There’s plenty of rightful skepticism about the use of mainstream displays for multitouch in general purpose computing. And why not? As a full-time replacement for other input, multitouch probably doesn’t make sense. But for music, the equation is changing. Multitouch capabilities are showing up on commodity-priced PC computers like the multi-touch enabled HP laptop models – the tx2z seen here starts, incredibly, at US$850. And because computer musicians are looking for more control, having a touch-enabled display (even single-touch) just makes sense.

The screen for a laptop musician is a huge piece of real estate. Finally, instead of sitting dumbly in front of you glowing, it can become an X/Y controller or give you shortcuts for controls or provide additional parameters. Yes, using a touchscreen exclusively can result in the dreaded “gorilla arm.” The ergonomics of using a vertically-oriented screen are extremely poor – if you use it exclusively for an extended period of time. But if you look at the way people are using these touchscreens, for incidental control in combination with other things – and the ability of convertible laptops to transform into a horizontal orientation – I think this is no longer the deal killer it once was.

At top, an HP laptop ($850) plus the free version of Sensomusic’s Usine is all you need to create a multitouch interface for Ableton Live. Correction: right now this is limited to single touch only, but multitouch is supported in the hardware, in drivers, soon in Windows 7, and support is promised for a future version of Usine. The point still stands — as does the ability to optimize controls for your fingers. Being able to use more than one at once will, of course, be that much better.

Fractal (see Myspace) uses the combination to play Ableton Live with some simple controls. If you get hooked on Usine, you can get the full “Pro” version for EUR70 with additional patches and objects.

The one major remaining obstacle to multitouch, at least, is cost. If you don’t especially fancy buying a new HP laptop, add-on kits still run in the range of US$800-900 (meaning, ironically, you might as well just buy the HP instead). Laptop vendors are still slow to adopt the technology, though that could change when Windows 7 ships later this year. (On the other hand, tablet PCs, even when they were shipping in relative quantity, often were constrained in available configurations and either skimped on specs or demanded a significant premium.)

But let’s not complain too much. The simple reality is you can add an HP laptop now to a live rig as a performance instrument for under a grand.

To see something else with Ableton Live, here’s a video by Andrew Coenen from earlier this year of Pance Party’s Bartelby playing Live with the open source Max Multitouch Framework. This is a more sophisticated setup – it requires a table-style setup using the Frustrated Total Internal Reflection tracking method. But the idea is basically the same. (By the way, Max 5 is an optimal choice because of its excellent widgets, and it’s great having this choice, but it’s a little odd having an “open source” framework in proprietary software. If you want a fully open source solution, there are options like PyMT, which we recently saw on Create Digital Motion. And that said, there’s no reason you can’t try out both.)

And yes, someone has done Reason, too (poor-quality video, but gives you an idea).

Updated: As I’m posting this, I see that Oliver Chesler is writing about how effective touch interfaces can be for synthesizers – just using iPhone as the example (but the idea still holds). And, in fact, you don’t necessarily even need multitouch to make this work; single touch would be effective.

The example: an upcoming iPhone/iPod touch synth from the folks who gave us the Curtis granular synth, The Strange Agency.

Sound Scope Space for the iPhone [Wire to the Ear]

Sound Scope Space demo from strange agency on Vimeo.

Of course, I have to point out at this point, this is another reason that OSC (OpenSoundControl) support becomes essential. Whether or not conventional gear vendors adopt OSC, it’s a logical way to deal with the growing number of touch-enabled devices, from your own display to your iPhone.

I expect this could all accelerate as we near Windows 7′s release. (You don’t need Windows 7 – HP is doing just fine without it – but the presence of in-box APIs for paging through photo galleries and the like is almost certain to encourage Microsoft’s hardware partners.) Stay tuned.

More Examples

$200 Makes Your Laptop Touch-Enabled; Usine Music Demo

Sensomusic Usine + Ableton Live = Modular Touchscreen Interface

  • http://wonderewereldvanbenny.blogspot.com/ Benny

    Are there any good multi touch screens that you can connect to a laptop?

  • J. Phoenix

    Forgive me for asking if its obvious to everyone but myself… But why exactly would we need Usine to control Ableton Live?

    I can't help thinking that if anything you can access with a mouse is able to be manipulated, then its not so much a stretch to control my faders, knobs, x/y with a multitouch enabled PC by itself…or am I missing something?

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

    @J. Phoenix: Good question –

    Three potential problems with using Live alone:

    1. Live's UI I expect is only single-touch enabled.

    2. Even with scaling (just introduced in Live 8), you may find some of the Live controls difficult to manipulate with touch.

    But most importantly,

    3. You may want to choose which parameters you control. Take a look at the layout — it picks out certain parameters to control, and even combines sets of parameters into single controls. That sort of dashboard of controls isn't possible to create in Live alone.

    It will be possible in Max for Live to create your own dashboard of controls, but then the question is how to make M4L multi-touch aware. (the Max Multitouch Framework is not designed, as far as I know, to work with the display directly — it's more for a separate tracking apparatus. So that's a non-trivial problem.)

    Anyway, Usine gets you around all three of these problems, right now, today, with any version of Live with MIDI control. And it's free – you just need a PC. Not bad.

  • http://www.3amnoise.net/runagate runagate

    How about:

    4. It's not just Live you can control. It's whatever you want. I use it for VST parameters, mostly. How about changing the order of effects in your signal chain on the fly, using one button on the screen?

    5. What is controled on the dashboard is whatever combination of things you want and, with OSC, might even be on a different PC on your network. I wish I could chain multiple towers together on stage! Or external midi gear…

    6. This is also not the only possible "dashboard" – you can create whatever GUI elements you want and make then look however you'd like.

    Now I have a big questio:

    The potential of multitouch is *gestural* multitouch control… imagine all sorts of shortcuts, for instance a gesture to "switch to multitouch panel 2" with a three-finger "knob turn" gesture. I won't get into details (I have pages and pages, I've been awaiting this forever!) but if you get what I mean by that statement you're probably excited, too.

    Now Jazzmutant – they have multitouch plus *pressure* which makes it 3D. And, possibly, velocity sensitive. I'm curious as to whether their cell phone sized screen has an accelerometer and/or bluetooth.

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

    4. Generally correct — uhhhh, order of effects is trickier (think instantiating plugins, etc.) if you're talking within a host, but yes, within Usine, absolutely. And you might want to control Live AND something else, even if you're using Live. Or you might have an array of things and like to perform with a consistent interface.

    5. Yep. And you can do exactly what you're describing.

    6. Correct.

    Gestures are absolutely possible, too. Some of that support is baked into Windows 7. But for the amount of power you might like with music and visuals, I think you might want to cook up your own gesture analysis.

    JazzMutant does not have pressure currently. They may in future devices (i.e., not the Lemur). I think the product from Stantum is just a screen, but you could add accelerometer or Bluetooth to the device itself.

  • http://www.wiretotheear.com/ Oliver Chesler

    Every time I see cover flow on my Mac I smile because it's surely there because touchscreen Mac's on on the way.

  • Daniel Videla

    The level of ignorance PETER KIRN show some times is amazing!

    Usine no support multitouch………. just buying multitouchscreen not add multitouch support.

    After you kill that guy create monotouchlive software now all this "NEW IDEAS" are ok for you? wow! you really sucks!

    YOU KILL THAT GUY , WHO IS THE REAL PIONEER AFTER JAZZMUNTANT……..JUST YOU KILL HERE IN THE BLOG AND YOU JUST NEVER TEST THE SOFTWARE HE WROTE………AND NOW ALL IS OK?

    And software for iphone what is exact copy of lemur concept (now with the editor for customizable layout is 100% plagiarism)……………..but now is ok FOR YOU?

    YOU REALLY SUCKS!

    YOU KNOW THAT?

  • http://Abrightfearlesssunrise.blogspot.com Birds Use Stars

    Daniel, don't hold back. Tell us what you REALLY think

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

    Daniel, normally I'd consider deleting a comment as over the top as that, but since you apparently haven't actually been following the site:

    http://createdigitalmusic.com/2009/05/01/monotouc

    One short post I made in 2006 did not "kill" monotouchlive. Things get criticized online, period — your comment rant being an example of that; I got criticized all the time and hasn't "killed" me, either. I've already done a followup post (above) and went as far as apologizing. Let's drop this, unless you have something relevant to add.

  • 23fx23

    at daniel:

    usine should be soon mutitouch, and it's free, not like this "pionneer" selling his template, we make free patch here, monotouch live was certainly not the invention of touch interface, they exist since touchscreen exists,anyway what does it mean "you kill.." nonsense.

  • 23fx23

    dlike to add i tested monotouchlive and it's nice but nothing compared to usine wich is full modular, monotouch is just a template, a pricey template imo..

  • alby75

    yes for me Usine is the most exiting experience since many years.

    The modular approach is very efficient. I'm impatient to get the multitouch version.

  • ElPat0

    Hi all.

    Hey Peter, the problem '2' can be solved (only in windows) with a handy app programed by Daniel, a german guy as seen on the live forum:
    http://forum.ableton.com/viewtopic.php?p=364919

    The application, named Pen2Live, enables a new level of precission touch for wacom devices into live. Works with the finger also!

    And it seems that will be future develope to multitouch support.

    Find it @ http://tinyurl.com/Pen2Live1-3

  • ElPat0

    (To work with the finger u must let the center button pressed on ur mouse)

  • http://www.tonvibration.de tonvibration

    Ha, again a touchscreen discussion. As a lemur-user I smile and lay back. OK, I bougth this dinosaur one year ago and it wasn´t a easy decission – 2000 bucks. But till now it is the only multitouch screen with a acceptable size and a editor non-programmers can use. Thanks… that article affirmed my decission;)

    (btw: new video where I explain my ableton live surface http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIBp8_mEUh8)

    Anyway Usine is great! …and it is propably the future. But I´m wondering that this is the only app for the upcoming Touchscreenarea till now.

    Touchscreen won´t replace all other controls – I still like (and use) hardware encoders for some uses. And the main advantage of a touchscreen is the flexibility of the controlsurface. Therefore you need a good editor to build that controls. And it takes time to build that controls you have less for making music. But building these controls is like to distill your music to the relevant controlls and that is a creative process. So just using the programm surface (eg ableton live) migth not be the best way.

    To me by building my own control surfaces my music changed. It is not getting "better" – as I say in the video – but I get new ideas…and thats what I love!

  • http://www.tonvibration.de tonvibration

    ups, Videolink doesn´t work… try here

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIBp8_mEUh8

  • http://www.stackinpaper.com keeb$

    All I have to say is: CrunchPad!!!

    http://gizmodo.com/5207334/all-about-the-crunchpa

  • 23fx23

    here is a little example of controlling live a way live alone would n't allow, sequence,trigger clips and record automations on touchscreen
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIMOLI2eTQ4

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

    Great examples, guys! And I was unfamiliar with that Wacom solution; very nice, indeed.

    I also have to agree that the Lemur can help explore ideas, and despite its price, it's still an interesting option.

  • ElPat0

    Yep… a lotta great videos :)

    I found this:
    http://www.n-trig.com/Content.aspx?Page=Multi_Tou

    (If someone has the Win7 beta and wanna try….)

    It looks apple will have to run a bit more in this race.

    Lemur is amazing… but it´s time it´s closer to end each day.

  • http://www.myspace.com/nayseven nay-seven

    what i really appreciate in Usine is the fact that i can built my own interface , there's graphic tool like knobman ( freeware too..) who provide a good way to create your own knob and fader . But the most important in this history is Music and new interactivity we have with our computer . and as said tonvibration " Usine is propably the future " ( and it's yet the present for more and more of us…;-)

    i confirm…

  • http://www.myspace.com/tooltablist Mudo

    For me touch surfaces are a good complement not an alternative for all.

    Just my2cents.

  • http://pooteeweet.org DJ SD

    Now this is exactly where I wish things would run on top of Linux. That would be awesome. I do not want to have a Windows running underneath a laptop that is fully dedicated to being a OSC/MIDI controller. No need to waste precious ressources. Any thing going on here?

    I know that Linux has multi touch support. As it evident in the fact that Android sort of has support for it:
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-10161312-37.htm

    Now what is missing is an app that provides an easy templating solution (well for all I care it doesnt even need to be easy for now .. just some XML syntax .. maybe a specialized XUL syntax) and an app that reads this out, displays the controls and sends OSC/MIDI via Ethernet.

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

    Linux having multitouch support has NOTHING to do with Android. There is zero multitouch support in Android. The idea that Apple nixed it has been widely debunked. The hardware is barely capable of it, and it wasn't disabled in the OS — it didn't exist at all at the software level, either.

    What DID happen supports what you're saying, though — namely, someone wanted it so went in there and wrote it himself. ;)

    I'm sure there will be more Linux support. The important thing about Windows 7 is that it's likely to get lots of cheap hardware out there. Linux depends on developers, who depend on hardware which they typically buy out of pocket.

  • http://pooteeweet.org DJ SD

    Well it certainly does have something to do with it, as Android runs on Linux (which you obviously know). Anyways I just used it as evidence that multitouch on Linux exists, since that was the first example that I remembered from the top of my head, googeling "linux multitouch" obviously gives plenty of other results.

    But sure, there needs to be drivers for the various different hardware implementations that are likely to pop up with increasing numbers once Windows 7 is out. I hear Snow Leopard is also so getting an more sophisticated API that developers can leverage. Though until Apple actually provides some hardware to go along, there will probably be little software based on this.

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