Ever feel like you’ve found the seam dividing past and future?
The past: restrictive UI frameworks requiring pages and pages of code to produce dated-look 2D displays. Proprietary software with rigid interfaces. Input bottlenecked through the x and y coordinates of a single mouse pointer.
The future: UIs whipped together graphically or with a few lines of code. 3D mixed with 2D. Open-source, friendly frameworks. Creating your own interface or drawing upon a community of creative software makers. Input that uses multitouch for gestures, collaborative input, manipulation of 2D and 3D space, and … well, just a lot more fun.
There’s no need to wait around for the future. Creative software inventors are building it for themselves. Here are two of the most promising multitouch interface projects I’ve seen in my inbox.
In no time at all, you’ll be painting a cow! (Okay, more on that in a moment…)
Make Max Multitouch
Max Multitouch Framework by composer Mathieu Chamagne makes turning your Max patch into a multitouch interface a breeze. When I first reviewed the Lemur, I was frustrated by the hardware-style abstraction between your software and the interface. Why was I having to go through Max patches painstakingly assigning Lemur controls to Max controls – why not just make the Max controls appear on the multitouch screen? Well, that’s exactly what you get with MMF. Using a set of Max abstractions, all you have to do is build your Presentation Mode style UI and add in the MMF ingredients – it automagically becomes touchable on a variety of displays.
It’s not hard to imagine how great this could be for musicians, especially those who have already been building original sonic creations in Max/MSP. Best of all, you don’t need an expensive, non-portable table with a projector inside, either – commodity hardware works just fine right now.
Hmmm… apps that send (cough) TUIO, eh? Ah, yes, but that’s why you need companies like Apple to tell you what qualifies as useful in an iPhone app. You see, without Apple’s app review team and their superior wisdom, I might wrongfully assume this sort of app would be something I’d want. Now I know better – thanks! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Back to the on-topic discussion, this does demonstrate a real advantage of Max: it has its UI absolutely nailed, and the open-source alternative Pd is woefully behind. It also demonstrates that the beauty of Presentation Mode is, by abstracting the UI from the underlying guts, you can consider alternative interfaces. We should see that in Max for Live, as well.
Pd is fantastic in other ways, but if there’s anyone out there who fancies writing a lightweight new front-end, it could use it – perhaps in Python. Which brings us to the next item.
PyMT: Juicy Multitouch, Just a Few Lines o’ Code
PyMT is a glimpse of what future development could look like. While Microsoft putzes around with their Windows-only Surface, PyMT makes multitouch platform agnostic, open, and easy. That frees up artists to dream up creative new ways of applying this interface to expressive musical and visual creations (among others). Instead of reinventing the wheel as far as plumbing, you can focus on the reason for using devices in the first place – your art.
PyMT is profoundly portable, using Python and OpenGL to deliver windowing and multimedia features across platforms. Documentation and code are both under heavy development, but there are already some friendly-looking resources. This is almost enough to shake me from my loyalty to Java, though, in fairness, you can do some of the same things with Java and other tools. What’s most important is that there are libraries that are providing standards, like TUIO, and implementations in cross-platform languages that can be easily developed.
There’s good reason to be bullish on the future of this tech. And if you want to see it happen, don’t wait – you can get involved in the project directly.