It had to happen — button triggering, as popularized by the monome, here meets a conventional two-channel DJ mixer. But the layout I must say is quite spare and lovely, the work of the Japanese-based PICnome project. Furthermore, it’s Open Source Hardware, covered as I have recommended by a ShareAlike Creative Commons license (with no commercial restrictions) and GPL v3. (The creator prefers the term “Free Hardware,” which I love theoretically but have avoided for fear of people demanding we mail them MeeBlips by sending us a self-addressed, stamped box.)

With clean, subtle markings and a nicely-composed layout, it’s hardware that doesn’t scream out its design with big decals or overblown features. It’s just a (colored) grid controller, similar to the monome, combined with controller setup laid out as a two-channel mixer, with the sorts of features you’d expect of each. I love the angled labels, at least aesthetically. (I should note that this is not related to the monome project; the monome is not open source hardware, though it works via open software and commercially-restricted availability to some schematics. It is, of course, deserving of credit for inspiring a whole generation of hardware.)

The controller works with both OSC (OpenSoundControl) and MIDI for maximum flexibility. And, incidentally, this could be an ideal live visual controller, too, especially with that native OSC support.

Good grief; I realize I filled this post with nothing but technical jargon. Hopefully, those of you who speak in such tongue-twisted terms have followed along, and everyone else just looked at the pretty pictures and video.

Carry on.

PICratchBOX – Sneak Preview [atelier.tkrworks]

Japan, hope to come visit you some day soon. Thanks, Regend, for the tip!

Courtesy tkrworks.

Update: Read in comments about some lingering frustration that the original PICnome project was derived from the monome; since the monome doesn’t permit the sale of derivative designs, that could be viewed as an abuse of the available specifications for the monome. In this case, based on what I see, however, I’m hard pressed to see this product as being subject to the same criticism by virtue of having buttons, unless there’s some detail I’m missing. If I am missing something, please let me know.

By the way, if you want to revisit the PICnome project and decide for yourself, that thread is still on the monome community. It’s not accurate to say as some commenters do that the PICnome was a “bootleg” or simple clone of the monome, as it was re-implemented on a PIC chip. The issue is that the product was then made available for sale, because it was built on monome schematics; while those are readily available, they are not licensed for this kind of use. The firmware is free for use; it’s covered under a GPL license, which is non-revocable. However, to my knowledge, those same concerns may not necessarily apply to this project.

To recap: the PICnome project indeed is technically incompatible with the intentions and licensing of the monome project, but the new PICratchBox should be fine. So, here’s to the PICratchBox, which is more interesting precisely because it’s something new.

It is my view that the original PICnome project violated the terms of the licensing of the schematics; whether because of a misunderstanding or not, that’s not something to condone. But the new project does not do so, in my view. I contacted monome’s Brian Crabtree and while we didn’t have an on-the-record conversation, he took no issue with that statement.

  • there has been a lot of bad blood with the PICnome project and monome. it is nice to see him moving the idea forward, and not just selling a clone. 

  • it's beautiful and just what the Selector ordered. i can finally stop lugging around my Korg padKontrol…can't wait!

  • Lu

    agree with active..

    I couldn't read any infos or see audio jacks so this is just controller isn't it? looks pretty sweet.. and as peter already mentioned would be awesome in a vj rig too..

    However I wonder if it really could control apps a la monome or if they're just buttons..

  • salamanderanagram

    i dunno, looks like he's moved on from ripping off the monome to ripping off the ohm64, but whatever.

  • Emery


    I don't see your point.  Just because it has a cross fader, buttons, and knobs, it's ripping off the ohm64?  If that were the case, every dj mixer on the market would be a rip off.  Anyways I think this is a much nicer looking unit, (than ohm64) for someone that wants to focus on a much more traditional sense of djing with room to practice new technics that utilize digital technology.  

  • Emery


    Like in the video ^^^^ 🙂

  • ed

    it's perhaps ironic that you highlight the partially-protected nature of monome's hardware, given that "the picnome project" consists solely of this guy building clone units and then flogging substantial numbers of them for personal profit.

    as far as i can tell, this is pretty much the only thing monome expressly discourage people from doing with their designs, and the only reason that they've got that commercial protection in the first place.

    i'll grudgingly admit that this new controller looks nice, but i'm left uneasy by your decision to grant the guy a whole bunch of free publicity, given how cynically he's exploited monome's work and tendency towards openness.

  • Korn

    Minor quibble here, but I'm pretty sure button triggering was popular long before monome's recent emergence. I see the homebrew/open source connection, but banging on squares to make sounds has been going on for long time.

  • Korn

    Also, I'm doubtful that device is a two-channel mixer. Looks like a controller in the shape of a DJ mixer, of which there are many other examples.

  • salamanderanagram

    @emery, yes, having a monome type device, with a crossfader and a decoupled LED/button grid in the center, and knobs and faders on either side is a direct ripoff of the ohm64/block. if he hadn't gotten his start by bootlegging monomes maybe i'd give him a little more benefit of the doubt, but since he expressly went against tehn's wishes in that regard, i won't.

  • salamanderanagram

    "i’ll grudgingly admit that this new controller looks nice, but i’m left uneasy by your decision to grant the guy a whole bunch of free publicity, given how cynically he’s exploited monome’s work and tendency towards openness."

    i couldn't agree more.

  • salamanderanagram

    "Minor quibble here, but I’m pretty sure button triggering was popular long before monome’s recent emergence. I see the homebrew/open source connection, but banging on squares to make sounds has been going on for long time."

    sure, there have been 4×4 grids around forever. as simple an innovation as it may seem monome was the first (to my knowledge) to have buttons with LEDs, where the LED state was not necessarily controlled by the button state. IE you can use the LEDs as a sort of screen, and the buttons as controllers.

  • Emery

    @ salmanderana

    Why not just start ripping on novation then, or akai?  Seriously, I don't know all the deetz of the monome and PICnome, but the idea doesn't come across as stealing to me.  Seems like a healthy growth to me.  If someone wants to take an idea and work/grow with it, then more power to 'em.  Otherwise there isn't many other company's that are making controllers that fit this demographic, period… As I see it there is NO reason to nitpick over this.  The question I ask is, have you seen another controller like this?  

  • 1. I need pad ….

  • Lu

    @ salmanderana

    You're definitely overreacting because its picnome.. ohm64? seriously? it's not even a monome grid in the middle..

    guillame FTW! ^^

  • Peter Kirn

    The monome didn't invent buttons with LEDs. Sorry. I don't have specific prior art on that, but we're talking something as fundamental as a switch. Switches have been tied to lamps indicated the position of switches since there were switches and lamps.

    I've added further clarification, but the observation about the monome license or lack thereof is a statement of fact. And it's essential – if the monome were under an open source license, this kind of derivative would be permitted. It is not under that kind of license, so this sort of derivative is not. And apart from both the letter and intent of the law, commenters are at least right in that that gives the original creator the exclusive authority to decide whether something like the PICnome is permitted.

    If you read the discussion on the forum, it appears there was at the very least some level of misunderstanding between the PICnome's creator and Brian Crabtree. At the same time, I don't think you can argue the PICnome was created maliciously – it may not have been a proper and allowed use, but it may have also been an honest mistake.

    Anyway, this is not directly my concern; reporting on the availability of a design is not an endorsement of the product or its maker, period, even if I may make some comments about liking something because it's pretty.

    If I were writing about this particular hardware and knowingly ignored some infringement of previous monome work, that would indeed be a problem. I don't see this project as infringing on the monome, because all I can see is buttons with LEDs. But I will contact Brian to find out if there have been any further developments with the PICnome or this.

    It's academic for now; the controller here is not yet available for sale.

  • Peter Kirn

    Also, let's be clear:

    Slightly simplifying, the monome schematics are not free for use. They're published, but not under a license that explicitly permits any reuse without permission.

    The monome firmware, on the other hand, is absolutely free for use, under the terms of the GPL. By making his firmware publicly available, Shunichi Yamamoto of the PICnome satisfied those license requirements.

    It's the schematics that are the issue. I think it's also problematic to use a name that is related to "monome"; it'd be safer to simply refer to something by a different name.

  • Peter Kirn

    Oh, and putting buttons, even light-up buttons, on something doesn't infringe anyone's rights.

  • Peter Kirn

    I'm going to stand by the headline — I think the monome-style applications make this more interesting. And it'd be a mistake to rob the monome project credit for the *software* it inspired, too, by being overly fixated by the hardware – beautiful and elegant as the hardware design is. Those software contributions are based on a freely-available protocol (implied, and explicit in the GPL license on firmware if that's covered), and have involved a community of developers who built upon Brian's ingenious mlr patch design with other ideas.

  • ed

    apologies if i've misunderstood how licensing the schematics works… perhaps "clone" wasn't quite the right word given that things have been ported over to PIC (a not insubstantial amount of work, for sure).

    also, yes, dubiousness in someone's past dealings shouldn't necessarily preclude you from featuring their current work on here… i struggle to think what CDM would contain if you excised *every* manufacturer about whom your readers had the slightest ethical qualms. You'd certainly be thin on Apple items for a start, right?

    I think a large amount of my unease is that monome is less about a grid of LEDs than brian and kelli's concepts of community and openness… it's the way in which that was side-stepped (although as you rightly say this might have been through accident rather than design), rather than the production of a button grid per se, which i found problematic.

    To then see someone continue to profit from this, whether financially or just in terms of wider exposure for their new projects, still feels unfair to me. Though I think you've highlighted a number orf areas where things might be slightly more ambiguous than i've inferred.

  • Peter Kirn

    The firmware itself is open source, so it's really not the firmware that was the problem so much as — and here I think PICnome was a clone — the schematic and product design. And that was an issue. I haven't heard, though, that's anything but water under the bridge and this project seems fine. The PICnome in my view, I agree, wasn't fine; it violated the terms of use of the schematics of the monome hardware.

    I don't think that the issue is that the PICnome sidestepped the "openness" of the monome; it simply didn't respect the licensing of the hardware. Technically speaking, the whole issue was that the monome hardware *wasn't* open; that's not a criticism, it's simply a matter of fact. If you look at open source hardware projects, the license terms permit exactly what the PICnome did — you can make and sell your own hardware, but you have to, as this creator did, publish your firmware and schematics. The PICnome did that. If it had been a MeeBlip, for instance – I'm not trying to sell our project, but just literally what our license says – it would have been fine. (They couldn't call it a MeeBlip, but that get into another problem — it shouldn't have used a confusing name. The new project doesn't.)

    That's what it means to be open source hardware, and that's why the monome isn't open source hardware. It's proprietary hardware with available schematics for people wanting to modify their own units, a terrific community, and open source firmware and (some of the) patches produced by the project and community.

  • Peter Kirn

    And just to be absolutely, positively clear —

    The monome isn't open source hardware.

    That's not necessarily a flaw. On the contrary, the point of a license is in my view to support whatever the goals and needs of the creator may be. 

    Giving away everything about what you do isn't necessarily the right decision for every project; it has serious implications that deserve serious consideration.

    And yes, when another project violates those terms — which is possible with open source projects, too (as in modifying GPL-licensed firmware and not releasing your version) — should be taken seriously.

  • in the end, this looks super fun and i would love to pick one up and play with it!

  • beautiful design… if this is a controller and not a mixer, then the fader quality looks impressive. turntablist-grade crossfaders often tend to get bypassed in midi controllers these days and pieces like this should be about quality of parts.

  • gust of wind

    it's called a PICratch Box? lol