Close
Company Post

404.zero Release Zerror V5 and it is Mighty

Designed exclusively for TouchDesigner and tailored especially to suit the requirements of VJs, audio-visual performers, and installation managers, this latest release of Zerror represents a notable progression in multimedia artistry. From the tool-making artist team 404.zero, the completely re-engineered V5 introduces numerous enhancements and functionalities geared towards simplifying the creative workflow and helping creative people quickly dive into digital art. 
The release site highlights Zerror's offerings as: simplifying content creation, data management, boundless presets and controls, efficiency and ease, and last but not least, maximum productivity with minimal time investment - SAVE YOUR TIME!
We caught up with Kristina Karpysheva and Alexander Letcius for a deeper dive under the hood, and to understand why not releasing Zerror and denying others the chance to use it would have been "simply indecent". 

 

Derivative:  It's been 3 years since you released Zerror 2.0. What have you been up to and what's been keeping you busy?

Kristina: We recently got back from Japan after a performance in Tokyo, and then we headed to Korea for a concert in Seoul. Before that, we had shows in Bangkok. It's been a tour-filled period for us. In between performances, we've been working on creating and releasing our album, which is particularly dear to us. We also spent some time making animations for the album, which was quite engaging.

Derivative: What transpired between Zerror V2 and V5 and what made you decide to release this version?

Kristina: Indeed, we planned to release versions three and four, but each time we were ready to go public, we encountered internal difficulties – both technical and personal. As you know, all TouchDesigner users appreciate its real-time rendering capability, which allows for immediate work and result visualization. We wanted to make Zerror perfect, so it wouldn't overload the system but simplify the workflow. That's why the third and fourth versions were never released – they didn't meet our ideal.

Alex: The turning point came when we agreed to perform in Bangkok after a two-year break from live shows. We decided not to use the old show program and dedicated two months to refining what we wanted to present. We got everything in order, implemented long-standing content and control ideas. We acquired Midi Fighters - these controllers were familiar to us, and we decided to integrate them in a more interesting way than usual.

We came up with the idea of creating a two-way link between TouchDesigner and the controller to minimize the need to constantly look at the monitor and be distracted during performances.

Years ago, when we first founded 404.zero, we experimented with Axolotl devices, aiming to connect everything to them, turn off the monitor, and fully switch to controller operation. Of course, such a setup has its limitations, but having controllers with feedback allows finding the perfect balance between visual information on screen and full control immersion, always being able to quickly assess the setup.

As soon as we got this MIDIFighters and started experimenting, the idea of integrating it with Zerror emerged. We tested how it all worked, and the whole process became much more convenient, opening up new development possibilities. After two months, we were amazed at how powerful it had become!

Not releasing it and not offering others the chance to use it would have been simply indecent.

Then, we went to Japan for the Mutek festival. We spent a month in Tokyo - refreshed our thoughts and decided to create a full-fledged, quality product. Tokyo inspired us with its spirit of perfectionism and minimalism, the drive to make everything neat and on-grid, yet still offering numerous options and remaining functional.

Derivative:  Can you tell us a bit about what makes Zerror such a useful tool?

Alex: TouchDesigner is a real gem among software, filled with the coolest features that we absolutely love. In our studio 404, just two people work on major projects, often under tight deadlines. We were looking for ways to make our work faster and smoother, matching our creative flow. We need to easily manage different parts of the visual content, for example, save cool ideas to easily return to them.

For instance, I can get stuck and waste time, while Kristina works quickly but forgets her ideas fast. That's where Zerror really helps us, making collaborative work on the project easy and without losses. For example, we can fix findings and ideas with presets, and then use randomizers to "crossbreed" them and find new - unexpected and non-obvious.

Derivative:  Where did the idea for Zerror come from? Were you missing design options or the ability to compile everything together? TouchDesigner itself offers flexible capabilities, what was the need for adding controllers into the equation?

Kristina: I can say that Sasha (Alex) and I have completely different approaches to work, and we're quite different personalities. I've always been searching for some idea, something beautiful; I really need to find and create something new. In TouchDesigner, I always have chaos: thousands of patches with names like "2567.kris.alex edit-v65-pre-finalfuck.toe", which are then hard to navigate. Sasha, on the other hand, can dive deep into a topic for months, like how to automate mapping for lasers or all these logical chains where one thing moves another, etc. It was hard for us to work together on one patch because of our different work modes also: he works at night, I work during the day. I wanted to control the process, plus I have memory issues. I needed all the logic to be clearly documented, and I constantly asked Sasha for help. When he created the first version of Zerror, it was a real liberation, allowing us to save work stages and not interfere with each other, saving time and nerves on explanations. We could work from different corners of the world and at any time.

Alex: The main idea of Zerror was creating presets. You need presets, obviously, as on synthesizers. We are inspired by sound synthesizers and electronic musical instruments in general, considering that this field has existed for many years and has undergone significant improvements especially in terms of usability.

So, speaking of audio-visual synthesizers, this is quite a new topic, especially in terms of real-time. Only in the last 15-20 years have computers become powerful enough to process graphics in real-time. And musical synthesizers have been creating sound in real-time for probably at least 60 years. Over these decades, progress has been huge.

Everything is set up so that you can focus as much as possible on the music, not getting distracted searching for the right function. You save presets and continue playing.

We aimed to achieve the same effect with our patch and went further - made presets with the ability to morph between them.

Technically it was simple to implement, but conceptually - we had never seen anything like this and were amazed at how next-level it is in controlling anything.

Kristina: We ourselves are people who are very focused and immersed in the process. The slightest inconvenience, be it a glitch, data loss, or a button or node dropping out, can throw us off for a month. But when everything is under control, you feel much more confident, you know?

Alex: At the same time, complete creative freedom is preserved. You don't even need to think about control – everything works intuitively. I remember how the idea came about... Before Zerror, we built different preset managers for TouchDesigner of various degrees of convenience and capabilities. One day, Kristina, tired of all these buttons, asked: "Sasha, let's make a smooth transition between presets." I replied, "Come on, are you serious?"

And then I thought: "Well, it won't take much time.." (That's a separate topic on how convenient TD is for creating control systems and UI in general.) In one evening, I created a draft with Python that allowed morphing between presets. We tested it and were amazed at how simply it elevated everything to a new level.

Kristina: For me, this became perhaps the most key feature. In morphing, you can discover something completely new for yourself, something you hadn't even suspected. Having two values, for example, white and black, you never guessed the existence of an entire palette with hundreds of thousands of shades between them. And in this transition, you find that very color that turns out to be much more interesting than black or white.

Alex: It's not even about the number of options you have, but that these random options “move” towards your saved presets. So, it's not just random, but as if vectorized random towards what you like.

Derivative: You mentioned ease-of-use and Japanese minimalism in design, will Zerror make it easier for musicians and artists to create their visuals for their projects?

Alex: Definitely, Zerror significantly simplifies this process.

Kristina: Zerror helps creative people quickly dive into digital art. I even showed it to my friends who have zero knowledge about TD or digital art at all, and they understood everything. I believe that now even a person with minimal knowledge in the field of creating real-time video can handle Zerror.

Derivative:  How can people quickly get up to speed with Zerror? Will you be making tutorials or demo videos?

Alex: There will be demo projects that reveal many functions of Zerror, so you can study everything and fully understand how it all works. We plan to release several interface samples demonstrating its capabilities for different tasks. This will show how Zerror can be integrated into various situations, allowing users to assess its necessity for themselves.

Kristina: We use Zerror in live performances and when creating content offline especially when we need to produce a large volume of work quickly.

Sometimes our work replaces a whole studio with a dozen people who might spend weeks. Thanks to Zerror and TD, we complete such a volume in a couple of days.

Now all our installations are done with its help, even remotely — like the last one in London, which we did without going there in person.

Alex: We also take into account the needs of artists and companies wishing for their projects to work on the client's side. With Zerror, there's no problem: you assemble the project, send it to clients, and it works as intended, but without the possibility of further changes on remote machine.

Derivative:  It's great that you've found new uses for Zerror. After the first version there were requests for a Mac version, and so V5 supports M1 processors. What other user requests have you taken into account?

Alex: Many asked for binding, meaning two-way linkage between the operator's parameter and a knob in Zerror. If you turn the knob, it controls the parameter, and vice versa. If MIDI is used, it can work in three directions, which is incredibly convenient. We use TD bindings + python inside Zerror to achieve all path two-way connection MIDI -> Zerror -> OP pars -> Zerror -> MIDI. Also specially for Midi Fighters controllers - we made them to follow knobs color tags, and this tiny detail is a game changer for live performing and not only.

Derivative: Do you have a common component structure for generators or effects that you follow?

Alex: We have around 3-4 common approaches depending on situation: sketching, live show, content render, audio visual installation. Sometimes something weird for something super specific.

Derivative:  How has Zerror helped you to work remotely?

Kristina: Our first remote work experience was an audio visual installation for DarkMofo festival in Tasmania, we couldn't get there because of covid restrictions. It was the first major project done remotely, and everything went off without a hitch. In three days, everything automatically loaded and worked on Zerror, scenes switched. A month later the DarkMofo crew set up the equipment at the venue in Tasmania and installed a live stream camera for us. So we could finalize adjustments remotely on site. And it was a very weird experience as we were in a five day quarantine in Jakarta in a tiny hotel room.

Alex: Yes, that project was unusual. We rented a warehouse in our home town, St.Petersburg, rented similar equipment, and basically sat down to work on content - both sound and light. We just had to take and do it there; we didn't even tweak Zerror much, just prepared the system so we could fix some experimental pieces, and do something. That is, make many different presets, see how they worked, record, and then easily choose from what you liked of the ready-made audiovisual content while still leaving some room for correction.

We recorded all the controlling parameters as PixelMap videos with sound, and each piece of such video was assigned a separate preset, and then on top of that, we built a random state switcher with the setting of each state. And inside each PixelMap, some settings could be changed. It looked like a spiderweb or something.

As it turned out later, our friend Max Harin suggested that this is called Markov chains.

Apparently, it's an existing mathematical concept… It means the next state and its probability are determined by the current one.

Derivative:  Can you share what problems you've managed to solve with Zerror?

Kristina: For me, it's critically important to focus on the project itself, not getting bogged down in the complexities of control logic. I find it hard to remember triggers, formulas, and the like, so I need a standardized control system. Creating unique logic for each project seems overly burdensome and inefficient.

I have memory problems, and it's hard for me to remember how everything connects and where changes need to be made. I also find it difficult to read long manuals, especially considering that I have dyslexia. So starting work on a project was always painful, because I knew it would require a lot of mental effort from me. For example, during my first  performance at the Mars Museum back in 2016, I had six scenes with visuals, dances, and music, and a friend set up an interface for me that broke five minutes before the show. I had to manually switch everything and intuitively navigate during the performance directly from TD NetworkEditor, changing visuals on the fly, because I had to disconnect containers to prevent everything from freezing. It nearly drove me insane trying to control everything, and naturally, I couldn't do it a second time the same way because I remembered nothing.

But now you can arrange all the scenes and controls like on a map, highlight the important stuff with color, and organize everything by priority and importance, even by time.

Derivative:  What other difficulties do you encounter in your work?

Kristina: Sasha has panic attacks, and I have chronic depression. To not die of sorrow under a bridge, we need to gather strength from the darkest corners of hell and create something for this "positive world". It's better not to be identified in the real world, as it's better not to look at us during psychological lows. So we sit and work on one project from different rooms, with faces like clay, without the need to travel to the installation site. This became possible only a few years ago, and that's how we remotely created 3.2 for the Dark Mofo festival, a huge installation in Australia, and then did the same in America and England. All this was done remotely, and of course, there are drawbacks, since we never saw this light installation in person.

Derivative:  Why do you need a randomizer at all, and how did the idea come up?

Alex: Why a randomizer? The idea of a randomizer appeared about 6 years ago - Kristina created her first tool in Python and shared it online with those who love TD. It was inspired by playing on a synthesizer.

Kristina: My first synthesizer was a Buchla 208, which has several randomizers - it was a salvation for me, because I have an allergy to patterns. I can recognize a very long sound pattern, see patterns in pictures, in videos, and so on. These repeating details really irritate me. I was also very bothered by the constantly blinking light on the Buchla 208, so if I apply randomness, the pattern on it changes, and it stops irritating me. We try to apply randomness to everything; it's like we're bringing our works to life, even if it's just a static image. I need randomness in everything - voltage, LFO, envelopes, volume, noise, anything. Today I thought, it's such a human trait - to kill the living and make the dead seem alive. In general, one day a button appeared that randomized not only connections in TouchDesigner but also parameters, presets, even connections, and we even have a full random, which can assemble a patch from random nodes. Why? Just for fun.

Derivative:  What changes do you see Zerror bring to the artist's interaction with software? What will change for the user after they try and acquire Zerror? What advantages will they gain in working with TD?

Kristina: In my opinion, artists will start creating significantly more than before, and their development will accelerate, especially this will affect young professionals. 

Alex: I hope that in the near future we will see something similar to Zerror, but in the world of synthesizers. Imagine a synthesizer like Moog, where instead of ordinary preset buttons are preset knobs.  That would be amazing. Preset morphing is a mechanism that, I'm sure, will be implemented in many areas and devices where presets are generally appropriate.

Derivative: How do you get Zerror and are there pricing models or one size fits all?

Alex: It is valid for a single machine and refers to TD's system code. It is valid for 1 year of Zerror updates. It is non-transferrable opposite to TD's license. Demo version is fully functional and limited in the number or parameters and presets you could create. In other words: a pro licence is required only for setting up a new project. For using all the controlling features on existing projects the demo version is enough, so there is no need to purchase extra licenses for running completed projects on other machines. 

Derivative: Is there anythings that really excites you right now in art, technological developments, other things you do in your lives...?

Kristina: We are excited about the progress in neural network algorithms. It is definitely early phase and we will see really interesting stuff in the near future. It also reminds us of the history of synthesizers - when the first digital synths appeared, many musicians were hypnotized with the convenience and variability of these machines. So many great analog synthesizers were sold for nothing or even just thrown away. It took years to realize how bad these new machines sound compared to old ones. And it took more years to come closer to analog sound in digital. It really seems similar now with AI generated media - it is over-hyped and not comparable to best man-made pieces...yet.The fact is the technical progress is much faster now so it will not take years for us to see significant improvements in AI stuff. 

Also last year's discovery was that macbooks with M-chips allow to work in TD for hours on battery. And it is fast enough for prototyping ideas. This really speeds up things and lets our minds be fresh as we just open our laptops anywhere and continue working without even seconds of preparation. And we come back to the main Windows machine only at the final stage. 

Derivative: What’s next for you two? What project are you looking forward to developing in the near future?

Alex: In terms of app developing: We have several ideas to improve Zerror, and it is mostly about automating/animating preset switching in different ways. We already significantly improved zTimiline (originally it was a timeline for Zerror) so it looks and acts now more likely a DAW or video editor software. It is not public yet and requires polishing and testing. So it is in the 'to do and publish'  list.

Kristina: In terms of art we are more into music now and have many ideas to try in TouchDesigner as it became more sound-friendly - huge thanks for that by the way!

Get Zerror / Learn More

Follow 404.zero Website | Instagram | YouTube