stretta1_t

Looking at the monome hardware, it could be difficult to understand how a simple array of buttons has become the most important musical design of the decade. It’s been the software that has brought this to life, not least the work of stretta (aka Matthew Davidson).

In the early days of electronic music, the creation of modular systems for synthesizing sound was a major breakthrough. Today, we can produce modular systems for composition, for assembling the music itself. And in a world in which “more” is the key word, many of these systems, by design, do less, focusing on the essential.

stretta reached a major landmark late last week, with the release of the maxforlive monome suite. It’s a set of seven Max for Live devices, with variations, which can be dropped into Ableton Live for use in musical projects. But it’s also more than that – it’s a modular model for how stretta thinks, and each module is designed to be used with the others, all without ever having to take your hands or eyes off the monome controller. Included in the pack:

  • obo matrix step sequencer
  • pitches for playing notes on the monome
  • polygomé 64 for polyphonic, step-sequenced, transposing pitches
  • press cafe for repeating patterns of pitches
  • spectral display for blinking lights to visualize sound
  • step filter step-sequenced filter bank
  • automatorgator MIDI- and audio- and OSC- controllable pattern gate

Details and download link (no explicit license coming yet, but Matthew has promised an open license):

maxforlive monome suite released

I got the chance to talk to Matthew about the project, how he created it, how to approach using it, and what it was like working with Max for Live.

All photos by Matthew Davidson; released under a Creative Commons attribution license. Click the images for full-sized versions.

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stretta2_t 

CDM: Can you talk a little bit about what these modules are, and how they fit together, for someone who hasn’t seen them before?

stretta: Obo is like tonematrix as a MIDI plug in. I like analog sequencers because they are tactile. They’re limited, though, so the natural tendency is to add memory to them. I’ve never enjoyed the experience of an analog sequencer with memory. As soon as you add memory, the fun evaporates. You can’t tell where the data matches the knobs, you’re looking at LCD menus… bleah. I’m not saying obo is the answer, as it is a very simple device, but obo (with a monome) does provide a pleasing combination of tactile control, visual feedback and multiple patterns.

Pitches turns the monome surface into a MIDI device. Press a button, get a note. The only issue to resolve is how do you map notes across the grid? One of the first things I did with my monome after I got is was create a pitch grid in columns of fourths and chromatic rows, much like a guitar, but more like a touchstyle instrument like a Warr guitar. I liked the strict grid as it made the geometry of harmony completely portable. The pitches application allows you to customize the interval relationships of the rows and columns and optionally add a modal scale filter on the output so it is pretty much impossible to produce a ‘bad’ note.

Polygomé is one of those things that is most easily explained to people by shoving a monome in their hands. It is kind of like if you took ‘pitches’ and added a step sequencer. You recall the sequence by pressing a button, the sequence is transposed based on which button you start on. Then you can play the sequences polyphonically. Polygomé grew out of this massive, overly complicated project for the 256 I was working on called gomé. The idea was you’d create these geometric patterns then define a ‘path’ or vector across the monome surface that they’d walk across; kind of like how gliders move in the game of life. I was describing this on the monome forums and someone said, "boy, I hope you make this so it works on the 64." I didn’t think there was enough room on the 64 so I re-thought the idea and polygomé was born.

stretta3_t

Spectral Display is a non-interactive device that turns the monome into a graphic… well.. spectral display. I developed Spectral Display from vu_spec by [monome creator] Brian Crabtree so this is all his brilliance on display. I merely adapted it to maxforlive.

Press Cafe is another MIDI instrument. The original brilliance of the monome is the fact that the buttons are completely decoupled from the LEDs. Nobody had ever produced a device that did that before. There was always some internally programmed or proscribed functionality that was never entirely suitable for much of anything. So I brainstormed about various ways to leverage this unique ability. Press cafe is a pattern trigger sequencer. It works on any size monome, but if you’re using a 256, you get 16 rhythmic patterns of 16 notes. The rows select which pattern you’re triggering and the columns select which note you’re playing. Naturally, you can use the monome surface itself to edit the patterns.

Step Filter is eight independent sequencers, each triggering a band pass filter. The sequence is edited directly on the monome surface. The real fun begins when you start specifying various loop lengths for each of the filters so they loop independently. You can have one band looping in 7, another lopping in 6, etc…

automatorgator comes in two flavors. One is a MIDI plug in that produces MIDI and OSC automation. The output can be smoothed or stepped. The audio plug-in produces gating effects, or cyclical amplitude modulation.

stretta4_t

CDM: What was it like working with Max for Live? How did that impact the way you work?

stretta: I’ve always wanted something like maxforlive. Max lacked a powerful timeline. Most DAWs lacked user-directed internal customization akin to a modular synthesizer. I think this is important for a DAW because it is impossible to be all things to all people. I’d hesitate to say much more because my experience with maxforlive is limited to a couple months thus far and there is so much yet to explore. I would be seriously happy for years on a deserted island with this tool, provided there was some mechanism to share my work with others.

Max 5 brought some concepts like a global transport and the ability to specify time values in a metric-centric way. So, instead of milliseconds and samples, you can think in terms of quarter notes and eight notes. Then maxforlive brought all this inside of a functional DAW which made everything more powerful. It is one thing to be able to manipulate audio like play doh. It is another to be able to do it inside a real production environment, using musically-sensible units.

So, maxforlive is a huge leap forward, but the needs of the monome community were a bit more dire. There are applications for the monome that are functional enough to produce a complete musical statement in real time by itself. A good example of this is mlr. You don’t need anything else. My monome applications are not so clever. I never intended for anyone to sit down and try to express something using polygomé in isolation. I figured it would be one tool you’d use in the context of a greater whole. The problem with this is it relegated polygomé and others to the recording studio.

What the monome needed, was, in my opinion, a meta environment that could host multiple monome applications, ensure they were all running in sync, and switch between them on the fly. It would route audio, host virtual instruments, mix everything and add effects. Then you could save a setup and recall everything by opening a single file. If that could be done, then the monome is transformed from this monolithic standalone device, to a piece of integrated performance hardware.

stretta5t

CDM: Many people are now getting started with Max for Live. Any tips for new users?

stretta: The best tip I can offer so far is adding '---' before any data objects. On run, the --- is turned into a unique identifier so the instance is unique. This allows multiple instances of the same maxforlive device with access to their own data. Of course, you may not want to do this, you may want to retain the ability for multiple maxforlive devices to ‘talk’ to each other and share data which is a cool feature. I’ve uploaded a example patch detailing this at the monome wiki called ‘thisinstance’

http://docs.monome.org/doku.php?id=app:thisinstance

CDM: What if someone is interested in this download, but they don’t own a monome? Is there anything they can do with this pack without the hardware?

stretta: Not much. The only application that operates monomeless is obo. However, there may be enough about obo that is interesting to people to justify the download.

CDM: You should be able to adapt to other controllers, though, with some work – correct?

stretta: Sure, it really is simply a matter of tapping into the matrixctrl object and routing to whatever device. My stuff rarely makes use of monome-specific protocols like ledcol, but I’m doing more of that recently for performance reasons.

CDM: Have you seen other Max or monome work that has inspired or impressed you?

stretta: 7up [SevenUpLive 2.0] is an amazing piece of engineering, although it is mostly Java wrapped inside a layer of maxforlive. Buffer Shuffler was the first example that really blew my mind, and the cool part about this is you can open this stuff up and see how it ticks. When I opened up Buffer Shuffler, I was amazed at how little there really is to it, which says a lot about the level of sophistication of the max objects themselves. I still haven’t explored or opened all the devices that are included with maxforlive. It is a simple matter to lift small sections of max code and repurpose it. It is really early on in the life of maxforlive, so I anticipate the learning process to continue and expect to see more interesting creations as the ideas cross pollinate and everyone starts editing everyone else’s work.

Thanks to Matthew for these thoughtful answers. If you have follow-up questions, definitely let us know. And we’ll be interested to see how you work with these tools, or modify them in your own work.

For the latest, be sure to check out stretta’s blog, The Stretta Procedure:

http://stretta.blogspot.com/

maxforlive: monome integration from stretta on Vimeo.

maxforlive: obo from stretta on Vimeo.

  • plopp

    Great post!

    Off topic I guess: So that's what I need… small tables for the monome and keyboard and mouse. Does anyone know where I can find similar ones?

  • http://cllct.com/family/failedsitcom FailedSitcom

    This is amazing, thanks for the interview.

  • http://www.youtube.com/airventmedia Arctic Sunrise

    awesome as always – the mans a legend and not just f every1 in the monome community

  • http://www.max4live.info Michael Chenetz

    I love the modular!!! I would like to see more pictures of that.

  • martin

    looks like the tip about adding a double minus in front of data objects got mangled by wordpress. :)

  • http://dust.unrecnow.com mapmap

    stretta is a saint.

  • http://dust.unrecnow.com mapmap

    i swear, the way his mind works is brilliant.

    between Volta & his monome apps, his contributions to the music making process are broad and forward thinking.

  • digi

    Will this work with, say, a Launchpad and Nonome?

  • http://thomaspiperjr.com Tom Piper

    Yes it Does work with a Launchpad And A Nonome

    Stretta ROCKS

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

    Actually, might be nice to do an Ohm-specific remix and make use of those faders…

  • http://www.max4live.info Michael Chenetz

    @Cassiel

    Make sure you have the latest version from Livid Instruments. It seemed to be working when i first tested it. I haven't done anything extensive though. I will try it soon. I am still perfecting my M4L Monome emulator for the Ohm64.

    Mike

  • http://www.max4live.info Michael Chenetz

    Stretta has created a seriously cool suite. I am really digging it.

  • three

    thanks stretta! your work is inspirational and f'ing sweet. saving up for m4l now…

  • http://www.max4live.info Michael Chenetz

    @Peter

    Don't give me any more ideas… I might have to program them. :-)

  • http://www.cassiel.com cassiel

    No joy at this stage with the Ohm64 – I’ve not managed to get the monome emulator operating reliably in both directions. Michael: have you managed it with your unit?

  • http://www.edisonsdemo.tumblr.com edison

    stretta is tip top….

    freakin genius incarnate….!

  • http://www.cassiel.com cassiel

    @Michael I have the latest Ohm64 monome emulator that Pete sent me…! On the other hand, I also have an Ohm driver layer for shado (a couple of hours' Python hacking), so these animations all work on the Ohm:

    http://www.loadbang.net/space/Software/net.loadba

  • http://www.eatyone.com EATYone

    Is this package will run with an Arduinome?

    Anyway thanks for all this soft!

  • lucien

    this is so insane. im getting max for live and build a 256. im so pumped at the possibilities this will offer my live shows

  • robb

    kudos

  • http://www.speakerfood.nl speakerfood

    Still waiting for the first Monome with visual feedback that shows what each row/column/button means..

    Imagine a blank computer keyboard and everybody having to remember where the right letters are..

  • robb

    You mean like Das Keyboard?
    http://www.daskeyboard.com/daskeyboard_model_s_ul

    I it’s just a matter of getting used to the app, really. Pianos don’t have note names on them…

  • http://www.mrcury.com/ AA

    ^ Imagine a guitar with all the notes printed on the keyboard under each string. Pretty annoying. :D

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

    Will there be a demo of max 4 live?

    All these apps make me want to test a monome (problem is that i'm living in Belgium and i don't know anyone with a monome)

  • Le k

    Monome suite, sevenup, m4l, launchpad, all of these new toys are just what i ve been waiting for ages, and now it s real!!!! Thx to you guys!

  • http://dust.unrecnow.com mapmap

    AA, that's exactly what i was going to say.

    most instruments don't tell you what each button does but somehow people manage to get the feel of it… funny right?

  • http://www.hendersounds.com David Henderson

    Here's my 1st video improv attempt with stretta's suite.

    http://www.hendersounds.com/?p=118

  • Jimi

    Regarding the Pitches module, couldn't this just be done with Automap?

  • http://vimeo.com/nickciontea brillotrack

    Stretta.. U amaze me. can't wait to get my own copy of M4L

  • http://www.soilsound.com soilsound

    @plopp I was wondering the same thing. I have a similar setup, minus the portable stands. Looks like they're adjustable too. Well, I'm going to find out. Worse case, I'l make them. :-)

  • df

    looks really good, but too much mouseclicking for my taste. I'll stick to my Maschine, also i got reaktor for 99 which is also very nice ;)

  • http://xmassound.com xmas

    @plopp i need one too. It would be great to have metal stand that can attach adjustable Wood panel on top. Anybody has any references to make it? ;-)

  • http://www.speakerfood.nl speakerfood

    @mapmap

    @AA

    It takes years and years to master the piano or guitar, because you have to 'find' the right notes. And the same is true for the monome. But with the monome, we have the ability to add visual clues (more than just led's flashing), so why not implement it?

    By the way, it's easier to find a key on a piano because of it's layout, and every guitar has markers on it's keyboard. I think the Monome looks great, but there is certainly room for imrovement I think.

  • http://www.myspace.com/jamesyanisko JamesY

    @speakerfood

    The problem with having some visual cues on the monome is that it really is an instrument without a built in purpose. Whatever markers are put on for one application would be null and void for any other application.

    The only way to fix this that I can think of is to add little LCD screens near each key, that can change with each software run with it as the surface controlling it. This would add a lot to the price, and make the keys further apart, making it not quite as easily playable IMHO.

    Any other fixes people might have thought of?

  • http://www.myspace.com/jamesyanisko JamesY

    That being said,

    I put a mark dead center of my monome set up so I have a visual indicator that works no matter what software I'm in…

  • Jordaan

    Great interview!

    Stretta is an awsome visionary and an extrememly humble guy. His videos and forum posts made the whole world of Max practical and accessible.

    Thank you for your contributions Stretta!

  • plopp

    @solisound @xmas

    Looks like Herman Miller's Scooter laptop desk. Expensive.

  • http://www.speakerfood.nl speakerfood

    @JamesY

    Well, another solution would be to have one large LCD screen, and the buttons on top of it. Is this technically possible? You could display relevant information only in the areas between the buttons.

  • chad

    Great article.

    Now if only it was easier to get a hold of a monome…

  • lulzin

    so neat! I wish you would post a higher-res of stretta's workstation (stretta5.jpg), its so gorgeous!

  • http://www.mrcury.com/ AA

    @speakerfood

    Hm, wouldn't that be a Lemur? (which has no buttons, of course)

    I'm thinking that the instrument here is *not* the monome itself, but the combination of the monome and the app running. It would be like comparing a piano to a synth. Sure, there's a keyboard. But the playing and the response the player gets are very different. You have to consider the whole of it. So the monome is "just" buttons and leds.

    I think every monomer knows that it takes a while to get used to the various apps and layouts, but once you get there you SEE the layout right in front of you. It takes time, that's granted. But when I'm playing with mlr I see rows of samples, not rows of buttons. Know what I mean? The next step would be to *feel* the interface, so that you go beyond seeing and your fingers fly all over the place. :)

  • Dorkwolf

    Any idea if this will work with a Tenori-on?

  • http://seguesound.com DaveDri

    Wonderful work. I've been taunted by my Monome, Launchpad and M4L for the last few weeks as I've only had time for gigs and all the stem rendering, chopping and prep that entails. Now I've got a few days off coming up it looks like I will be ignoring this wonderful Australian weather once again and bunkering down inside the air conditioning and in front of the computer.

    Thanks for the work and share stretta, and the article Peter. It's really nice to be exploring this app in a relatively infancy. When I look at how amazing the Native Instruments User Library has gotten for Reaktor, I can't wait to see what we all come up with for M4L going forward.

    Oh and for those after a Monome, the new grayscale model comes out on the 1st. Check the site for ordering details, or consider an Arduinome.

  • http://www.richard-devine.com Richard Devine

    Matthew Davidson ROCKS! great interview!

    RD

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