The Lemur multi-touch touchscreen controller is the rare kind of product that breaks entirely from convention, raising fundamental questions about how we make music. It’s comforting in a way, then, to see disagreement about just how well the finished product works. After over a year of buzz, detailed in-practice reviews of the Lemur are emerging, including my review for Keyboard Magazine, and Jonathan Segel’s review for Electronic Musician. The two reviews reach somewhat different conclusions. Neither review gives an unqualified endorsement, but both see promise in the device — just different promise. And I have to ask a question: are physical controls like knobs really as limited as people seem to assume?

Jonathan notes some significant bugs in getting the Lemur to work, particularly with control assignments (including problems using multiple arguments with Reaktor). But his conclusion is ultimately positive:

“Using the Lemur as a control surface in live performance feels much more like playing an actual instrument than simply turning knobs or moving faders on a control surface . . . The Lemur is easily my favorite hardware controller, and I hope it becomes popular (especially so that the price will drop).”

My review for Keyboard also found assigning controllers to be unnecessarily difficult. But the primary difference between the two reviews is that I found the Lemur to excel at some tasks, but not at others, and ultimately concluded it was the future of computer interfaces, but not necessarily of musical instruments (at least not on its own):

“The Lemur suggests fantastic possibilities for certain tasks. ItÃÅ’s unparalleled for surround panning and X/Y timbral control, particularly if combined with another hardware controller like a keyboard or ribbon controller.

. . . For now, the challenge is that the LemurÃÅ’s features lie somewhere between a computer display and music controller, without effectively supplanting either one. The Lemur sacrifices the sensitivity and tactile feedback of physical controls in the name of flexibility, but that payoff is limited by the restrictions of its pre-built interface objects and the difficulty of configuring new layouts and assigning them to software controls.”

Do check out the entire reviews, as they’re now both online with full text and images (as there are far too many details of each to summarize here):

JAZZ MUTANT Lemur, Electronic Musician review

Programmable Multi-Touch Control: JazzMutant Lemur, Keyboard review