Circuit Components: The Journey So Far

Senior Novation Product Designer Dan Clarke recalls the 13 months of development that have gone into Components, the software suite that helps to make the Novation Circuit groovebox a studio essential.

A little over a year ago, I was lucky enough to be involved in the release of the Novation Circuit, a product that I and many others had been working on for over two years. Circuit was released to a positive reception, and we were delighted to see people start making music with something that had been in our heads for so long. But for all of Circuit’s immediate accomplishments, there was more that we, and our users, wanted it to do.

During the following months, we listened, created backlogs and sometimes argued about what was next for Circuit. Most importantly, we wanted to allow our users to keep making new music with Circuit. But at the time they only had 32 Sessions to do it in, so we knew we had to give them the ability to get their work off and on to their Circuit.

In early 2016, we released the first version of what was to become Circuit Components to the Circuit Owners Facebook Group. It was a simple web app using the WebMIDI platform on the Google Chrome and Opera browsers. (Using WebMIDI allowed us to release Circuit Components quicker, and without the need for our users to install additional software on their computer.) The app had one purpose: to allow our users — and us! — to safely backup sessions from Circuit and store them. Sessions could then be deleted from the unit, allowing for new opuses to be created.

We knew that this was a useful release, as uptake was fast. But we also knew there was more under the hood of Circuit. After diligent and focused work, the Novation boffins engineered the ability for the customer to change Circuit’s sample content entirely. (Initially, users were limited to the factory sounds in Circuit, and nothing more.) The early meetings playing with this feature were noisy and exciting, a sign that this new sample-replacing functionality was significant. That, coupled with the positive feedback on the web-based utility platform, made it clear that Components should be the vehicle to give this new feature to the masses.

The next release of Circuit Components (v1.2) was our official global launch. The team worked hard and fast up until release day, when we added the new page titled ‘Sample Import’. This gave our users an interface to arrange custom sample content from audio files on their computer, and send them to their Circuit. They could also download and share sample content with one another.

Circuit’s Sample Import feature — integrated into Components v1.2 — turned our affordable little groovebox into a serious, sample-capable machine.

Three months later, the v1.3 update allowed sample content to be saved to the cloud, something we had wanted to do for the first release, but had run out of time. To maintain consistency across the site, we also updated the Session backup page to show a grid that allowed sessions to be re-arranged and given a unique colour, benefiting the organisation of, and performance with, Circuit.

One revolution around the sun after Circuit’s initial launch, and we wanted to do something special. So we set ourselves a clear mission statement for version 1.4: “A new Circuit in one click”. To do this, we knew we needed to:

1. Add functionality to the Circuit hardware, to allow the creation of unique new music.

2. Add a whole host of new sound content.

3. Make it easy to update and change all the content on a Circuit.

Immediately, the team got to work. A group of four in-house Circuit masters began creating a new set of content for the ‘Team Novation’ Circuit Pack. Our firmware developers began work on a highly requested feature: variable drum pattern lengths. This feature had not been included in earlier versions, for reasons related to synchronized Session switching, for which we used the fixed pattern length of the drum tracks to ensure a well-timed switch. Despite this great new functionality, there was a big question to answer for Circuit Components: How do you get a new Circuit in one click?

Behind the scenes, we had already developed a new Patch page for the site, which allowed patch management in a similar way to ’Sample Import’. Although it worked, it added yet another page to the site. Another place to go. Something we wanted to avoid. We had also come to the realisation that Circuit Components needed to better compliment the Circuit hardware. Circuit doesn’t contain 1 “funky” synth patch, or 2 “deep house” kick drum samples. Circuit is made from Sessions, Samples and Patches, which together, uniquely make songs. So with a clear concept in mind, we started sketching, questioning, throwing things out and starting again. After trying a few different approaches, some less successful than others, we came to the idea of ‘My Circuit’, a page that contains all the content that makes a Circuit.

We condensed the Librarian, Sample Import and Patches pages into one user interface, allowing the editing of all these elements within a single page. Now, with one click, we could send all these elements from the computer to a connected Circuit.

The ‘Circuit in one click’ concept on paper (left) and IRL, as part of Components v1.4.

There was plenty we had to do to make this system work. We made sure it was easy to change the content, by getting it from another pack, for example. We also had to generate Circuit Packs from backups previously made with the Librarian and Sample Import pages. We added icons to each pack to show what was made from custom user content and what was the factory default. A new tab was also added, showcasing the new ‘Team Novation’ Circuit pack, allowing quick installation of a completely new Circuit.

When it came to connecting Circuit to Components, we simplified the setup process, replacing the need for our users to turn their Circuit off and on again while holding a twister-like button combination to engage ‘bootloader’ mode. Instead we implemented a simple ‘Connect Circuit’ button, that does it all in seconds. A vital part of the release was the new firmware. So we made the firmware update an integrated part of the website: no extra software required.

Left: Sketched idea for the one-click connection tool. Right: the feature implemented in v1.4 of Components.

The journey that we have taken so far, from one year ago, has been quite monumental. It seems that from just a couple of months ago, we have made another big step in what can be done with Circuit Components. Working on Circuit and Circuit Components has been a pleasure and a challenge that I thrive upon, and we’ve learnt a lot along the way. We hope that, as we’ve learnt, we’ve made it easier for people to make their music.

Have you used Circuit or Circuit Components? We’re always keen to hear your feedback. Please join the conversation at the Circuit Owners Facebook Group. For full run-down of Circuit v1.4’s new features, check out this video.