The new Lemur v2 firmware powers an interactive setup with Ableton Live, with some help from the Live API.

Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation saw this coming – computer display interfaces were destined to allow direct touch from all your fingers, with no mouse or stylus or clunky single-point interface intervening. Jazz Mutant’s Lemur multi-touch hardware was arguably the first widely-available commercial solution to enabling this kind of control of music and performance. Now, several years after the launch of Lemur, multi-touch is mainstream. Apple’s iPod touch and iPhone already support it in hardware costing as little as US$200. Microsoft promises built-in support in Windows 7. HP says computers and displays are imminent. Many others will follow.

But if you want multi-touch to work for music, what’s the best approach? The dedicated multi-touch Lemur controller (and its Dexter sibling) has won over support from some musicians and multimedia artists for specifically catering to their needs. Various celebs have been spotted using them – recently we saw Justice rocking a pair in Rio.

What defines the Lemur is that you don’t use it like a conventional display. Instead, you create interfaces from pre-defined building blocks – the virtual equivalent of adding physical faders and knobs to DIY controller hardware. To me, that’s been paradoxically both its strongest and weakest point. The strength is, the display focuses on controls that make sense for performance and can be easily manipulated with fingers. The weakness is, you’re limited to these widgets – and, increasingly, the Lemur has to compete with mainstream hardware displays that have no such limitations. As mainstream hardware grows, it puts more pressure on Lemur.

In the meantime, though, Lemur’s creators keep improving the available widgets. The biggest firmware update yet, v2 has just hit beta, with the finished firmware available by the end of the year. It’s a free update for Lemur owners, so a no-brainer there. New in this release:

  • Breakpoint object for manipulating multi-segment envelopes
  • Gesture object: gesture recognition, pinching, rotating, and finger tracing
  • Tabbed container: Now, instead of switching endlessly between control pages, you can fit different sets of controls into tabs
  • Mouse/keyboard remote control: keyboard shortcuts and mouse movements now become possible directly from the Lemur

In addition, it’s easier to edit Lemur pages more quickly, aliases of objects save memory, and multi-line scripting beefs up custom options.

It’s really good stuff, which makes me wonder: does Jazz Mutant have the ability to support other third-party hardware if it becomes available?

In the meantime, there isn’t actually any direct equivalent for the Lemur, at least not with this screen size. I imagine those with the cash who want to use a futuristic interface rather than just speculate about it will continue to snap up Lemurs. For the rest of us, it’s interesting just watching the development.

Jazz Mutant [Company Site]