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Remote Control

Paul White's Leader By Paul White
Published September 2012

I don't get the point of telephone text messages, I really don't! Come on guys, speech transmission was established as a viable form of radio communication over a century ago! I don't care how fast you can type with your thumbs, I think it highly likely that you can speak even faster. If somebody isn't there, you leave a voice message — simple. What I want is an app that automatically replies to text messages to say 'I don't do text, I don't do Morse code and I don't have a carrier pigeon: if you want to get in touch, either talk to me or send an email so I can reply using a proper full-size keyboard.' However, I also realise that for a great number of people, the ability to jab away at a touchscreen is second in importance only to an oxygen supply, and I have to concede that in some recording applications, modern consumer-device interfaces can make life easier. Just don't text me to tell me how!

When DAWs first came on the scene, there were a lot of rumblings about the impossibility of mixing with a mouse. Yet when we were offered hardware control surfaces, a surprising number declined to adopt them, on the grounds that they were too expensive, took up too much space and, in many instances, they thought it was actually easier to get the job done using a mouse, now they'd got used to it. As a long-time Mackie Control user, I have to admit that I still use the mouse for most tasks, with the Mackie Control being my main port of call for zooming, cursor jogging and, of course, those nice big transport buttons. OK, so you can't use a mouse to adjust more than one fader at a time, but now that we all use mix automation, how much does that really matter?

Now we have another option: using a device such as an iPad as a touch control surface. I've recently been trying a few of these in the studio. The interface is certainly second nature to the 'I'd die without my smartphone' generation, and once you have an iPad or other tablet device, the control apps are really quite inexpensive, even the more costly ones. These range from direct software emulations of a Mackie Control to multi-page mixer/transport controllers, and all offer something useful. However, I do find it somewhat ironic that the Mackie Control was devised to give us hardware control over software and that it, too, is now being emulated in software.

The main benefit of touchscreen technology is that the designers can give us whatever controls they want to, without having to consider the cost of pots, the space taken up by faders or the overall footprint of the device. If more pages need to be added, that can be done without making the device any larger. Even in these early days, it's easy to see the potential of touch controllers in the studio, and as more live mixers appear with remote iPad control, I'm looking forward to gigs without the beer-soaked multicore. In due course, tablet devices will become powerful enough to host the most serious of DAWs, and even now there are some pretty impressive multitrack recording systems available for them. For now, I still appreciate the luxury of a large screen and the ability to see all the controls without using reading glasses, and I'll settle for my iPad being an add-on to my existing system, not a replacement for it!

Paul White Editor In Chief