You’ve just created the design that, more than any other, was the signature of electronic music making in the first decade of the 21st Century. What’s your second act?

Having made the monome grid controllers the biggest design hit in music creation in the last few years, then moved to a farm in upstate New York to do some … farming (really), monome’s Brian Crabtree now and Kelli Cain have made public what’s next. Think really big knobs.

The design makes some sense to me, intuitively, already. Livid tried the obvious solution of combining encoders with arrays in its Code, but having a big cluster of encoders, while interesting, seems that it’d have limited applications. It works for Livid, but given the widespread impact of the monome, you’d expect something more generalized, more universal.

Arc could be that. They’re large, “ultra-high resolution” encoders. The monome sacrificed sensitivity for quantity with an array of on/off toggles; Arc does the reverse. The idea is presumably that you’ll really care about these big knobs. Two- and four-knob versions are promised; the four-knob variant seems like it might have the greatest appeal, depending on the price difference. The visual feedback on the side are “high-density LED rings,” but they also have “variable brightness,” meaning that they could be more visually compelling than is apparent in still photos.

In addition to being knobs, each knob is a push-button. Unlike the monome, it’s hard to see this being the only controller you’d use. It is easy to imagine it used in conjunction with another controller, though, monome or otherwise. I’m imagine that as on the monome, you’ll be able to modify the design to add tilt sensors and the like.

Like the monome before it, the arc makes no sound. It requires computer software and the OSC (OpenSoundControl) protocol in order to control software, connected through a USB port. And so like the monome, you can expect that a lot of its value will be software inspired by the quality of the design and even the high-value construction of the item. If it’s like its predecessor, the arc will be an attractive window through which clever software designers imagine new musical contraptions.

The obvious comparison here is to the humble, US$45 Griffin PowerMate, a single metal control knob that used USB. This promises to have more precise visual feedback and be a whole lot better made and open; on the other hand, anyone who was fond of the PowerMate in theory may be quicker to buy into the notion here. (flight404 aka visual legend Robert Hodgin once did a whole live visual set with an array of PowerMates; he may prove ahead of his time if this catches on.)

Pricing, details, media due later, with “orders and shipping in February.” I can say it’s real; I saw some version on Brian’s workbench.

arc [monome]

I think, having passed on a trip to Anaheim, that readers might like to get hands-on coverage of the Arc, and a serious look at whether the monome’s sequel will live up to the original. Do you agree?

Side note: People I’m talking to are already wondering what you would do with, you know, two big wheels. I refer you to Etch-a-Sketch (two wheels), your car (one big, necessarily high-resolution wheel)… I was initially skeptical of how the monome would work as an instrument with no velocity sensitivity, and was eventually won over by a combination of ingenious software and musicianship by its fanbase. I wouldn’t write off the minimalism of this just yet.

Update: stretta already has an app in the works for the arc. He mentions that in a blog post with an adorable illustration that, aside from being clever, suggests how many people will use this app. See the video after the jump – notice the PowerMate controller in the corner of the video? It’s apparently standing in for an arc. Getting the picture?

The design already shows the attention to detail lavished on the monome. Photos courtesy monome.

This is not an arc video, in a demo by stretta. But the PowerMate featured here could easily be an arc. (That also suggests any number of encoders you have handy could be a way of prototyping arc patches.)
  • Finally.  It's amazing there are so few controllers out there with fat knobs of any kind…  I've been wanting something like this for a while now.  Will definitely consider this if it's affordable at all, I hope they offer it as a kit.

  • I'd almost view this as being a "beautiful object" first and foremost, and then as a controller. Still though, the four-knob version would be quite useful, certainly in conjunction with a monome or another small controller.

  • Peter Kirn

    I almost take that as a challenge to myself to work out a way of making an arc-only patch. But for some example of how someone might use it, see the video I just added. I'm curious to hear if there are other ideas. I do like the idea of four encoders.

  • Paul Norheim

    I'm the happy owner of the one-knob all-metal version. It's called Apogee Duet.

  • James Bernard

    Anyone ever try twisting more that two knobs simultaneously?

    I think this is exactly what is needed for a modern control surface.. if you can quickly jump to assigned parameters to tweak then this is where it's at.. of course as long as it's not like $1200 and you have to build it yourself.

  • rawore

    the powermate suffers by comparison, since it is mac only.

  • rawore

    i mean the powermate software is mac only

  • heinrichz

    Vow..looks cool. Nothing beats the simplicity of two well designed BIG knobs. I've been waiting for this to happen and i hope to be able to afford it too;_)

  • daemoncel

    hmmm four knobs, what could i do with that, maybe Cutoff, Resonance, Envelope Mode, and i dunno, maybe Decay.

    Or maybe build some max stuff for it on ableton?

  • What about the Stribe?

  • Any word on the pulses per rotation? Hopefully with some high profile encoders like this developers and controller vendors will break out of the 0 to 127 absolute value range many of us are working around today. Can anyone say rapid tempo/pitch control ala SL-1200 pitch fader? 

  • What I'd like to see is a 'hardware encoder', like a simple single-knob encoder (bit like a PowerMate i guess) which would basically allow you to click or hold your cursor over any onscreen knob and then rotate the real-world equivalent to change values – a bit like these 'Flexi Knobs':

  • salamanderanagram

    i find myself underwhelmed.
    maybe it just needs a killer app the way the MLR was for the monome…

  • Watson

    Via Brian:

    "the arc2 is half-a-64 size. the knobs are 1.5" diameter, great size.
    keep in mind the powermate has pathetically poor resolution. the arc can detect (by my calculation) 0.01" moves
    the arc4 is 4×1 layout, a 128 cut in half long-ways."

  • Peter Kirn

    Right, exactly – the PowerMate is conceptually silver (and even metal!), but it was never much fun to actually use. This is a couple of hypersensitive knobs.

    And it'll absolutely be up to software to determine how useful that is. I like the challenge of having to do more with less, though.

    I also like James' observation that there are the same number of knobs as you have hands.

  • Andreas

    wow. This is the first time I've felt sort of "reset" by gear in a while.

    I think coming up with applications for four really sensitive knobs with an array of fully controllable lights should be real fun.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the specs – I could totally see myself doing a minimal set with just four knobs. Hell yeah.

  • @Peanut – Check out the speed dial on a Novation Nocturne. It does exactly that.

  • TheAlphaNerd

    More from brian

    To simplify this… there are 64 leds per encoder. There are 16 stages of brightness. Leds can be changed as a group or individually

    "most of this is still tentative, could endure minor refinements before the end of the month.

    in short:

    from device:
    /enc/delta n d
    where n is encoder number, d is change (ie 1, -1, +2)
    /enc/key n s
    where n is encoder number, s is state (0,1)

    the refresh is incredibly fine and fast, so unless you're really throwing the knob, you rarely get beyond 1 or -1 on delta.

    that said, it's "up to you" to keep a counter when writing your own apps. i'll be making a bunch of "helper" apps and templates to provide high-level functionality to app writers.

    one thing to consider– being able to set rotation limits (setting ranges), "chunking" the display into 16 sections, having the rotation speed (fine vs course) be set by the button press.

    what about a rotating led cycle that's an LFO (or sample playback)? turning the know pulls at the velocity like a turntable. push down the knob and it applies a friction brake. hold it down and spin one way to give it a serious push, let go and it runs free.


    protocol to device:
    /enc/ring/set n x s
    set led x (0-63) of encoder n to state s (0-15)
    /enc/ring/all n s
    set all leds of encoder n to state s (0-15) like /clear on monome grids
    /enc/ring/map n d[64]
    map array d (64 values) to encoder n, like /frame on grids"

  • Re the knobs : hands ratio, it's true that you only have two hands, but knobs are not solely input devices, they also display set values, and having several knobs available at once means you're not spending time reconfiguring your knob assignments.

  • Dan Pat

    I honestly don't get it, but it seems to be inspiring a lot of other people, so I'll sit back and watch it develop. I like the concept, I just don't know what I would use it for. I'm personally the most worried about a good system to reassign the encoders to new parameters, but I suppose that's not even necessary to create interesting applications with two knobs.

  • Chris Thorpe

    As for a patch that works for those well endowed with this might set of knobs…

    No need to do anything special – any patch, virtual synth, or whatever that has virtual knobs could be made to work nicely with this and a touchscreen. Touch the onscreen knob, grab your actual knob with the other hand, and rotate till the desired results are achieved. There could be gestures to indicate that the virtual knob stays mapped to the real one until another is touched. Another gesture would mean – switch to the virtual knob for as long as it's touched, then revert to the previous assignment.

  • Chris Thorpe

    The first line of my post above should have ended "mighty set of knobs". Not only do I resort to childish double entendres, but I can't even spell.

  • Was the monome really that influential? It seemed elitist because of it's limited edition nature. What prominent music makers use it besides Daedelus?

  • salamanderanagram

    flying lotus
    pretty lights
    there's nothing elitist about it at all. it's simply a small company that can't afford huge production runs and doesn't support that type of business model even if they could.

  • Cool, but I feel as a total idiot, I don't get what that surface really is, I guess I'll google "monome"

  • Emmanuel

    And many more than this.
    The monome community have some really cool artist ! Check them !
    This knobs make me a boner but i don't see my setup with less than 8 knobs !

  • bitbit

    this is a joke, right? 2 knobs?


    i guess there really is a lot of easily influenced people out there. what a great buisness opportunity!

    i'm going to make & sell my own controller: 1 button. stainless steel. 12 inches by 12 inches. super high clicking resolution. i'm going to call it the "sheep controller"

    only $499 retail. watch for it

  • GreaterThanZero

    I'm not interested in owning a stainless steel button.  Something more spongy might be easier on the hands.  But your idea has potential.  What constitutes "clicking resolution"?

    If you're describing a genuinely sensitive hand drum that reliably reports more than 127 levels of velocity and continuous pressure data, at speeds faster than MIDI's 31250 baud communication limits, I'd have practical use for that, and I'd consider your price point.  If I could get the X and Y coordinates of each hit on top of all that, it's a steal.  And we haven't even touched on the subject of visual feedback.  What's your offering there?

    I still wouldn't buy in immediately, because you're not a known quantity, but if early adopters are satisfied with your support and service, sure.

    Trust is earned, for we are not sheep.  But once earned, what's wrong with trust?

  • whooo…
    soo purrdy
    this has a lot of potential….
    endless decoupled possibilities…
    i'd love to see a compressor implementation…
    level feedback around the control knobs..
    brian and kelli are genius… 
    monome=rad stuff and rad folks… you lose 

  • I can see lots of applications due to the LEDS and their 16 levels. A sequencer maybe. 

    1st knob choose step and display all steps with different light levels for notes.

    2nd knob sets note, press the knob, set 1st CC, press again set second CC, press again set length of note. Divide this knobs led-feedback into four sections displaying the data of these 4 parameters and let the one you edit blink.

    I am probably gonna buy a 2 knob version.

  • I think that the real impact will only be measurable once the price is known. I look forward to hearing someone make some music on these things!

  • I think with a well designed interface having "only" two encoders will be fine. As the encoders also act as toggles so you can create push-turn-release gestures. You can time button presses to take "double click" type operations into account as well as figuring out the speed of the encoder movement. The LEDs with 16 independent brightness levels will give you some amazing visual feedback options. I can't wait to see some Arc-only applications. I sense a lot of people will use it combined with a Monome or their existing set-up but there is potential for some serious new ideas to develop. Paradigm shift anyone?

  • bitbit

    you people are all acting as if knobs have never existed before. paradigm shift? please.

    understand that if you're interested in this thing, it's because it looks stylish and cool. but if it's functionality you're after, there are and have been millions of other options available. even in the realm of 'stylish looking' there are things like the previously mentioned Powermate (Stretta is even using the Powermate as a stand-in for the Arc in his video, for gods sake!) or something like the Kenton Killamix.

    like the Monome, the Arc provides a poor, undifferentiated user interface for precise work. are you really going to be counting all of those light up led ring increments onstage or in the studio? are you really going to be able to visually diffentiate between adjacent brightness levels?

    and so if the visual feedback is not terribly useful, why not just use a more traditional knob and let your ears be your guide? and if visual feedback is more critical, then wouldn't a touchscreen controller be far more useful, or a knob with an lcd display that displays actual digits so you know exactly what values you're sending out?

    i think these things are well built and cool looking, but that's pretty much where the value ends. they're not enabling you to do anything that you can't already do right now, and all this breathless prose and excitement gets to be a bit much, really.

  • Edward

    @bitbit  I am right there with you on being astounded by the excitement over a couple of knobs.

    Half the people on the message boards are describing products that already exist, are much more functional and programmable and are probably going to be cheaper (like the nocturn).  I guess you might be able to do some interesting things like showing the impact on an audio signal in the LED as you turn the knob which is mapped to a compressor but come on, these are gimmicks and really just inferior ways of using things already displayed on your screen in a much more usable fashion, especially when a max patch is going to be required to work as a go between the device and your environment.    A sequencer on a knob, it should be a hoot watching people force themselves to love and accept this thing.

    I can accept buying one with the perspective of "hey, it looks cool to use pretty aluminum knobs set in wood", but not the whole "paradigm shift" aspect.

  • I'm wondering if anyone would ever notice Arc if it wouldn't be made by the Monome creator… I don;t see it as any kind of revolution, honestly…

  • …………

     wahhmbulance is on the way homies…
    awesome, sustainable, amazingly supported products are gimmicks??
    plastic china made controllers are better because they were here first??
    cheaper means better???
    a touchscreen is more suitable than tactile interface???
    decoupling lights from controller is inferior??
    clean and well designed is lame???
    ok then…. 
    dont buy it… stop whining…

  • strunkdts


  • I can't think of any immediate uses for it that I can't already do on one of my many control surfaces, but i'm looking forward to what clever people do with the extra resolution and a bit of enthusiasm.

    Personally i'd love to see a 4×4 or 8×4 monome style grid of these things. pressable and twistable? sounds like the ultimate analog style sequencer to me.

  • GreaterThanZero

    Touchscreens are more versatile, but less responsive; especially so over wi-fi.  Laptop screens display more, but there's an unnecessary disconnect between the thing you're manipulating and the thing you're looking at.

    That said, the protocols have already been announced, and if no one's working on an iPad based emulator yet, the whole world's gone crazy.  This won't hurt the arc, any more than emulators running monome software on any number of devices have hurt the monome.  

    Point being, I'm sure you'll have a chance to preview and work with the apps we develop,  Hold off until then to decide if they benefit your workflow (or whether a dedicated piece of hardware would improve them enough to be worth your while).

  • Not attacking anything or taking a stand here, however I'm seeing a lot of talk about the "high resolution" of OSC based knobs, and how much better it is to have resolution higher than midi. What I'd like to know: is anyone currently using a system utilizing better-than-midi resolutions to control some aspect of the system, and if you are, what advantages (if any) do you feel it imparts. Personally I've found it nearly impossible to move a knob 1/128th of it's range, and so I don't see much point to a higher resolution. 

  • BirdsUseStars: If you are setting start and loop-points for samples you will see why 128 values isn't nearly enough. And  a more common example. When you slightly detune an oscillator from another to get a real slow beat going between them, with just 127 steps the sound-engine will feel a bit static compared to a real analog controlled one. For me it is the resolution that makes all the difference to bring out the subtle things, to make it feel more like an instrument instead of just a box of 7-bit knobs…

  • Except that an infinite knob isn't limited to 127 steps, that's just the *resolution*. In other words, you have to turn it more than 2.8 degrees to see a value change. But you can go as many steps in either direction as you need, because the knob is only sending +1 or -1 messages every 3 degrees or so.

    The question still stands, for an infinite encoder, has anyone found a use that really requires a higher resolution?

  • And as an avowed minimalist, I have to say that Code is still a lot closer to what I want from a controller than Arc is. This seems like a pretty specialized tool.

    Minimalism has its limits – does anyone think that the Moog Source had a better interface than the Mini?

  • Well, the appeal of this is that it's not just 2 MIDI-assignable knobs. That's boring and has been done before. The arc will excel at doing things other than moving virtual knobs.

    From my post on the monome forums:
    physics based apps? a short, fast twist could send an LED rotating around the knob, triggering a MIDI note or something each time it passes 12 o'clock. Switch notes via the other knob (or monome, or elsewhere) and you can get a little sequence going with polyrhythms depending on the acceleration of the twist.

    See what other ideas people have here:

    This hasn't been done before. The Code is a different beast, more of an elegant bcr2000. The arc isn't aiming to be just a controller, but an instrument as well, or whatever other use you can come up with.

  • anechoic

    tip: if you are handy with a soldering iron and can do light metalwork you can build something like the Arc with up to 16 input devices – sans the LED light show of course:

  • Peter Kirn

    Yes, you can make something that has knobs on it; that's a given.

    The variables would be:
    * quality of construction, materials
    * resolution, though as others have pointed out, that's a not necessarily going to make sense for everyone

    Generally, the obstacle to high-resolution encoders is not transmission – if you really want, you can do MSB+LSB with MIDI and get more than 128 steps. It's been the encoder itself, and how reliable a reading you can get when you up the resolution.

    For that reason, I'm withholding my own judgement until I feel it.

    And physical construction is going to be an enormous variable. You can make all kinds of things absurdly cheap or absurdly expensive, and everything in between, because of how you do the housing.

  • Watson

    just to further blow the out the concept of "its just two knobs!!!" is that this will do absolutely nothing out of the box! mwa ha ha ha! brian and kelli are laughing in their champagne filled hot tub now.

    let us not forget that this device taps into the monome community, without whom the monome itself would be just a box of buttons that does nothing. well, brian did make a few apps too so…

    these two (or four) knobs are open source. the paradigm of "its just two knobs" has been handed to us sheep by the companies that make controllers. the arc will be something much more, based on the applications the community makes!

  • The way I wrap my head around the arc is that it's best use would be as an accessory for someone who already has a monome. I'm sure it's fine on it's own, but being able to toggle to different parameters or functions with the buttons of a monome, while altering them with the arc makes the most sence to me. 

  • @Charles – the example with Moog Source is very good – isn't it better to have every necessary "parameter" under dedicated knob, than to have one knob and switches to change the parameter that it changes?… Don't we all know how annoing it is to use multi-page menus and jog wheel?

    About the resolution and using it to create sequences or even play with it, I don't buy it. People seem to be excited with idea of playing music by waving hands in the air or sliding fingers on touch screens/ribbons, but if these ideas are so good, why electronic instruments moved from Theremin- and Ondes Martenot-style controll to something more musically accurate – keyboard?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all about searching for new ways of performance and control, but to me this "class" of ideas seem to be dead end.

  • Peter Kirn

    @BirdsUseStars: No, that's my suspicion, that Arc will be primarily popular as a monome companion. And given the size of the monome community and the small scale of production, it's likely those are the folks that'll pick it up.

    That said, I do remain intrigued by what you can do with less, generally speaking.

  • Edward

    The funny part is that people keep talking about programming the notes in sequencer with these knobs … of which there are only 128 notes, which would be a waste of high resolution knobs and is something i have done with my cheap plastic knob boxes; one knob controls the sequence position, another knob selects the note.  Even with low res knobs I found this difficult to program once implemented because trying to select one out of 128 values was still too much.  The only why it worked was to slap a midi plugin on the end of the chain that would push/pull the notes into the proper key.

  • As always I have no idea what you are doing, only that it is beautiful. this is one of the better monome vids. keep up the good work.

  • inspiral

    It's a simple, beautiful, quality gear. I'd like to see this kind of clear-out style as many areas as possible. I cannot afford it and it's price/value index is way to low comparing to other available controllers.

    I think the 2 hands – 2 knobs explanation is… well, just explanation. So unplug everything, including your monome as well. And start to play with these 2 knobs. 😉
    For sure it can help you to develop a certain practice to be more expressive with less option, but you can do this with a Korg nanopad as well. Just using 2 knobs…