Percussa micro super signal processor

Automap on other devices – and an iPhone as a remote control for your Live set? Our friend Ben Rogerson at MusicRadar have caught up with the chaps at Novation at a London trade show to have a look at Automap for iPhone. This app hasn’t yet hit the App Store yet – Hispasonic and the Ableton Forums got the jump on the story last month. But it looks appealing.

It seems to auto-detect the computer to which it’s connecting – as it should, folks, look up Zeroconf. (implemented on iPhone as “Bonjour”) And you can learn in both directions – so you can interactively choose parameters on the iPhone and decide what you want to control. It also sends MIDI to Live for clip triggering, though you’ll notice that some features on the APC40, like clip status and the ability to move through blocks of clips, aren’t possible here. Because Automap wraps around VST and AU automation parameters, you also get high-resolution control of plug-in parameters.

This should also open up possibilities for other Automap-supported apps, not just Live; I’ll be able to test this once the app comes out. No official word on availability or pricing other than soon and cheap. Before people start complaining about the tiny iPhone screen — yes, absolutely. But there’s a nice blank spot on the Novation controllers on which you could put your iPhone or iPod touch. Think about it: you can add an intelligent multi-touchscreen to your existing hardware, use your conventional gear for physical control, but keep the Apple gadgetry as an additional remote (now fairly cheap with no contract for iPod touch). You can even wander around the room during sound check while still controlling your set.

Update: I should note, as I just got asked on Twitter, most Wi-Fi adapters allow you to create your own Wi-Fi network. So you don’t need Wi-Fi in a venue. You’d just create your own network on your PC or Mac laptop, and connect via that – the iPhone and iPod touch both support connecting to these networks. (Note that not all devices do: the Android-powered TMobile G1, for instance, has a chip that apparently doesn’t support them, and I have an 802.11b/g USB adapter that won’t create them. But mostly, this is an easy matter.)

Cool as this is, and elegant as the work Novation appears to have done, I can’t help but notice this is still something of a kludge. The iPhone communicates natively over TCP/IP with the computer. That’s what this app is using – but then it needs a Rosetta Stone and another set of software on the computer just to untangle the archaic protocols music software uses (plug-in automation, MIDI, and more oddness heaped atop of MIDI). There’s absolutely no reason that music software couldn’t be intelligent enough to support networking protocols so that all software and devices can easily communicate. That wouldn’t put Novation out of business, either – on the contrary, it would allow them to do their jobs and this very app could be more productive. Instead of MIDI CC numbers, imagine if you could refer to clips by scene and position number, or even by clip name. Imagine if the iPhone displayed clip parameters and changed when clips were launched. Imagine no more drivers or software to install: someone who bought Novation hardware with OSC support could bring it to a friend’s place and work on a session without that friend installing Automap software.

(singing) You may say I’m a dreamer, but … (sorry, cough) actually this is all possible right now.

I’m all for solutions that work, and Automap (and M-Audio’s HyperControl) both have great capabilities now. But OpenSoundControl is also something you can implement now (provided hosts like Live will support it), and we’ll be talking more about what it can do over the summer to make it more practical and less abstract.