Having looked at two examples of what the Lemur multi-touch hardware can do, the videos above illustrate directly what I’m talking about when I describe two different approaches. Metrognome is an insanely-talented guru in the modular instrument/effects-building environment Reaktor. He’s working to build new live performance tools that meld live arrangement / remixing / DJing with a kind of computer meta-instrument. It’s really a great illustration of how software can become a live instrument. It also represents one of two paths in thinking about what touch can do for live music performance.

1. Multi-touch as virtual controller: The Lemur’s design assumes that what you want to do is create virtual hardware, using a stock set of knobs, faders, gestural controllers, envelope editors, and the like. The advantage is, these interfaces are modular and consistent. The disadvantage: you’re limited to pre-built screens and pre-built widgets, so you can’t do anything outside what’s given.

2. Screen as direct controller: The difference with the Reaktor examples is that there’s no intermediary. Whatever is on your computer screen is the interface. The downside: that includes all the usual UI clutter, and the open-ended possibilities could be overwhelming. The upside: as Metrognome artfully demonstrates, you can imagine any interface, build it, and immediately control it – including things the Lemur may not do. The other, not insignificant advantage: you don’t have to buy another piece of hardware, making this route much cheaper. Your screen or projection simply becomes the touch controller surface. Multi-touch isn’t quite ready for prime time on computers yet, but it could be soon.

I’m not saying one is better than the other. In fact, I suspect some people will prefer the Lemur approach even if it means spending additional money, because they want something that has some of the flexibility of a screen, but still behaves more or less like a dedicated controller. But I think it’d be a mistake to miss that we have two very different angles on touch here.

Of course, none of this stops you from building or buying a $50 or $100 knob box and being perfectly happy with that.

For more details on what Metrognome is doing (including an up-close shot of that beautiful ensemble), see our Kore minisite – and expect some more details on this soon over on that site, thanks to our Reaktor contributor Peter Dines:

Reaktor + Touchscreen = Touch Grains, Touch Performances, Wild UIs [Kore@CDM]