Grids and roots – a close look at the monome 128. Photo (CC-BY) bm.iphone.

They’re not great in number – only a handful of producers have monome hardware, scattered across the globe. And their obsession is unique, the boutique grid (and now encoder) creations of Brian Crabtree and partner Kelli Cain. But in the latest signs of how committed this community of artists is to using these hardware interfaces for DIY software and to doing it with one another, the monome community has been busy. They have a new compilation, the first experiments (via monome maestro stretta) with the new arc, and now a festival planned for New Mexico in May.

arc Sounds

Let’s skip straight to the news of the arc. stretta, who created many of the most popular patches and music with the original monome, now gets his hands on the two encoders of the arc. (As seen on Synthtopia.) Previously:
Arc: New Music Controller in Video, Detailed Q+A with monome Creator Brian Crabtree

While I’m intrigued by the arc, I do have to sympathize with the skepticism we’ve heard around it, too. The monome’s grid brought a clear compositional paradigm, and, especially in kit form, was accessible for musicians. The arc is pricey, hard to acquire (in extremely short runs), and seems more a companion to the monome than a complete control paradigm on its own. It’s so minimal – with two or four high-resolution encoders ringed by lights – that it lacks some of the self-contained cleverness of its monome predecessor. For those who do love it, though, I’ve been anticipating for a while how the force of their faith in this design might translate to actual music. As I pointed out before, an automobile is controlled with just two pedals and one very big wheel. (Well, at least in the automatic-transmission United States.)

stretta does some beautiful design with it and a granular patch, dialing in both rich textures and rhythmic beats.

More details at his blog:

The software here – as has always been the case with the monome – is an essential part of the equation. What the hardware does is to provide a way of touching that digital realm. stretta describes his work with Grainstorm, the patch he produced for the arc, and something I imagine might inspire some of you even if the arc itself does not. He writes:

I like to work with my hands. This is one reason why I enjoy working on the modular. The monome arc advances the ideal of touching sound, to be able to meaningfully improvise with audio in real-time, to sculpt like clay.

He also writes:

I have a bit of trepidation about something monome related appearing on music technology blogs because the reactions I’ve seen recently have gone non-linear. In other words, there are people that are not capable of judging something monome-related on its merits, rather, they are reacting out of existing prejudice. Of course, this isn’t the exclusive domain of monome, some people will have something against ANYTHING out there, whether it comes from Avid, Behringer or myself, but the problem seems particularly acute with the monome.

What? Music technology blogs? Where? Quick, duck!


Actually, I think the key line is the last one. The problem isn’t acute at all with the monome. The difference is, whereas traditional forums have covered technologies from vendors like Avid, most of the heated discussion gets funneled through, well, for monome at least, this site.

I could simply refuse to post the above video. I also have the power to turn off comments on this post. I don’t think either is appropriate. For whatever powers of overexposure the Internet may have, it also affords its readers near-infinite abilities – barring direct censorship – to look at anything else they choose. And as for comments, I still have faith in the open forum, even if it isn’t always pretty.

So, please, stretta, don’t quit the Internet, and don’t let the turkeys get you down. Critics, criticism is a worthwhile activity – put it in terms that let people consider your actual criticism rather than just get defensive.

A Community Compilation and Festival

In other news, the monomists have put together both a community-built, eclectic compilation, and plans for a festival in New Mexico.

The compilation is available free on Bandcamp, featuring artists Gaubie, Ghosts of the Field, Lokey, Watson, noiseflowr, 01100010b, CizreK, and Kristoffer Lislegaard. As noted in comments, this is a quickie, free compilation produced for the RPM challenge. (We covered that earlier – the idea was to make an album in 28 days). It’s quite nice, especially given the time allotment, and more is on its way:

And the gang is planning for Gridfest, an all-monome festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico, planned for the first weekend in May. They’ve got a Kickstarter out looking for funds, which can net you CDs or even a track or “monome flower” made just for you, among other prizes.

Gridfest at Kickstarter

In other words, even if The Internet sometimes rises up to criticize the monome movement, it’s also the medium through which a disparate, loosely-knit group of artists spanning hemispheres has been able to connect. It has probably made what would have been an isolated oddity into something bigger. Earlier in the Web revolution, we saw ever-more-select genres. Now, we’re seeing friendships form around specific technologies, paradoxically often spanning genres instead of narrowing them.

So, my main question isn’t for the monome community at all. It is, simply, what’s next? What other design — if any — might have a similar impact? And will lovers of other specific technologies come together in the same way?