The glowing glory of the PowerMate, as captured by Casey Fleser aka Some Geek in Tennessee.

The PowerMate from Griffin is an affordable, very compact USB knob with glowing blue LED feedback and push-and-turn functionality (so it’s a button, too). But using just one knob may not be all that useful for control. We’ve already seen Robert Hodgin VJing with four PowerMates, but our friends Bill Van Loo and Joshua Schnable have come up with a novel solution. Using Schnable’s custom software built in Pure Data (Pd), they’ve not only mapped the PowerMate to MIDI, but using switches and the push function allow you to control four or eight channels at once using just the one knob.

At the end of last week, they offered a first look at the solution, with a basic demo in Ableton Live (though any MIDI-capable software will work), and downloadable Pd patch and manual to get you started. The patch is open source-licensed.

announcing CTRL4 + CTRL8: MIDI Control for Griffin PowerMate + PureData

Of course, if you’d rather use OSC or create an instrument right in Pd, you can do that, too, with this as a template. But if you want to get up and running with your PowerMate – even if you’ve never used Pd – this should be quite accessible.

Check it out in action in the video below. More documentation is coming.

The manual itself is written from the Mac perspective, but with any MIDI loopback tool on Windows, it should work, too – and I believe some people are even using the PowerMate on Linux. If anyone wants to share how you’re using this on another platform or with another setup, that’d be great, in a noisepages post/blog or anywhere you like – just let us know. (Documentation, suffice to say, is a huge part of going open source.)

This might be worth trying with similar hardware like the (discontinued but still available) Logitech NuLOOQ Navigator, as well. (The NuLOOQ is more expensive list, but looks like prices are as low as $30, and it adds additional controls like a ring on the top.)

Griffin PowerMate

Logitech NuLOOQ Navigator

FIRST LOOK: Joshua Schnable’s CTRL8 Powermate/PD control software from chromedecay on Vimeo.

  • Jordan

    Asus also has something like that in their Xonar range….and I dont think its that expensive…its also a USB sound card I think

  • RCUS

    i have a powermate that I currently have mapped (in Ableton) to:

    browser open close (quick click) – great for saving screen real estate and fun to press for some reason

    zoom in/out (turn left/right)- handy for warping files when you use it in conjunction with a mouse that has extra buttons loop braces – never touch the keyboard!

    duplicate (press hold)- just handy

    i NEVER use the press/twist motion because it just feels funny to me.

    that being said if I can somehow use this sofware to combine the best of both worlds and turn my 'press turn' into a smart knob (aka speed dial), but keep my original settings i'd be interested.

    I don't think it's possible though unless this PD patch supports keystrokes too. The powermate software won't let you combine i think.

  • Simon Lacelle

    FAR from being useful in my opinion. For about the same price, you can get a Korg NanoKontrol or a M-Audio X-session. Sure it's metal and it looks cool….. but 45$ for ONE knob?

  • Andrew Turley

    @Simon Lacelle: A knob AND a button.

  • @RCUS: One unfortunate thing about this setup is that it requires PD to be in the foreground so it has recieves the keystrokes from the PowerMate. Since Josh is the one who created these PD patches, I'd have to let him fill in specifics, but my guess is there's no easy way to pass along the other keystrokes/commands that you want. Maybe PD has a way of generating keystrokes & directing them to other applications; I haven't spent that much time in that environment.

    @Simon Lacelle: This patch is useful if you already have a PowerMate, like I did 🙂

    In all seriousness, I like the PowerMate a lot, for a couple reasons. It provides a lot of control in a very small package, and that control is usable across any application that accepts keystrokes/key commands. I personally use mine in Live, Logic, and Final Cut Express, and I've played with it in Photoshop and Processing, too. With a wheel mouse under my right hand and the PowerMate under my left, I have a really well-optimized workflow that I can use basically anywhere – studio desk, kitchen table, hotel room, etc.

    Plus, it's aluminum and glows blue – what's not to like?

  • RCUS

    +1 on the optimized workflow when combining with a mouse that has assignable buttons. Like I said above, this combination allows me to warp a track in AL without touching the keyboard at all, and quicker/more accurately than with a mouse alone

  • poopoo

    I'm liking the look of the 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator PE. It seems like a mouse, joystick and powermate all in one.

    In windows, GlovePIE would probably offer a more elegant solution by running in the background instead of as top most window.

  • Stij

    Holy crap, the Space Navigator looks cool. I can see it being very useful for live manipulations, since it could combine the functions of a knob, button, and XY joystick.

    Plus, it looks like something off the bridge of the Enterprise, and really, isn't that what everyone wants?

    The only thing that turns me off is the price. $60 for one unit? I guess you'd really only need one or two, but still…

  • Here's a tutorial I wrote on my site:

    How to use a 3DConnexion SpaceNavigator as a midi

    controller using RBC9's custom driver & acousmodule's 3D Midigator VST

    However, it's not even working fully for me. The driver's developer, RBCP, disappeared off the 3DConnexions forum quite a long time ago now and it still has some problems. It usually cannot be uninstalled the way you normally uninstall a driver. Your computer just hangs… I'm enough of a PC tech that, after problems, I got it off my system cleanly and re-installed but it doesn't quite install correctly – there's supposed to be 3 HID drivers representing the SpaceNav as a mouse, a keyboard and a joystick/game interface (thereby representing all of the possible outputs the driver can perform, as set up by the user in the little .exe app that comes with the driver to configure various useage templates (which load automatically with the appropriate application it's assigned to, which is nice).

    The next step is using AccousModule's 3DGator VST plug-in to assign midi CCs to the 6 axes of the 3D mouse. The instructions for the VST indicate how you should set up an template in RBC9's little application so that it'll send the correct data to the VST which then sends it along wherever as midi.

    The VST .zip actually comes with a template. The settings in the template do NOT match the settings that you're instructed to use mysteriously, and the template is clearly corrupted somehow as some of the settings are nonsense.

    Using the settings in the template for use with the VST as AcousModules' instructions state does NOT work for me. Not fully, anyways. Some axes can be assinged CCs, some can't. Also, something crazy is going on in the driver as some sort of keystrokes are being sent into my DAWs as they quite frequently react as though I've pressed a shortcut for some command. I can't track down what shotcut/command combos that they're receiving otherwise I'd just unmap those key combinations 😉

    So, after that caveat: the Space Navigator is an incredibly well-engineered piece of kit! It's so comfortable, ready to be used with great precision with your non-mousing hand. As it's 3D it's perfect for mixing surround or, like I frequently do, automate 3D binaural panorama positioning – live! The "knob" even pulls "upwards" which I was impressed by. Consider the "neutral" position to be at the center of a sphere. The other 3 axes are "turning" the thing like a knob, which is a little more fiddly to deal with. But seriously aside from a VR Glove what else gives you 6 independent axes of control for midi CC automation?

    It's like the 3D expression pedal I dreamed about for the last decade. I wish it were wireless. And had a driver made by the actual manufacturer that was worth a damn. I imagine you could easily find some happy users on CDM's sister site, though. Tons of CAD software and the life is supported.

    Sorry for the extra-long comment but I figured I could help smooth a potentially bumpy path for others.

  • And, for those who want to use the SpaceNavigator on the Mac, I believe it's as simple as using OSCulator to assign CC parameters.

  • Stij

    @ runagate: Hmm, I'll keep that in mind. It's not like I was planning to get one in the near future, anyway – right now I'm trying to make a custom ribbon controller, and fiddling with one confusing controller is quite enough! 😀

  • Although this does look cool i agree with Simon Lacelle, for the same money a nanoKontrol or nanopad would be more useful. Plus they do look kind of cool anyway. Lets hope someone designs an affordable version of the Akai APC40. 🙂

  • I love this site, check it all the time, and have my students look at it for really good ideas on easy tangible computing. That said, I wonder at what point we could have a more in-depth focus more on the "why should it be done?" and less on the "can it be done?" Don't get me wrong. I see real value in proof-of-concept vidz. But, I'm really eager to see some more meaningful coverage of the use of these various non-musical devices in musical ways. This particular entry seemed to spark this the most in me in that after all is said and done, it is a knob and a wheel (albeit a rather attractive knob and wheel). For me, this just doesn't spark the imagination as much or lead me to suspend the asking of why like the OTTO does, for instance. While that device is intended for music, it more easily invites speculation as to the wild possibilities. Not so much with the PowerMate. I know, I know, it is really an apples & avacados comparison but hopefully it illustrates what I'm getting at. I've built two multitouch tables, a reactive table, used fiducials on my son's toys (I love computer vision!), had fun with hacking game controllers to do unexpected things and the like so I do have an appreciation for the work presented and am very thankful for another contribution to the community with this vid

  • @Hdez (and really, everyone) – here's a bit more on "why this was done".

    There are plenty of pieces of gear out there with a single (or few) controls. The Presonus Faderport is the first to come to mind, but even the Korg PadKontrol only has two knobs.

    The idea here was to expand the use of devices such as that. Pressing one key would activate the controller for one MIDI CC command, but then pressing another key would assign the controller to another. All the while, Pure Data manages the transition, and stores the controller values. This is less useful for faders and standard pots, but more intended for rotary controllers and jog wheels.

    I'm personally expanding this to use with TouchOSC – I find that using the touch faders there are fine, but the pot/knob "turning" emulation to be lacking, and difficult to control. This is a step toward having both a nice touch interface, and a rotary controller for certain situations.

    Lastly, I seem to recall (or, maybe just dreamt) someone creating a custom enclosure for a monome with two powermate knobs embedded beside it. I think that the powermate hardware matches the aesthetic of the monome quite well. There are some things you just can't do with a grid of buttons, and pairing both in PureData could yield some interesting results.

  • @Joshua Schnable Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

  • Totally doubt anyone is still looking at this, but I've got the Pd patch and Ableton Live playing nicely now with PureData in the background. Will have more on this on the Chromedecay site in a few days.

  • Love it! Not sure about what I could possibly use it for but it looks damn cool!!!

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