Review: Getting to Know the OWL Pedal

    I had intended for this article to be an in-depth review, but we’re going to go with first impressions for now - I’ll get back to you with a follow up once I have gigged with it for a bit.
    I’m also afraid I do not have anything in the way of unboxing images for this article. I tend to stand at the front door the moment I hear the courier truck come up the street with my box cutter at the ready. A small storm of flying bits of cardboard and plastic usually follows in pretty short order, and in this case we arrive at...
    The OWL Pedal is a 2-in 2-out hardware FX box, in stompbox style with an On/Off foot switch, 4 dials for controlling parameters and an expression pedal input. Out of the box, the pedal comes with 40 pre-installed FX/sound generators. You can check out the hardware state of your Owl pedal with the Owl Control app downloaded from github, and with the help of MIDI program changes from Max, you can flip around the built-in patches in the unit.
    The preset patches were enough to get me all settled in with a good feel for the sound of the pedal. Nice and clean! There’s enough in the presets for some awesome delay, pitch shifting, FM sound generating and all sorts of other action. The pedal seems like it could make an interesting addition to a non-geek musician’s gear bag, but of course that’s not why we’re here.
    We’re here because there are 4 preset slots for user-defined code. And one of the options for adding code to the OWL pedal is to do it with the code you make yourself in gen~ in Max.

    The Workflow

    There is a bunch of information on the OWL User site for you to dig into when you want to get going with your own code. I’ll walk through a quick “Hello World” style attenuator I started with. One thing you’ll notice as you get in to it is that there has been a ton of work done integrating different languages and DSP development environments into the OWL pedal infrastructure. It’s really cool because - for example - even if you don’t know the first thing about using FAUST, you can get the benefit of some awesome work from someone who does. And all the others....
    Another thing about the rebel tech and OWL guys is that they are doing a great job of creating tutorials for programming. They are more or less constantly updating their tutorial stack with new entries. To get a sense of this, check out the Rebel Technology youtube channel.
    Getting started with programming is about as hard as walking through the provided tutorial I found there.
    After I cloned the dev files from github, I was able to duplicate one of their existing projects to easily get a basic gen~ patcher running.
    Couldn’t be simpler - I’m using the “D” param (4th knob) to control volume. By the way - you need to include the parameter attributes to get it to work right.
    Now, you go to your user account page in a MIDI-enabled browser (such as Chrome) and create a new patch.
    After a quick save and compile, I was able to dump the resulting code out onto my pedal - and it worked!
    I kinda wondered about the whole website requirement initially, but I am really sold on it now. I expect people will say stuff like “Oh but what if I want to make a last minute change and there’s no internet at the venue?” Really, you’re just hosed in a slightly different way than you thought you were. Get it done before you go! The social advantages of easy sharing and the fact that we get to avoid having to set up fiddly development environments for a number of different targets and platforms make this a no-brainer.
    The user contributed patcher collection up on their site has a bunch of code from Max, and I’m looking forward to this growing. I think their price point ($350 US) is pretty compelling, given the outrageous amount of flexibility this box offers us.
    I’m really looking forward to gigging with this machine, and I’ll report back to you all once I have got some road miles on it.
    Happy patching!

    • Feb 01 2017 | 5:16 pm
      It is indeed interesting! For a summer course I'm teaching in Italy in July, I decided to go with Max on the one hand, and the axoloti platform as an "embedded dsp pedal" on the other hand. axoloti is a very interesting piece of open source hardware/software. Obviously for all Max users, the OWL-gen is very appealing, thanks for sharing that.
    • Feb 01 2017 | 6:04 pm
      The OWL in Eurorack form is also a brilliant addition to any rack. Stay tuned for a few additional goodies related to OWL + gen~ in the not-too-distant future...
    • Feb 02 2017 | 3:18 am
      We definitely need more hardware that takes Max out of the laptop and into performance scenarios. This item is great.
    • Feb 02 2017 | 8:25 am
      Though without being able to use 'normal' Max around it. (At least for me), the usability of a pure gen box is very limited.
    • Feb 02 2017 | 3:30 pm
      Hi Rodrigo! Gen is way less difficult and way more fun than I first thought (I was frankly terrified of it to start with) - have a look at the delay tutorials, and you can test out patches in the browser at before loading them onto the pedal :)
      Adam (rebel tech)
    • May 26 2017 | 7:55 pm
      Just a note, that [prepend E] and the receiver [param @name E] as mentioned within the images above has in the meantime been changed to [prepend Exp] and respectively [param @name Exp].
      This is due to "e" as a param input in gen~ miraculously producing nothing else, than a fixed value of 2.71828 (Napier's constant) instead of an input value.
      The corresponding thread on the owl site is here, and i guess those images above should be revised.
    • Jun 06 2017 | 9:15 pm
      I really hope gen~ patches will be running on the 'axoloti core' soon,as in my opinion,it's the best deal for 'embedded dsp' around...not only in terms of the price tag,but also in terms of performance.
      there's some rumours here:
      the owl seems to be a solid,well thought-through product for sure, but it probably won't be interesting for the so called 'maker community' (high price tag , no GPIO's, hmmm...)
      putting more effort into porting gen~ to 'embedded dsp' could eventually bring MAX back into the focus of that community,as a tool to quickly prototype ideas instead of 'getting lost in the code'
    • Jun 06 2017 | 9:32 pm
      Well, for the maker community BELA does best i find, at least taking the word "maker" literally. Having lots of (unfinished ;) fun with this!
    • Jun 14 2017 | 4:27 pm
      We've just launched the OWL Package which you can get via the package manager, which features OWLwatcher, allowing you to program and remotely control the OWL all from within Max.
      There's some example patches including a re-imaging of chucker~, some tasty distortion, delays, fm bells - have a look!