Being a designer myself, I find myself sometimes wondering over the interface of the Octatrack. I’ve owned this instrument for a year now and it remains my desert island gear (provided it has at least a decent amount of samples in it if I should end up on this said desert island).
I’m at the point where I’m the limitation, not the Octatrack.
So this got me thinking - smashing the Octatrack for its interface and user experience is a popular topic. Not everyone chimes in, but it’s certainly one that keeps coming back from time to time and it’s almost like an urban legend within electronic music, the rite of passage required to learn the Octatrack, and those who passed and those who didn’t.
But I wonder - if Elektron ever does an MKII or something even more radical, and did a complete redesign of the interface - would we benefit from that?
Once you’ve learned the Octatrack, I don’t find it all that hard to move around in it and do things. It’s quick, flexible and gets the job done with just a few pushes and pulls.
So even if we did get a redesigned Octatrack - would we want it? Perhaps it’s good the way it is and it has to be what it is, due to its complexity?
Or are we just used to its ways and we don’t know better because once you’ve learned even bad things, they become the norm and you’ll work with what you’ve got, no matter its qualities.
It’s true that with some effort you can end up flying through the OT. I think much of the issue is that we are moving into an era where the end user is becoming increasingly used to “spoon fed” or super simplistic UI’s. I don;t think that is necessarily a bad thing when it improves the user experience but, for particularly complex O/S (and I do include the OT in that category) I can only imagine it is incredibly to balance ease of use with an advanced feature set. I think in this modern age, many of us are a little spoiled by all of the advancements made over the past 10 years+.
I’ve said it before once or twice but I think we can all agree that one of the down points of all of Elektron’s boxes is it’s display. The OT is no exception to this. A clearer, more advanced display may make things easier. Perhaps an unfair and incorrect comparison but thinking of the OT up against my Tempest, I can safely say that a strong, easily legible display makes a difference - and the Tempest is one of the poorer OLED examples to draw upon. A sharper, more detailed display along with a complete overhaul of file/sample management would certainly improve things for me. I find dealing with sets/projects a complete pain in the arse so tend to keep the OT as an on the fly live machine rather than anything more than that.
Anyway, harking back to my original comment about a general build towards an expectation that things should be easy to use - I think this also ties in nicely with the “I’m the limitation, not the OT” comment. I agree. Too many are put off with the learning curve. It is easier to sample in Live. It is easier to midi sequence in Live, Plenty of alternatives do offer easier ways to mangle a sample. So that results in a few who don’t feel it is worth the effort and decide to whine about it a little too much.
I’ve just realised I have rambled a bit too much. I am half cut so will blame the booze and leave it at that…!
The one thing that speaks against not doing a redesign of the Octatrack’s interface if opportunity was given, is that if you’re away from it for a longer period of time, and get back to it, things don’t naturally make sense at first (well, for me at least). It’s like “Uhm, how did I do that again? Oh, yeah … wait, no, that’s not it.”
I almost always sample with recorder trigs, and never use the direct record function. But last week, I had a reason to, and I didn’t remember how to. It made sense once I found out again, but still, I felt very lost with all the combinations of buttons.
So it’s not like riding a bike, exactly. And I believe that every experience can be the equivalent of bike riding, if you just find the right way to present it.
I am a relative OT newbie, only messing around with it for a little over a month, but my period of being overwhelmed by the OT lasted only about a week or so. While the reference manual still holds the central position of my desk, I am starting to fly through the menus without thinking much about it. I guess muscle memory, developed by years of gaming, starts to kick in, and writing down most of the shortcuts and key combinations profits, too.
Throughout the first days with the OT, my mind was full of thoughts along the lines of “wtf, archaic, overpriced piece of junk” (blasphemy, I know) but instead of giving up my attempts at detaching myself from the computer for music production, I prevailed. And I’m damn glad I did, as the 2nd week was full of Eureka moments and sheer joy of making music instead of dumb clicking while staring at the screen.
With all that said, at this point, when I’m slowly starting to grasp Elektron’s idea behind the OT (or rather my own view of it), I have to admit that its UI is streamlined, when we consider the possibilities the box is giving us. And if I had to decide, I’d leave the UI as it is and develop a user guide to accompany the reference manual. Sure, all the information is in the ref manual already, but it’s not a fascinating lecture, to say the least. And it requires dedication to read it a couple times, while making notes and trying everything out on the box itself. A decent user guide (thinking extended Merlin’s document) would be easier to develop, and should tame a lot of the rage over OT’s UX, since after it “clicks”, the UI choices feel intuitive and logical.
I think the interface itself of the OT is pretty straightforward and well designed for the most part.
The difficulty, I think, many people face with the OT is a conceptual. The OT has different notions of project and sample management and arrangement compared to other systems, and indeed some of Elektron’s own gear. To the newcomer, this might seem wilfully obtuse and idiosyncratic.
Elektron is to be praised for taking a step back and questioning convention and reimagining other ways of engaging with electronic instruments. This can open entirely new creative opportunities, albeit at the neglect sometimes of more conventional needs and uses.
From a design point of view, I would rather question the analog series of devices. Namely, 1) the small and cramped screens and 2) the shift toward performance ‘mode’ of operation.
With the OT, assigning the crossfader is simple and elegant. You can do on the fly while designing sound or performing, and easily try out different assignments to get a feel for what works. With the Analog series, you must set up knobs/pads in a horrid little UI, and do so outside of the flow of making music. That’s a shame, and a step back from one of Elektron’s historic principles of having no separation between creating and playing.
I think sample management needs to be improved. The main concern is saving sample names. You can not know if you are using an already saved name. The limited screen size is probably the main reason saving is not easy on the machine. It would be nice to see the list of sample names as you do when you save kits in the A4.
I’d say the UI is fine. Improvements I’d like to see include:
[li]Updated Song mode features similar to the A4 and AR[/li]
[li]Mutes that don’t cut the FX tails[/li]
[li]Storage other than the card reader[/li]
[li]Sound management similar to the A4 and AR - picking a slot and assigning a sample gets tedious on the OT after the 20th or 30th slot. I’d rather Select All and import[/li]
[li]Do away with Static and Flex machines and just have a sample machine[/li]
[li]Velocity and Note Length in Chromatic mode[/li]
Navigating the machine’s hardware becomes easier with time; it’s some of the things listed above which make the OT less advanced than Elektron’s latest efforts
I’d say the biggest annoying things for me are programming melodies, or other sequential data, where for each lock you have to start from the track level.
Also the way that when sample locking, it always takes you to the start of the sample list. would be nice to default to the current sample
Also wish you could apply a setting to all the steps on a page/pattern at once without editing the part.
Also wish there was a way to save/load parts or even track settings so i could create a bunch of go-to setups for my new projects. I could create a pre-configured midi channel for my synths. or have a pre-set up live sampling flex machine set up, so i’m not constantly re-setting them up, or copying whole blank projects.
I wish you could set the encoders to switch the push button behavior. In live situations I’d like all my encoders to be course by default, and push for fine control. Would also be nice to have a toggle mode where you push to flip the mode and don’t have to hold it down.
I also wish it would tell me reassuring things and tuck me in at night.
edit: this is just interface things, i have such a list of OS improvements i wish would be implemented. Having said all this though, it’s been a long time (if ever) since I’ve been this in love with a piece of gear.
Wha? But that’s taking features away! Static allocates a different amount of memory and has a totally different DSP load. Without it you wouldn’t be able to play long samples and pre-made tracks for live manipulation.
I have on occasion wished there was a mode accessible in the same area as “chromatic, slots, slices” mode etc, that actually used the bottom of the screen for a view of the entire (or zoomed) waveform of the track in focus with the current play position shown.
I kind of wish it had a single pressure sensitive pad on it. Like a lonely little Keith McMillen transplant that could be used to input triggers live with assignable parameters for the velocity/aftertouch.
That being said I kind of don’t. The OT has a clean machine vibe that doesn’t really suit anything soft like that.
Yeah I get that, but the editor should be independent from playback.
For example, if I make a RAM recording and then save it to a free Static slot I can’t do any major destructive edits like Trim, Fade etc. The only way to go back and edit the sample is to load it back into a Flex slot.
Seems clumsy - editing the actual sample itself on the memory card should be universal. That would be my interface request anywho
Interesting thread here. I am a new user, well when I say new, I mean i have had the OT for about 4 months and have only scratched the surface. I fall into the category of being scared off by it, and still viewing it as a massive learning curve so cannot comment on what would be changed. i find it convoluted as well as understanding that it is actually quite simple, once you put in the effort to learn.
My main problem is i am a seasoned Akai MPC user of many years and simply cannot stop myself from either, 1. turning back to the MPC for all my work, thus not leaving the comfort zone and 2. guilty of just admiring the OT in the corner without really taking the time to dig in…
this thread has inspired me to finally take the leap into learning my OT properly, as and when life’s other pressures allow me the time