JazzMutant’s Lemur touchscreen turned a lot of heads, at least as a concept: precise, multi-touch tracking that could follow all ten of your fingers independently, and interactive, custom controller touch layouts looking like something out of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That was the good news. The bad news: difficult assignments for OpenSoundControl (OSC), extra steps required for MIDI (especially in the early versions), controller layouts limited to pre-defined objects, no tactile feedback as with physical controllers, and a steep price (US$2500). Some dedicated electronic musicians loved it, and were willing to put in the time to use it. Many others just shrugged and stuck to far-cheaper, sometimes more-flexible hardware knobs and faders. Still, many at least acknowledged that the Lemur could be a first indication of the future of hardware, even despite its flaws.

Now, JazzMutant is back with something they call the Dexter? All-new hardware, right? Nope. The unit itself looks identical to the Lemur, which is too bad — part of what made the Lemur experience feel incomplete to me was its bulky and boxy case, which failed to reflect the innovation of the screen. A lower price? We just don’t know yet: pricing and availability is TBD.

What the Dexter is designed to do is to work more fluidly out of the box as a traditional DAW controller. There are pre-defined layouts for Cubase, Sonar, Logic Pro, Nuendo and Pyramix, and lots of new object features specifically designed to DAW editing.

Looking over what they’ve planned, I immediately see items that makes me say immediately say, “slick!” — and others that make me go, “huh?”

Track navigation: “The Track Edit mode offers a clear overview on all the parameters of an individual channel, including graphical EQ display, effects editing, bus sends, and surround panning.” Great, but mixing isn’t just about mixing — it’s about editing, too. And this gets back to the original limitation of the Lemur: because it’s an interface, not a screen, you wind up having to navigate your computer screen anyway. And physical control surfaces can still do editing.

Flexible layout: One definite advantage of touch-screens is additional flexibility: “… press the «View Solo» button to display only the soloed tracks on the screen. With Dexter, channels you don’t need never get in your way.” That’s good, but track groups and a motorized control surface can do the same thing.

Multitouch EQ: Now this is immediately cool. Using multi-touch, you can directly interact with EQ settings. The only issue is, most people are happy with conventional controls, and EQ workflows for engineering generally require the exact opposite of what Dexter does: normally, you’re fine-tuning individual bands in small increments, not because of the limitations of hardware, but because that’s the best way to get accurate results.

Multi-Touch Surround: Surround applications are to me the single most intuitive application of the Lemur and Dexter, and the new surround applications don’t disappoint. “Sound sources can naturally be moved around using the tips of your fingers in the most intuitive manner. Dexter also introduces novel ways of reshaping the whole surround soundscape through simple finger gestures. Rotation of all your sources can be achieved by manipulating the panner just like a spinning vinyl ! Drag two fingers apart to spray all sources away from the center.” Here’s where both multi-touch interfaces make sense to me. Whether JazzMutant is the future of surround or not, I think a lot of the innovation you see in surround will have to do with interface (both on the hardware and software ends).

Zoomable Faders: “You can now tweak in real time the resolution you want to acheive from one controller. «Zoom in» on your faders when you need that extra bit of precision in a mix. «Zoom out» when you’re looking for the widest range achievable. Dexter brings matchless precision to your mix that top-of-the-range physical faders just can’t compete with.” Fascinating — but do you really need this? Because volume changes are logarithmic and there are limits to human hearing in subtleties, I think I’d actually prefer a physical fader. Has anyone ever felt like volume faders on an analog mixing board, for instance, didn’t give them enough control?

It’s all an interesting re-imagination of applications for the Lemur. But to me, the strengths remain doing things that couldn’t be done before. Surround is squarely in that category, and sounds like it’d be plain fun for performance. It’ll be interesting to see price. But as Apple unveils the iPhone, you have to wonder how much longer JazzMutant will be the only multi-touch game in town — and, for that matter, with new conventional and non-conventional tangible hardware and haptic technologies on the horizon, always whether multi-touch alone is really the final frontier for control.

JazzMutant

  • http://www.retrothing.com/ James Grahame

    It all depends completely on the price. Anything more than about $500 and it's competing head-to-head with dedicated hardware control surfaces.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I'm guessing the price will be in the ballpark of the original. The hardware looks largely the same. The thing is, they really have developed a largely-proprietary device, at least from my understanding from them and others. That's expensive.

  • Todd Fletcher

    It strikes me as a solution in search of a problem. I use a Tascam FW1082, and this in conjunction with a mouse is a really good mixing solution. What the FW isn't good at, the mouse is.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Todd: Part of the reason I enjoyed the conversation the Lemur started is that I think tangible, traditional hardware is under-appreciated. It's just grown out of habit, it's designed in the way it is because of mechanical reason (e.g., the fact we even have things like pots) — all of this is true. But if you look closer at something you take for granted like a hardware mixer design, you see there's a lot about it that actually makes sense, and perhaps that's why it has endured.

  • Matt Stanton

    Yeah, when I heard that JazzMutant was going to announce new hardware at Messe, I was hoping they would have something more open than the Lemur, not (apparently) even more closed.

    Part of the problem with the Lemur is that the only tasks it makes easy are ones that hardware does just fine anyway. You want some faders? You got 'em. You want buttons? Sure. And the Lemur is very good at that. But if you want to get creative and experimental, you're fighting their API and pre-built widgets all the way.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Hmmm, no pre-defined layouts for Digital Performer? Sucky. I swear as of late it feels like I should've gone with Logic instead, but I just couldn't afford it. Did I get into the absolutely wrong DAW? I swear I look around, and everyones supporting Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, Logic Pro … but not Digital Performer.

  • Gustin

    DP does seem to be the ugly stepsister in the DAW world.

    I'd love one of these things, but the price point (at least of the Lemur) doesn't fit. It offers very little benefit over hardware, but with a large price increase.

  • leamas

    It's great they're pushing the envelope as far as hardware control is concerned. I would argue that integration with DAWs is not what they should be aiming for, as pointed out this is already well covered by all kinds of products at a similar price.

    What is appealing is the flexibility of the platform for controlling synths and effects. For example, I have seen a similar device which sent midi data based on the proximity of various onscreen object – it was a fascinating experience as you could alter so many paramers of a sound at once in ways which would be otherwise impossbile with only 2 hands.

    I can see why they think they need DAW integration to sell this to the mass market, but still…

  • dead_red_eyes

    Yeah leamas, if I got something like this that's what I'd primarily want to use it for … controlling synths & effects.

  • carter

    the lemur is not in the same world as other hardware control. Until you have played with the physical perameters of the touch screen objects you will not understand the true advantage of the lemur (attraction, friction, speed, attack, decay, sustain, release)

    Dexter is a easy way to look like you designed your touch interface…..

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Carter, not sure what you mean regarding Dexter.

    But as far as Lemur, a couple of observations. Real-world objects already have friction, mechanical resistance, physical, tactile feedback, three-dimensional handles and endcaps and widgets that are what our hands are most accustomed to manipulating. If you think about a knob, that's a natural extension of your hand. That's not to say what the Lemur is doing isn't interesting, but in fact, it *isn't* in the same world as hardware control.

    Now, that said, I'm a huge fan of adding virtual feedback, friction, attraction, and motion, and the Lemur does this. But you can do that with a simple Flash animation and a few lines of code. On a screen, in fact, you have unlimited possibilities for physics, visuals, and interactions. On the Lemur, you have a stock set of widgets. I love limitations, but to me these widgets either mimicked hardware that for me worked more effectively, or software effects that worked more flexibly.

    The primary advantage of the Lemur remains the multi-touch interface, and that is a very big deal. But the question is, why should it be so limited in flexibility rather than be a true interactive display? And the Dexter suggests an even tougher question: can it replace and not just supplant existing mixing hardware?

    To me, this is the most compelling when it's doing things other things can't, not trying to reinvent what they already do well.

  • http://www.protoolerblog.com stiff

    Yeah, this thing looks wicked! All this time there have been rumors about Logic 8 and touch screens, guess what! Now you CAN control Logic with touch screens!

    Musikmesse coverage at protoolerblog.com

  • daniel

    well… jazzmutant now they realize that selling lemur at ($2695 retail price at cycling74 or $2,500 on others retialers),, wont make to many profits to the company..they have notice that many users are more focus on control DAW to make music,than making complex interfaces ..a real fact is that jazzmutant only has 277 active lemur owners worldwide..thats very low percent of users,jazzmutant need a bussiness model in order to keep company going..i hope they low the price on both controlers lemur and dexter,becuase if they dont do it anther company will take the upper hand..maybe apple?

  • http://blog.trontronic.com/ Matt Stanton

    Peter — I mostly agree with you. I think the appeal of the Lemur, though, is that it puts (or tries to put) the strong points of software and hardware together in the same package. Yes, you can get richer tactile control with a box of buttons, and yes, you can get fast iteration time and configurability from other software. But, unlike the Lemur, neither of those will give you both tactile control and configurability in the same package.

    In the end, however, your point stands: the Lemur is frustratingly limited. Not only are you limited to a set of prefabricated widgets, but the widgets themselves resist creative reinterpretation. They do too much work to manage their own state, they can't be created or deleted on the fly, and the OSC messages they send and respond to are unwieldy. None of the Lemur's faults are beyond remedy, but it was when I started writing a Lemur UI library in Python to mitigate them that I realized just how ill-suited the Lemur was for my purposes. I ended up sending mine back.

    Daniel offers perhaps the most compelling explanation I've heard for JazzMutant's design choices. If I were them, I'd be terrified of Apple or someone else releasing a multitouch display that undercuts the Lemur on price. One sensible response to this worry might be to target one particular segment of the market where they can add value beyond the hardware. JazzMutant may have decided that DAW users in search of highly configurable control surfaces are their target market, that the JazzEditor and its widget collection are their value added, and that they're willing to cede other potential multitouch users to a lower-priced competitor when one enters the market. That's one theory, anyway.

  • james

    i just ordered a touchscreen overlay for my monitor (a 30" dell one) for less money than a lemur would've cost.. after a few months using a touchscreen laptop, mouse mixing and editting seems to painful for words. (literally as i have rsi now, but even without that..)

    the multi touch thing will be a million times more useful once it's part of the os. i hope apple doesn't monopolise this, because buying a 50% markup sweatshop-made computer would make me sad.

  • http://eshefer.com eshefer

    Well, from what I understood from the jazzmutant guys the price of the dexter is going to be higher then the lemur (to reflect development costs). when asked what do they feal are their direct competitors to the dexter the rep answered that highend daw interfaces such as the mackie control. that sort of makes sence, I guess.

    Dexter's OS is totaly different then the lemur, and they plan to have a dual boot option between the two os's.

    I've played with it a bit – it's very cool, you just have to see the surround mixing control, which might be a killer app for this perticular piece of gear.

    I personally agree that JM products are a bit out there, in terms of real world usage needs (taktility, high learning curve for the lemur, high price, accuracy which seemed to me somewhat flacky) – but still, JM seemed to me to be the most interesting booth at the messe.

  • http://indiedanceparty.com DJ McManus

    Could you not have a box with four independent monotouch (youknowwhatImean) screens all side by side like a window frame. Maybe throw a ribbon controller in.

    I still think running a mouse in each hand would rule!

    The guys in Kraftwerk aren't worried about looking like emailers on stage so why should you.

    Embrace the mouse! "Ride the mouse… to the lake … the mouse is long … seven miles … erm, sorry.

    Someone make an app that allows 2 usb mice to be recogized at the same time. That would be sweet. 2 trackballs?

    The Lemur looks cool but I'll never see one.

  • Damon

    Purchase 10 thousand packs of Skittles, and you get 1 of these for free. With proof of purchase, of course.

  • http://indiedanceparty.com DJ McManus

    Ahh Skittles, they aren't just for crackheads you know.

  • Vance Galloway

    For me, the appeal of the Lemur is the fact that the surface is so instantly reconfgurable – 32 faders one moment, 16 faders and 8 panners the next, 64 knobs the next…..

    In my live (meaning both in front of an audience and Ableton Live) setups, I often want to control 16 faders, and 12 aux sends from each fader, and parameters in 8 to 20 plugins. I have very elaborate MAX/MSP patches set up to help me achieve this using a simple (and CHEAP) BCR2000, but it's not quite satisfactory.

    The times I have worked with the Lemur it seemed that it would be entirely possible to set up a system that would be ideal. I also do most of my live sets in surround, so the Ball type controller is very attractive to me…..

    A multi-touch SCREEN would be nice, but I am not sure that some folks who are advancing this concept realize that you really need to create some type of custom interface for your applicaitons to be able to make effective use of a touch screen. Trying to control many of the standard on screen UI objects using a touch screen is really, really hard. You really need large, kind of clumsy, fat controls when using a touch screen. This has been one universal truth I have found while demoing/using/modifying/hacking dozens and dozens of different models in the last 5 years. It's way harder than it would seem to be. Then again, I HOPE someone will proove me wrong on this point sometime in the near future!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Hi Vance, I like the customization, definitely. One thing I hoped JazzMutant would add is the ability to move between screens using on-screen controls. Right now, you're restricted to the hardware buttons for paging through them.

    Yes, you need to adapt controls to a touch screen. I do know people who have used touch-screen monitors to produce interfaces — Tim Exile does it with Reaktor. This is single-touch, mind you, because that's what's available, but the finger width principle remains relevant.

    Look at how useful KAOSS Pads are, with NO interface and a simplistic X/Y grid (well, now a matrix layout). I think there are lots of possibilities here. There are also other gestural avenues the Lemur and Dexter haven't explored. So I think this area is far from exhausted, even in terms of what JazzMutant can do with their own technologies.

  • basshell

    I hope jazzmutant do well with the dexter…i own a lemur and it is one ov the best purchases i have made in the past year or two..

  • http://www.arisawkadoria.net surroundlive

    here it is I must do surround.

    i must get things! do i wait for apple

    or another company?

    should i get dexter?

    when is it out?

    is it the exact same as a lemur

    and then extra on top – or is it

    totally differant?

    are there any other surround mixers anywhere

    ever at all?