DyNAmic sequencer from Lo-Fi Massahkah on Vimeo.

Ready for some musical genetic engineering?

Much of the sound of electronic music today grows out of the use – and abuse – of specific designs. The electronica beats bred in discos and techno, Detroit and Berlin have a direct lineage to analog step sequencers and the rigid precision of Roland’s early electronic devices. These designs create limitations to embrace and to oppose – just as music notation or theoretical convention did for composers for centuries.

Okay, that’s a lofty way to put it — the question here is, how do you re-engineer music, even an ounce at a time? If you’re a composer a few centuries ago, you make subtle changes to your craft, working inside a convention, and write that down. (Just as with electronic music, there is a layer of separation – only then, it was a piece of paper.) If you’re an electronic artist today, you can likewise change what you’re able to control, and how, playing live. The differences at first may be imperceptible, but just like learning an instrument, the long-term payoff can be huge.

I asked for examples of what people are doing with the Lemur multi-touch touchscreen controller and its recently updated V2 software. This isn’t just about the Lemur – it illustrates what’s possible when the musical device and the controller can flow freely out of a musician’s imagination. That could apply to hardware or software designs well beyond the Lemur.

Mikael Björk of Sweden responded with a terrific example, a “dynamic” sequencer available to all Lemur users via JazzMutant. The open-ended screen layout of the Lemur has allowed the creator to provide all kinds of unusual control over morphing beats, with your fingertips manipulating simulated physics as beats twist around you. It’s not just electronica and sampling and DJing, either – he also has an incredible clip working with a very talented vocalist. It sounds markedly different from the more conventional, Loopstation-style loop performance.

Photo (CC) bjarkebech.

DyNAmic is a sophisticated step sequencer managed by a Max patch, and tightly connected to a Live rack. The Live rack consisting of two Simpler devices containing basic sine waves for low and high percussions, a Simpler containing noise for your hi-hats, and one containing a square wave for your bass sounds. In addition, each Simpler feeds an Autofilter and Redux for effects modulation, all of this being controlled from your Lemur of course.

Template created by Mikaël Björk aka Lo-Fi Massahkah.

What he says in a separate post on his blog sums up a lot of what I have to say about sequencers and samplers, too:

Sequencing. Sequencing. Sequencing.

You’d think that that’s all I’m about. Perhaps. Sequencers are fun when you can’t really play an instrument. They might also be fun if you CAN play an instrument. I like my new sequencer – and I hope you’ll like it too.

See: Hip to be Square

The upcoming release of Max for Live should mean that Live can work more seamlessly with the Lemur and the control configuration — more on that soon. But this doesn’t have to even be about Live; I imagine we’ll see other setups moving this direction, too.

And having an open music controller means that, pricey as the Lemur is, you get added value from this kind of artist contribution. (See also: monome, on CDM or the monome project site.) You can use this sequencer layout as is — use it in a different way musically — or modify it, or create your own. The whole patch and extensive how-tos are right on JazzMutant’s site:

JazzMutant Workshop: DyNAmic

So, cool as that is, I’m sure many of you were expecting the glitchy beat modulations that result. Here’s a related project that moves in a very different direction.

Schack & Wetterberg Live looping from Lo-Fi Massahkah on Vimeo.

Esben Schack and Andreas Wetterberg doing a set on Café Zusammen in Copenhagen. Esben on vocals and guitar, Andreas on Live (looping) and Lemur.

And for more of this stuff, you can follow the Vimeo feed:

Not much to add – when the tech is working right, your traditional musicianship (if you’re lucky enough to have it) can come out. And while the occasional touchscreen tap may not seem as dynamic by comparison, I think the way to think of the Lemur is as a compositional device – the vocalist is the real “player,” in a conventional sense, whereas the Lemur is acting as a composer — remixer, however you want to think of it — in real-time.

My respect for the Lemur has really grown as it has matured; the folks at JazzMutant have addressed some of my design complaints. Its cost is, like most boutique instruments that aren’t made in huge quantities, a premium – no argument there. Likewise, you can sacrifice some of that unique design and get a cheap commodity device. In the end, I think there’s a value in both. To me, the more important thing is what people are doing musically. So I’ll be sure to follow both – and hopefully share some how-to people for our Lemur owners and DIY touchscreen users (or other controllers) alike. Even if you just have a box with a few knobs on it, it is possible to move in some new directions.

Got more examples? We’d love to see them.

  • I totally agree technology drives genres and styles. The first video above is superb and surely a partial taste of what our future DAWs will all look/work like.

  • Michael Coelho

    Watching this make me think that maybe the Lemur is more than just another controller. I've been struggling with wanting one ever since the price drop was announced. It's obvious that something like the moving curve would be hard to manipulate with a standard controller. I was afraid that I was being seduced but the cool graphics and Star Trek like look.

  • An article prominently featuring the words 'DNA', 'genetic' and 'breeding' has nothing to do with genetic algorithmic beat creation?, it's a crime!

    Nice sequencer though.

  • Gavin@FAW

    I'm 100% convinced that touch screen computers will revolutionize the way we make music on a computer.

    http://www.stantum.com/ (a relaunch of Jazz Mutant) do very nice large form touch screen complete with an sdk.

  • Sold apart from that huge touch->display lag you see on some of the controls. And the price tag, natch

  • I absolutely agree that traditional electronic music has struggled to integrate with traditional, more "musical" performances (with obvious exceptions).

    I try to keep the technology as a means rather than as an end. For example this little mash on my iPod Touch a little while ago: http://gnarwhale.com/2008/12/17/ipod-bastard-pop/

    TouchOSC and OSCulator are pretty fun little programs, and for the price of an iPod compared to a Lemur, it's pretty attractive.

  • Just to clarify – I'm not the one working with "talented vocalist" Esben Schack. The one behind the Lemur in that clip is my good friend Andreas Wetterberg.

  • The tool you use always influence your output. I´m saying this as musician for over 20 years and as a PHD in psychology and ergonomic science. I bought my Lemmur half a year ago and it changed my way to make music! Now i use more detailed effect controls for instance and so the whole music changed a little bit. So – even without MAX as in the "DyNAmic" – the Lemur have an impact in your perfomance. (btw: DyNAmic needs Live7, also the famous liveAPI… and i still have to use live6 cause all my money for new labtop has gone for the lemur….isn´t that ironic? 😉

    @ Brian Park
    I don´t think that it the i-phone apps are compareable to the lemur. Not only because the size of the screen (hey, just buy 4 i-pod-touch…. still cheaper than a lemur), but because of the flexiblity. In the Touch OSC you can use different presets, but you can not build your controls. To me having a touchscreen where i have to use presets (someone other designed) doesn´t make any sense – than i can still use hardware…. (but it is a nice gadget for a low price) But thats a point: The lemur only makes sense if you´re willing to invest time in building controls (that time you don´t have anymore for "making" music – making music becomes making instruments – but thats great isn´t it?)

  • I've just got hold of a Lemur (paying more money for a second-hand one a few weeks ago than it costs to get a new one in the current sale – bollocks) and I agree it's for people who want to fine-tune their own custom control design.
    On the weekend I did the first set with the Lemur replacing 4 other MIDI controllers. Although the Lemur patch needs some tweaking after a live show it definitely fits in nicely to my setup – mainly because I'm moving away from what was basically live remixing of some pre-rendered audio phrases to working from some very basic elements and improvising with a complex control setup.
    So, I do spend all my time making these control setups, but I love it… plus, I came to the conclusion I'm a better live performer than a studio-based track maker and made the switch.
    Whether the lack of tactile knob tweaking with the Lemur turns out to be as frustrating as I initially predicted remains to be seen!

  • bliss

    That DyNAmic sequencer is the best thing I've seen for promoting the Lemur, that's for sure. Everything else I've seen is way bland by comparison – like, who would bother kind of bland.

  • @tonvibration

    I totally agree that the iPod Touch setup is just a fun little thing and doesn't ACTUALLY compare to a Lemur. That being said, TouchOSC is about to release a "building blocks" version of its software, and hell, that shit is fun. Plus, does the Lemur have an accellerometer? Right now my iTouch's accellerometer is connected to a wah (x axis) and a beat repeater (y axis) and then I run ableton's arp through it for hours of fun.

  • Ed M.

    Does anyone know if the recent price drop of the lemur is a hint that Jazzmutant is trying to clear inventory because of a hardware refresh? It must be approximately 3 years since the release of the lemur and I would think the hardware could be refined … maybe slimmer, more surface area, etc …

  • @Ed: I have no indication that that is the case. Notice they reduced pricing on both Lemur and Dexter — which are essentially the same hardware. And they've announced Dexter pricing is permanent. I'm hoping Lemur V2 pricing will also wind up being extended permanently.

  • Pingback: Future Grooves: Breeding Beats Like DNA, Lemur + Ableton Live + Max 5 « Virtual Vagabond()

  • @Brian Park

    That "building blocks" on the TouchOSC sounds interesting! Although it´s again using predefined blocks… but this would be a big step. Actually i wonder, that there is no software-company who made an editor for controls on a normal touchscreen – will sell millions. (ups…isn´t there this "Usine"-programm, will have to figure that out)
    So furthermore i guess that the software of the lemur is at least maybe the bigger part than the hardware. And thats the point the most people don´t have in mind while talking about the lemur – it´s the only product with a editor for controls that can be used by joe average (with a little time amount).
    But for shure – the lemur got no accelerator. Would be to heavy to wave it around anyway 😉 So one pro of the i-phone apps is the handheld factor! To say it clear: i love those i-phone apps. And they just have started.
    But to my opinion, it will take years until they are compareable to a actual Lemur…. and who knows where the Jazzmutants are already at this time….
    Anyway great work you do (i knew your video also before)- go on!

  • the first video was AWESOME!!!!!!from 14:18 especially,with the variations he switched between.reminds me of the sound variations in kore 2(which i absolutely love).
    i've been thinking of getting a lemur for some time now,and after seeing this video i am definitely convinced that this is what i need to take my performances to the next level:customizing it to fit my workflow perfectly.together with KORE 2 this will rock!!!!!!!!