I heard David Zicarelli once describe Max as a blank sheet of paper – a canvas on which you can imagine any musical creation. Until now, though, there’s been no way to touch those creations directly – other than with a mouse.
Mira is a lovely solution to that idea. As users “patch,” visually creating tools in Max, objects that impact user interface interaction (knobs, faders, buttons, musical keyboards and the like) are visible both on your computer screen and on your iPad. You even can add images, new objects for multitouch and motion, text, and images. And you can create tabbed interfaces, in case your patch has a lot of different options.
The app works with Max for Live, too.
For those of us who have spent ages testing patches clumsily with the mouse, the potential is simply lovely. An iPad becomes an easel through which you can play your patches like an instrument.
Mira costs US$49.99, so priced at the same rate as Lemur. That does mean that you might want to consider Lemur if you aren’t exclusively working with Max for control. Lemur offers interactive scripting and unique objects and physics possibilities that aren’t yet in Mira. On the other hand, the Lemur workflow generally requires a lot more time and effort – you must manually attach parameters in a patch to controllers. Generally, it asks the user to think about the controller and patch separately. (That might actually appeal to some, while it doesn’t work for others.)
I’m going to begin to sound like a broken record, but I do think another essential solution will be for desktop software to support touch. Max runs on Windows as well as on Apple hardware. Being able to use these same objects with Max on Windows using new touch laptops – many of which finally sport low latency and high accuracy – would be even more seamless, and would require only one device.
But make no mistake: this looks like a very nice way to work.
Users of Pure Data – an open source cousin of Max – should check out PdParty.
It actually goes one step further: your entire patch runs on your mobile device (iOS or Android), along with an automatic rendering of the interface. The upside of this approach is that you can run on only one device, as with my Windows suggestion above. Of course, the advantage of the remote control-plus-laptop approach is, you can use the more-powerful processing and storage capabilities of your bigger machine. Tablets and phones can do a lot, but more processing-intensive patches won’t work.
It seems in time we may start to see a wider spectrum of these sorts of solutions, as all our creations become easier to touch.
Mira is available now on the App Store. It’s iPad only (no iPhone support), requiring iOS 5.0 or later.
More hands-on video:
Palm Sounds interviews the developer:
Launching Mira & Loving Patches: an Interview with Sam Tarakajian