Tendril Ball – Controlling Ableton & Unity

Posted: April 7, 2021 in 3D, Ableton Live, C#, Electronic, Houdini, Music, Software, Unity 3D, Visual Art, X-Touch Mini
Tags: , ,

tldr; I did lots of steps and connected lots of pipes together to control audio and visuals in real time with a MIDI controller + Ableton + Unity + MIDI-OX (this was the secret sauce)

Intro

(FYI: This is a really really long explanation of my process with no code and no links to download it. Its mostly a record for myself, but maybe there is something here that will help you!)

I’ve been doing Houdini tutorials and was inspired by complex shapes I could make through combining simple functions like Subdivision, Taper, Twist & Copy To Points.

2021-03-28 – Clawed Ball, Houdini

From this, I wanted to manipulate the object in real time with a MIDI controller and decided to re-create the Houdini functions in Unity. The tweet below is the result:

There are 2 things I’d like to talk about here:

  1. Tendril Ball – The visuals
  2. MIDI Control – Using a MIDI controller to manipulate Ableton Live (audio) & Unity (visual) simultaneously

Tendril Ball

It’s a ball made of tendrils, hence the name.

First, I started by creating a mesh of a cube.
I used this site: http://ilkinulas.github.io/development/unity/2016/04/30/cube-mesh-in-unity3d.html

Then I added a parameter to add subdivisions to the cube along the Y-Axis.

Cube mesh with subdivisions.

Then I added a Twist parameter. Each “layer” starting from the bottom is rotated clockwise.

Next, I added a Taper parameter. Each “layer” starting from the bottom get smaller until the size is 0 at the top.

I now have a single “tendril”.

Tendril: Twisted and tapered.

Then I needed to find a sphere without too many vertices on it. I ended up using a “cube sphere” from https://catlikecoding.com/unity/tutorials/cube-sphere/ with a Grid Size of 2. This resulted in a sphere with 26 vertices.

Emulating Houdini’s Copy to Points node, I instantiated one tendril per vertex on the sphere, resulting in the Tendril Ball below.

Tendril ball: Copy to points

I then exposed 3 parameters:

  1. Distance
  2. Length
  3. Twist Amount

MIDI Control

For many years now I’ve been trying to find a good solution to send MIDI from a controller to Ableton Live and Unity simultaneously. Finally I found the missing piece of the puzzle and I have actually been on their website multiple times without realising the answer was always there! This is probably the main reason I wanted to write this blog post.

The answer is MIDI-OX (http://www.midiox.com/). It lets me take a signal from my MIDI controller (Behringer X-Touch Mini) and split/send it to 2 virtual MIDI ports. I am on Windows 10 and I use loopBe30 for virtual MIDI ports.

MIDI-OX

In Ableton, I receive MIDI input from the virtual port “01. Internal MIDI”. I loaded a Wavetable synth and mapped the macros to the first 3 knobs on the X-Touch Mini.

In Unity, I receive MIDI input from the virtual port “02. Internal MIDI”. I used Minis by keijiro (https://twitter.com/_kzr) to receive MIDI input. I map they first 3 knobs on the X-Touch Mini to control the 3 values on my Tendril Ball (Distance, Length & Twist Amount).

Behringer X-TOUCH MINI Midi Controller: Amazon.co.uk: Musical Instruments
Behringer X-Touch Mini

And thats it!

Sorry, not sharing any code because this is part of long ongoing project of mine and this is just one small piece of a much larger execution. I don’t really expect anyone to read all this anyway!

The next problem to solve is using the Push 2. The knobs are endless/relative encoders. Turning a knob doesn’t send a value from 0-127. Instead it sends a value saying whether it increased (< 0.5) or decreased (>0.5). I need to do more research into 2’s Compliment). When I turn the knob in one movement, Unity (Minis) is only receiving one event even though I can see many events being triggered in MIDI-OX and in the Unity Input Debugger. So if I turn a knob from 0 to max in one go, in Unity its only incrementing the value by a small amount.

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