMC (est. 2009) creates psychotronic custom-modified & manufactured glitch video art devices for creative types. A collaborative capitalist enterprise forged between man (Big Pauper) & machine. BPMC is based out of Portland, OR in the United Snakes.