Percussa micro super signal processor

In case you missed it on Create Digital Motion, we’re now beta testing a version of open source OSC controller software for the iPhone and iPod touch 2.x firmware. (For something along the same lines, see also OSCemote.) It’s well worth reading that story, as mrmr’s creator Eric Redlinger talks eloquently about what this is about: controllers that can connect to a performance, even a stranger’s performance, as easily as an iPhone could dial up a webpage.

Mrmr iPhone 2.x Firmware Beta, and the Self-Configuring Touch Controller

But in case even that argument doesn’t make it clear, this isn’t an iPhone story. It’s an OpenSoundControl story. It’s about chickens, eggs, and the future. It’s just a glimpse of that future, but it could be a meaningful one. This is technology coming to far more than just Apple’s devices. Let me explain.

OpenSoundControl is an open network protocol for music, visual, and other control. It’s really not fair to call it a rival to MIDI, because the whole point is that it’s not MIDI — it’s at home in networks, you can easily route it through wifi and Ethernet and Ethernet hubs, it handles high-resolution data, and it’s descriptive. It’s therefore good at a lot of things for which MIDI was never really intended — things that are more important into today’s computer- and software-centric landscape.

Yet I hear people say OSC isn’t ready for primetime, because they’re using the old technology as a judge. MIDI only caught on after adopted by companies like Roland, so therefore, OSC is waiting for some sort of hardware support before it’d be worthwhile to use it, and — direct quote I hear a lot — “nothing supports OSC.”

About that “nothing” category. Nothing supports OSC, except:

  • Millions of units of iPhones worldwide and millions more iPod touch, via free or cheap apps available officially through Apple’s store (compare to, just a year or two ago, the very select number of units of the Lemur/Dexter multi-touch controller specialized in music)
  • Via free or cheap software, Wii remotes for the tens of millions of Wii consoles sold
  • The open source Monome controller — fewer units sold, but easily one of the most sought-after controllers available today
  • Native Instruments Reaktor and Traktor, FAW’s soft synth Circle, Apple’s Quartz Composer (in the version in every copy of Leopard and later), Processing (the code environment featured several times recently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and elsewhere), built-in support in Max/MSP/Jitter and Pd and SuperColldier, and support available now or in the works for nearly every major VJ and live visual app being used

In other words, in key hardware and software categories, we’re talking either a dominant product category or popular hardware selling millions of units or both. “Millions” isn’t a number the music tech world even thinks about a lot of the time.

Before I come unhinged from reality, I should be clear about some very significant caveats. OSC still isn’t widely known. MIDI is still the logical way to deal with notes and simple controllers, and that’s fine. Some of the software OSC implementations are a really big stumbling block, because not everything is actively supported or documented or implements key features like “bundles.”

But that doesn’t change those many users wanting to do live visuals or play around with their Wii remote or iPhone. It’s not a standard, and there’s a long way to go. But it’s safe to say that those could be, well … the egg.