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.

  • autoy

    OSC is good and all but I'm interested to see how HUI is implemented on this.

  • Well, right, but that's part of the problem — MackieControl Universal (think they use MCU, not the earlier HUI) covers some things, VST/AU automation is in there, and then you have MIDI assignments. If you had an open protocol, if any software were engineered to be controlled instead of adding control as a kind of afterthought, you could do everything at once – no drivers, no archaic specs.

    One example of MCU being implemented on the iPhone:

    Though, you'll see, again you need an app on the other end.

    I'm not saying I won't look at this – I will. I continue to test Automap and M-Audio's HyperControl. And I'm as happy with it as anyone else when it's all working. But in a way, I'm partly concerned that it *will* work and that developers won't look at ways they could make it better.

  • Jk

    OSC is still basically Mac only, no? (haven't worked with it, just some cursory googling makes that seem to be true).

  • No! Yipes, okay, we need to do an OSC FAQ.

    OSC is a platform-independent, transport-independent protocol. Mac, Windows, Linux, TCP/IP, UDP, ethernet, wifi, usb, etc., etc., etc.

    It's not a "Mac" thing. Probably just the popularity of an OSC utility called OSCulator — but that demonstrates that, awesome as that app is, it's also important to have some cross-platform tools. And you don't need OSCulator (just like you don't need MidiPipe to use MIDI). It's popular partly because apps on the music side have been so slow to support OSC natively.

  • But OSC is most useful if apps like Live, etc support it. It would be nice to not have to have bridges anyway. You kinda make it sound like Novation should provide OSC support, but I don't see why they would if there's not much it can actually talk to.

    Where's the online petition to get Ableton to add OSC support to Live? 🙂 Maybe this is coming with the Max bits for Live, though I'm guessing I may not be able to afford those bits.

  • @Patrick: Right, that's correct. Ultimately, this is the host's job to expose the things it does to hardware. So Novation doing this as OSC wouldn't be so much help.

    Max for Live will support OSC, but that's an incomplete solution. Aside from the cost of adding M4L and the odds that not everyone will have it, the more fundamental issue to me is that then you're not really integrating this communications with Live and its interface. I do think M4L will be a good way of prototyping; i.e., demonstrating why native OSC support would be even better. 😉

    But I'm not a big one for petitions. I think better will be to do some demonstrations with the software that does support OSC, and to build some good OSC implementations, to really illustrate the point. And obviously, a lot of people have no idea what we're talking about, but would if they *saw* the results.

  • Jk

    Ah, ok. Yeah, that was my (incorrect) impression due to having seen OSCulator before only to find out it was for Mac. I stand corrected, thanks!

  • Ed

    Hi there,

    I am really curious about it. I think i´d use this mostly to write volume automations in my host mixer, but so far all the images i´ve seen have 2 horizontal faders, which might be small to this purpouse (small resolution).

    Aybody knows if i could build myself a control screen on the iphone with vertical, full length faders? I dont care if its MCU or Novation´s mixer automap as long as it works…


  • @Ed: Yeah, I can't tell how customizable it is. (It'd be likewise nice if you could build your own Automap-compatible things…)

  • there is already MRMR and Osculator for those who want to use their iphones as a live control remote.
    I'm actually developping a free alternative to osculator.
    On the top of that , you can access live api with python , that can add so many possibilities to live.

  • vanceg

    Only tangential to this conversation:
    I sure would love to see a DIY Kit board (similar to Livid's MIDI DIY, or the EoBody2, or the MIDITron, which would convert analog input to OSC. I suspect the increased resolution of OSC over MIDI would require some more detailed circuit design and almost surely higher resolution A/D converters, but gosh-golly it sure would be a nice device to have!
    Of course…I just wish more apps supported OSC!

  • @Vanceg

    Actually, there's a whole community of people making these things "easy". Take the Arduino community for example.
    They'll hook you up with the software and the parts list you need.

    Then there's the Monome community. Effectively implementing OSC into Live thru a python bridge.
    Where most Lemur hacks are actually based on a MIDI API, the Monome guys are writing custom python scripts to do the parsing.

    Its kinda interesting though. One the one hand I want Ableton to support OSC. On the other hand, if they'll do it as poorly as they implemented MIDI control, then what is the point of relying on them for this?
    Say what you will about user-based hacks, but we don't have to run them by a CEO.

  • Well, in an ideal world, I'd want Ableton to improve their MIDI implementation and add OSC. It's my job to ask them for such things, as a writer, whether or not I get them being another matter entirely. 😉

    I'm all for hacks. The issue is, if you require Max for Live in order to run these, to me you have one too many layers. And a hack is never going to be as organic as having something implemented natively in the program *the right way*. I'm not suggesting don't hack the thing – I think you should! I'm just suggesting that, at the same time, we need people experimenting outside of tools like Live to build ground-up, from-scratch demonstrations of what's possible, without the distraction of a complex tool like Live that may not fully integrate the notion of control with its design.

    That said, I'm actually encouraged by some of the possibilities of, say, custom Python scripting. And because even Max for Live has to sit atop the Live API, this can theoretically allow some really direct control that M4L can't even match.

    But I hope we also see, say, code outside Live that shows what you could do if you make OSC fundamental. (See also: SuperCollider, geeky as it may be. If people can start building graphical demos that just happen to be powered by something like that on the back end — things graphical enough that people who don't want to dive into code would get them — I think that'd be a really compelling argument for the concepts here. I'm, um, on it. Caffeine, please?)


  • vanceg

    Thanks Bjorn. Yes, the Arduino communits is, indeed, an option. However, I'm really not interested in spending the time and effort that it would take to lean and deal with Python and a Live API, nor to deal with the level of effort that it takes to make an Arduino board work well. Not that any of that is VERY difficult, and I am VERY happy that there are folks out there interested enough in spending their time on it. Go cats go!
    I don't feel like I'm "lazy" for not wanting to put THAT much work into designing a controller. My needs are just too modest, and my music making time too valuable/rare to want to dive THAT deep into the DIY world.
    I'm very happy with the "Off the shelf DIY Kit" level like the MIDI DIY or MIDITron where I can essentially connect a physical controller, define what it will do using the 'built in' editor and go to town.
    I'll dedicate "tens of hours" to this effort, but not "hundreds of hours". I THINK there are a pretty good number of people who are comfortable operating at this "off the shelf DIY" leve, too.
    Again – thanks for the tip and surely all due respect to those who want to dive in that deeply.

  • vanceg

    And YES – Ableton's MIDI control does need a feature update/expansion!

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  • If you make an OSC tutorial please include the following info:

    1) it's a network protocol and an update of the basic idea of the now ancient midi protocol

    2) a list of hosts that already support OSC

    I'll add my favorite, Sensomusic's Usine, to that list.

    Usine and OSC both have prohibitive learning curves for people not already dedicated to these kinds of complex tools.

    When will *even one* of the big companies, hardware or software, get some sort of clue?

    Do they not also have access to user forums and blogs like we do? I remain baffled.

  • james

    it was my understanding that you pay for max4live to edit your patches or "plugins"

    once created any user can use these in their stock version of live 8?

  • @james: No, I've been told explicitly that there will not be a free Max for Live runtime. You'll need to buy it to run patches. And that's my point — that means it can't be a solution for things like this, or you splinter to the user base, not to mention even if you do own M4L it's not as elegant as having something work with the Live interface.

    1. Some of the OSC originators I think will try to tell you it's not even conceptually linked to MIDI. But … yes.

    2. Easy – none. No DAWs support OSC. (Actually, I'm not sure this will last for long – I think Paul is working on OSC for Ardour 3.0?)

    Interestingly, now basically every major new-generation visual app DOES.

    The thing is, I think manufacturers are hearing all kinds of user complaints, so it's easy for OSC to get lost. And they claim it's just the hypergeeks who might want it.

    I think what's important, though, is that when implemented right OSC can be far easier than MIDI not only for a beginner but someone used to MIDI …and you can still run MIDI over OSC if you want to.

    So, thanks for this, keep the ideas coming – definitely will be working on documenting this and this is really a helpful discussion as I think about that!

  • Basically MIDI sucks :
    127 steps (so hearable steps when doing a frequency cut off adjustement for example)
    And Live is crippled because you can't assign a huge MIDI mapping for a megaset.
    That's why I bought an APC, no clips assignements limitation.

    Also I use a lot of dummy clip in addition to regular ones.

    I was stuck with my PadKontrol + Farmpad have to count each little lasting CC or note…

    Fortunately Chain selector can add a level of abstraction but AFTER clip launching.

  • @CNek: Right, but isn't that interesting? The APC works basically via four bank select triggers. Ableton could have exposed those bank select triggers to other hardware, but chose not to. It's only four bank selects. The one wrinkle would be, they'd have to determine the x and y range of whatever hardware you're using, so that's a little trickier, but still not impossible — in fact, there's already a template for the padKONTROL, so they could have done that in a 4 x 4 layout AND it'd be velocity sensitive which the APC is not. Or you could add a preference to the MIDI Control section that allows you to determine the default size of the clip grid. Heck, the APC is the only controller I own that doesn't let me remap MIDI assignments. On the rest of my gear, I could simply send the note values the APC is.

    But, of course, the APC40 is the only hardware that fixes that – not because the APC40 is the only hardware with the solution, but because it's the only hardware Live's software *allows*.

  • ST8

    I've been working fairly extensively trying to get the LiveAPI working properly on mac (turns it this does in fact work) and windows under Live 8 for use with a arduinome and am almost there. The main problem with it is that you are still limited to 100-60ms updates. Clearly the APC can communicate quicker than that, so there must be some hidden functions in the LiveAPI that APC40 utilizes.

    I'm thinking a generic osc ableton midi remote script for the iphone to play with say TouchOSC would be pretty useful. Not so up on my iphone app development though 🙂

  • @Peter

    I'd like to emphasize that Usine *does* support
    Open Sound Control:

    Which, being that it comes in a free version both as a standalone and a VST plug-in, means that it'll give anyone access to OSC on Windows at least.

    Due to the very simple reason that I use Usine in the first place:

    pretty much any kind of data can be transformed on the fly and controlled by a GUI that you patch yourself and don't have to wonder what's going on under the hood when you perform.

    Course, Usine is a live-oriented application so that's no help to the standard compositional or mixing DAW type applications.

  • And lest I forget not everyone already knows about this little gem:

    which is also freeware by Jason Hector