The Lemur was the first material, commercially-available tool that suggested unlimited-finger touch displays could be expressive in music and visual performance. But touch is just getting started. Photo by William Crozes; courtesy Stantum;

For a long time, technologists have described a world of in which computing experiences naturally incorporate touch and gesture. The question is, how do we bridge the intuitive desire for those interactions and the actual technologies that get us there?

Few activities test the expressive potential of interaction quite like music. It’s in our cultural DNA; musical activity may even predate written language. So it’s fitting that the story of touch in computing and digital music would be intertwined, as they are with touch pioneer JazzMutant. Years before well-known Apple products, the Lemur, prototyped in 2003 and shown as a musical multi-touch screen, suggested the importance of fusing display and touch, and of tracking more than a finger or two at a time.

The history, and products like Apple’s iPad and iPhone, you may know well, though. The question on everyone’s mind now is, what’s next? (And for some impatient futurists, the question may even be, what’s taking so long?)

Guillaume himself; photo courtesy Guillaume Largillier.

To begin to answer that question, I turned to Guillaume Largillier, original co-founder and CEO of JazzMutant, now Stantum Technologies. There aren’t many people on the planet closer to where touch has been and where it might be going. Even as the Lemur gets new features like integration with popular music production and performance tool Ableton Live, Stantum is working to bring the same enabling technologies to other device makers. And even though this is “Create Digital Music,” it’s telling that that technology is showing potential in everything from phones to aviation, not just DJing. Musicians have had a role in technological history before, from Leon Theremin’s work to Max Mathews and computer synthesis. It may be musicians who invent the future, again. This time, the trick is who delivers that future to the hardware makers who can popularize it.

http://jazzmutant.com/
http://jazzmutant.com/behindthelemur.php
http://www.stantum.com/en/
http://www.stantum.com/en/offer/technology-ip

To accompany the story, we also have an exclusive look inside Stantum’s labs, all the way back to the original 2003 prototype of the Lemur.

Pictured: the Lemur prototype, circa 2003. Recall that in 2003, the notion of touch with all of your fingers at the same time was still largely foreign. Photos courtesy Guillaume Largillier and Stantum.

On Designing for Touch, and the Music Tech Industry

Peter: I remember when I first talked to Darwin Grosse about Lemur, when it was being distributed by Cycling ’74. Darwin just kept saying, “You know, I just think Star Trek: The Next Generation.” (That’s my recollection, Darwin; I hope I’m not misquoting you.) I tended to agree. It’s a cliche, perhaps, but this was clearly hardware that brought into our century part of an imagined vision of a much further-off future (the 24th Century). Was that a conscious influence? In an industry that has sometimes been aggressively traditional, is there a way to channel ideas from something as far out as science fiction?

Guillaume: Before answering your question, allow me to challenge your statement about the computer music industry. I think “ill nostalgic” would describe this industry much better than “aggresively traditional.” Most music software companies have kept being innovative over the last decade, but their creativity has been a slave to this nostalgic obsession. Emulating an analog channel strip, a tube amplifier, or a vintage synth is far from a trivial job. It actually requires as much engineering time and resources as developing a disruptive product such as Ableton Live or Max/MSP/Jitter! On the hardware side, the innovation killer is the price pressure. Despite a common misconception, the computer music industry is not and will never be a mass market. Companies such as M-Audio [Avid], Behringer, or Native Instruments may look like giants compared to JazzMutant, but they are nano-particles compared to large consumer electronic brands such as HP or Nokia. The volume and the gross margins are too small to amortize ambitious research and development plans. When we launched the Lemur in 2005, a lot of people predicted, and somewhat hoped, that Behringer would release a similar device at $200 within the next eighteen months. Five years later, the first serious competitor of the Lemur is about to land – Apple’s iPad – and its entry level price is $500.

Back to the USS Enterprise, whether we want it or not, this parentship is likely to follow the Lemur forever. This is kind of ironic insofar as I’ve never been acquainted with science-fiction culture. I don’t even remember having ever watched a full episode of Star Trek. That being said, I acknowledge that this association has settled spontaneously and durably in people’s mind. Does this association come from the product concept itself? I don’t think so. In my opinion, it comes first and foremost from the fluorescent graphic design of the UI objects, not from the tactile technology.

So, the real question would rather be: “Why did we design the graphic interface this way?” First, we wanted to stand clear of those boring pseudo-vintage brushed-aluminium graphic skins – the cutaneous symptom of the nostalgic flu! Moreover, we anticipated that converting users to virtual controllers would be a difficult task and that trying to mimic the appearance of real-life objects would generate frustration; hence, impeding the adoption of the product.

Having said that, the main purpose of this flashy design was pragmatic and ergonomic. The Lemur is ontologically a live controller, though it might be used in other contexts. This requires that the interface must be visible wherever and whenever a user might be performing, from night clubs to outdoor venues. This is particularly tricky with a touch screen laid horizontally, because the display backlight cannot compete with the specular reflection of sunlight. Human-factor sciences taught us that contrast perception prevails over brightness perception. Hence, highly contrasted graphics- ie, flashy objects on dark background – is the most efficient way to ensure a consistent readability. This is something the aerospace industry has understood for decades. So, if there was one conscious influence behind the Lemur, it would be the Boeing 747 dashboard, not the USS Enterprise.

“If there was one conscious influence behind the Lemur, it would be the Boeing 747 dashboard, not the USS Enterprise.”

I know for me, the appeal of the science fiction aspect was more conceptual than superficial, the idea of the ubiquitous touch interface. But I agree, having experimented with this, that the high contrast, light foreground, dark background formula is really an essential solution. I’m seeing some interfaces on a white background that look aeshtetically lovely, but that I can’t imagine using onstage. I’d at least want a switch for dark environments, when you’re not at your desk.

That reminds me a funny episode of JazzMutant’s story. As early as February 2004, we started showing early prototypes of the Lemur to our friends at [Paris sound research center] IRCAM. At this time, the graphic skin was based on a palette of blue shades, with a few touches of warm yellow for emphasizing elements that needed to stand out, such as text, levels, etc. One day in July of 2004, about one year before the commercial launch of the product, we brought them a new prototype, featuring a brand new touch panel along with the final graphic design. Their only reaction was, “wow, this display is much brighter!” They did not even comment on the tremendeous improvement to the touch panel! That being said, there are other approaches to improve the psychological perception of readibility. I sometimes regret that other developpers are reluctant to dig into them, and mimic the “Lemur style” instead.

Talking about drawing on screen, did you know that Iannis Xenakis’ Upic project has been my main source of inspiration – and also my main motivation to step from music making to technology creation ?

I didn’t know that, but it makes a lot of sense. [UPIC is a tablet-based, visual composition system developed by ground-breaking experimental composer Xenakis. It is now decades old but continues to evolve in new incarnations.]

Below: DJ Mike Relm demonstrates the Lemur for G4 Tech TV. Yes, this is the video to show all your friends who aren’t regular CDM readers and have no idea what the heck this is all about.

Video GamesE3 2010Musical Playtime

A sample Lemur layout. One strength of the Lemur is its customizable layouts and the various modules with which you can assemble interactive touch control screens. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Andreas Wetterberg.

Lessons of Lemur

Let’s talk about the place of Lemur’s technology in the current landscape. How does it hold up in 2010? I know a lot of people do get hung up on the price, but can you talk about how it differs from other options out there, or what the source of the cost is?

Once again, the music market being a small niche, it’s hardly possible to be both innovative and affordable at once. In addition, the Lemur is still manufactured in France with components imported from various locations around the globe – not to mention that the US dollar’s agony doesn’t help [when exporting] the manufactured product! Lastly, a large part of the product assembly is still handcrafted. For all the reasons above, the product is far from cost-optimized. I cannot disclose further our plans now, but we are working hard to address most – if not all – of these issues.

Have there been uses of the Lemur in performance and creation that surprised you, or went beyond what you imagined?

Oddely enough, and despite of what I said before, the most surprising uses of the Lemur are sometimes the most conservative ones! As an example, for Björk Volta tour, Damian Taylor and LFO made the most archaic interface layouts one could imagine — a fistful of colored labelled pads and eventually a pair of faders –- nothing more. Their brilliant idea was to create one unique interface for each song. This way, at each moment of the gig, they just had at their disposal the few commands they did actually need. The other big surprise came from video performers. Whereas most musicians are reluctant to use the advanced features of the lemur during their live performances – such as the objects’ physics – video artists do not hesitate to play the Lemur as an instrument, rather than a remote control. For instance, I warmly recommand you to visit Ali Momeni’s website. Of course, it would be unfair to forget all the advanced users who have developed inspiring and unique instruments, but this is less surprising, since the Lemur was designed specifically for that purpose.

OSC is a technology that many of us have advocated, but there’s also, admittedly, a big gap between where we believe it could be and where it is, especially in regards to the lack of mainstream music tech adoption. That said, what would an ideal implementation of OSC look like? What could the protocol do to be better? And what might you imagine could be a tipping point in adoption?

Indeed, it’s fair to say that OSC failed to become the industry standard we hoped it will be! I can see a few reasons for that. First, there is an obvious chicken-and-egg issue, as with any protocol. At JazzMutant, we’ve done our best to evangelize OSC in the industry for about 5 years now, without success. Why should a software company implement OSC if there is no hardware to support it, apart from a $2k product? Why should a hardware manufacturer develop an OSC-compatible controller if there are no mainstream applications to support it? Finally, there are also some intrinsic technical reasons that prevent OSC from becoming a standard anytime soon. In order to overcome them, we started developing a new protocol a few years ago called “Minuit” (“Midnight” in French), as a successor to OSC and MIDI (“Noon” in French). We were discouraged from pursuing this project after assessing the amount of human resources its evangelization would require.

JazzMutant/Stantum co-founder and CTO Pascal Joguet met Guillaume in Kindergarten in the late 70s. Now, the IRCAM vet and former sound designer is driving Stantum’s technology effort. He’s seen here in Stantum’s lab. Photos courtesy Guillaume Largillier and Stantum.

The Big Picture, Stantum, and the Future

We’re looking at an explosion of interest in multi-touch display surfaces in the consumer space. Are any of these, in your view, promising for music? Are there ways in which some of these technologies are deficient for musical performance applications?

The responsiveness of a touch system is the most under-estimated parameter, even though it tremendously influences the perceived usability, transparency and trustworthiness of an input device. This is why a vast majority of Multi-touch systems available fails to meet music makers’ expectations.

Absolutely — you mean responsiveness in terms of latency, accuracy, precision in tracking multiple points, or (I presume) all of the above?

I was pointing out the latency more specifically – even though the perceived responsiveness is a complexe imbrication of all these parameters.

Can you talk about Stantum’s role in the evolution of multi-touch? What can we expect to see in the future?

We envisioned the real potential of the technology we invented long before the iPhone announcement, though we could not imagine that Steve Jobs’ crew would accelerate the market demand [to the extent they did]. We started investigating how we could bring our technology to OEMs in parallel to our computer music activity as early as 2005. We finally made this step in 2007. The role of Stantum in this ecosystem is quite singular. However pretentious it may sound to you, Stantum is still the only company beside Apple to have developped a real multi-touch product, top-down, including all the software and hardware technology bricks. So, despite the small size of our company, we are better placed than any other player in this field to understand the complexe imbrication of software and hardware. You might ask, “Aren’t all these Windows 7 convertible notebooks real multi-touch products?” In my opinion, they are not, insofar as the only multi-touch services these devices offer so far are rotating videos or ten-finger painting. I do not want to offend anyone, but watching videos is much more pleasant fullscreen and if Neanderthal people gave up painting with ten fingers 45,000 years ago, there might be a good reason. At JazzMutant/Stantum, we’ve always considered the multi-touch technology as a milestone, not the final destination. With what we’ve been incubating in our labs for a few months, we expect to reach the next big milestone quite soon.

Do you mean that these PC vendors are missing the actual application of the multi-touch technology in the software they ship with these devices? Certainly, no argument there — the demos, the marketing, the demo apps outside of Apple have just looked horrendous and awful to me. But surely there are developers out there who want to do better? Hasn’t what’s held them back simply the lack of available hardware?

I do agree with you. Unfortunately, that leads to a chicken-and-egg situation; insofar as developing a meaningful, multi-touch-capable application requires a preliminary awareness of the objective capabilities and limitations of a given hardware solution. On the other side, a vast majority of multi-touch panel providers doesn’t look willing to raise the bar until the market identifies a “killer app” requiring full multi-touch capabilities with zero performance tradeoff. Hopefully, the iPad will contribute to reschuffle the cards. Unfortunately, Apple decided to stand clear of handwriting capability – which, I believe, is a huge limitation for creative and productive applications.

“I do not want to offend anyone, but … if Neanderthal people gave up painting with ten fingers 45,000 years ago, there might be a good reason.”

SCIENCE! [She blinded me with...] Yes, hardware work of this kind does require a clean environment. But yes, you also look way cooler using a lab coat. Pictured: inside Stantum’s current lab. Photos courtesy Guillaume Largillier and Stantum.

Let’s assume Stantum is successful in popularizing the technology. At some point, will the Lemur be obsolete – and could that perhaps even be a good goal?

The Lemur as it is today is likely to become obsolete at some point – the pet is more than 5 years old in an industry that usually sends hardware products to retirement manu militari at 18 month old! Having said that, there is much more to develop on the hardware side than what we have done in the past. If we succeed in what we are working on today, I believe the Lemur will keep playing in its own category for quite a long while.

Now, that said, how do Stantum’s efforts to engage the larger electronics industry impact these issues of scale and cost?

We understood as early as 2005 that there was only one path to spread this technology – and the underlying vision of how computerized equipments should work – out of the small niche of professional musicians and Max/MSP users. Then we did what we had to do : we licensed the technology to tier-one semi-conductor companies such as ST Microelectronics to embed our multi-touch know-how into dedicated chips. We also teamed up with some of the largest and most trusted touch panel makers to bring our solution onto the consumer market place. The whole supply chain is now in place and you’re likely to see a few Stantum-based multi-touch tablets shipping in the coming months. Will these products match musicians’ expectation ? That’s too early to risk an answer at this stage, since we have no control over what OEMs will make out of our technology. And as you know, a good user experience does not only depend on the quality of the touch system – it’s also a matter of CPU and OS choice, hardware optimization, not to mention the software application running on top of it. That’s why we believe there’s still some room for a dedicated hardware that takes in consideration the very specific needs of electronic musicians and visual artists. In a not-too-far future, we expect the hard work we have done with our partners will have a positive impact on the cost structure of our music products.

Stantum’s Latest Technology, and What it Means

Guillaume is a bit limited in what he can say about his future plans, but that leaves me free to do a bit of (informed) speculation. This is largely my own analysis, so it’s my message, not necessarily Stantum’s.

First, unless it isn’t already clear, JazzMutant is Stantum. Stantum is JazzMutant. Stantum is now the official name of the company, and JazzMutant is just the brand by which their technology caters to musicians. It says something about the company’s lineage – all the founders have a background in electronic music – that they have in the past, continue now, and plan in the future to keep a strong connection to musicians. That’s meant that the rigorous demands of live music have informed their touch technology and made it a better product.

The idea that Apple’s iPad would drive JazzMutant out of business, therefore, is the opposite of correct. JazzMutant is Stantum. Stantum is in the business of licensing its specialization to OEMs. The Lemur shows just how potent that specialization is, in a way that literally gets rooms full of people dancing and gaping at projections. Apple’s technology is available only to Apple. With Microsoft, Google, phone vendors, and PC vendors all getting into the touch business, that means Stantum just became very big news – even if that’s something musicians and VJs figured out years earlier.

Part of the challenge of multi-touch development is that you have to get a lot of pieces working together. You need the physical surface of the controller, the sensors built into that surface, and the firmware that interprets the sensors all to work in tandem. Apple does it, and does the OS and applications, too. 3M is working on a product for OEMs, also working with multiple touch points. But the other big source right now is Stantum.

It’s also significant that Stantum’s technologies are heavily patented (a fact that they advertise on their site). While I’m no big fan of patents, unlike Apple, Stantum is licensing their technology into the marketplace. Given the need to have a patent portfolio just to protect your work, Stantum’s patents give it effectively the right to play ball. By licensing their technology to the manufacturers big enough to make this stuff on a grand scale, Stantum’s OEM program could provide ready access to touch for software developers beyond just the iPad platform. Even if you’re a huge iPad fan, that means greater accessibility in the market, and more than one vendor to provide that access. I’m a great advocate for DIY, but making displays isn’t yet a garage operation. (Yes, I know people building their own multi-touch tables, but they don’t make their own cameras or projectors.)

Stantum’s technology itself is also unique. Their sensing approach supports pen input and even handwriting recognition, features Apple leaves out. For many of the world’s languages, handwriting recognition is a “killer app,” which could further drive touch adoption. For the rest of us, until we evolve smaller fingers, the ability to use a pen can mean amplified accuracy for painting and writing, and yes, even pen-driven music applications. (Somewhere in the great beyond, Xenakis smiles.)

This is not an advertisement for Stantum, either – the list of companies anywhere close to being able to provide this functionality is short enough to count on your (ahem) fingertips.

So, okay, you buy into the concept – when can you get it? (After all, even the Lemur doesn’t quite count. It isn’t set up for pen input, even if its sensing method could work. And the Lemur is a controller, not a computer.)

Right now, Stantum’s technology is available in a series of multi-touch demonstration kits, including one with the guts of a Dell netbook inside:

http://www.stantum.com/en/offer/evaluate

In other words, we’re waiting for someone to ship a product that incorporates their technology. Windows 7 already includes multi-touch APIs out of the box in all but its Starter edition, so the Windows platform is a major candidate. Windows, while proprietary, has none of the developer, language, software, or hardware restrictions that the iPad platform does, so if your application doesn’t fit the iPad model or needs pen input, Windows’ stock just rose. Free software is possible too. Linux already supports the Stantum Slate PC and a number of other digitizers, support that will be baked into the kernels shipping in this year’s major Linux distros. We’re not just talking drivers, either: the whole Linux community is working on everything from libraries for environments like Java to support in the windowing system to touch-centric distros. (More on the Linux situation later this week.) Google’s Android has a multitouch API, too. I’ve used it, and got frustrated quickly not because of the OS, but because the hardware on current phone handsets just doesn’t work well with more than one finger. That could change if Stantum’s tech starts to appear in licensee products; Android as a touch OS could take off.

For specifics on the Windows 7 aspect (old news, from way back in November – but of course, everyone is taking a second look because of the iPad phenomenon):
2009-11-03 Windows 7 Certification

Right now, the one thing Stantum doesn’t have a lot of – aside from OEMs shipping their tech – is competition. Most of the other touch competitors either can’t accurately track fingers in close proximity, or limit tracking to two fingers, or lose tracking fidelity around the edges of the screen, or can’t handle pens, or some combination.

You need musicians, creative artists, and gamers to tell you this, because the mainstream computer market thinks multi-touch has something to do with pinch-zooming their photos. If that were all you could do with multi-touch, this would indeed be an over-hyped technology. But the responsiveness of the Lemur and the demonstration technology from Stantum is something that can be powerful and expressive.

Apple has already brilliantly demonstrated what happens when scale, creativity, and technical competence meet. Now the question is, who else will be able to put this formula together, thus making other options available to developers? Stantum has the competence, and the connection to creative artists and music specifically. If OEMs start to sign on with Stantum’s tech and build useful hardware, we could see both off-the-shelf machines – and cheaper JazzMutant-branded products – for musicians. Indeed, with this larger Stantum perspective, whatever happens with OEMs could in turn be good for JazzMutant-specific, music-specific customers, too. Even with competition from the likes of 3M, the technology is so specific to certain hardware devices, and the emerging markets so large, it’s hard to imagine Stantum not having a big role.

What might surprise people in the larger tech world is how important music has been – and will continue to be – to the big picture.

When it all comes together, the days of computer musicians, DJs, and visualists standing behind screens, able only to stare blankly into them but unable to manipulate what they see directly, could become a relic of the past.

  • ArmandoC

    I just hit up the website 5 minutes ago asking myself what was up with them after all this ipad hype. Wow great great post man!

  • poorsod

    what a fantastic vocabulary the man has

  • João Menezes

    Great post :)

  • http://soundcloud.com/emeidos emeidos

    Fantastic article and interview Peter – thanks a lot..

  • http://noisemakers.info Michael Chenetz

    Great article, Peter…

  • http://prodavid.wordpress.com prodavid

    <blockquote cite="…the product is far from cost-optimized. I cannot disclose further our plans now, but we are working hard to address most – if not all – of these issues.">

    Nice to know that JM are working on doing something about the mind-blowing cost of the unit.

  • Lephrenic

    $10 says Stantum are looking at haptics.

  • Emu

    like everyone else, great article :) I've personally been tracking the progress of the unmousepad (http://unmousepad.org/Home.html). It is responsive, accurate, and pressure sensitive.

  • [klima]

    Thanks for this so interesting article and itw, great post Peter

  • J. Phoenix

    Great interview Peter. Nice blend of the technical and layperson in your questions & direction.

    Also very relieving to hear about Stantum itself; the discussions of the Lemur turning into an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app alone bothered me although I didn't comment about it.

    The future is looking up for multi-touch. Now, to find out whatever happened to Perceptive Pixel.

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  • Mudo

    If any display manufacture (LG, Sony?) implement this into a 15" monitor it could be enough for make my own tabletmac DIY.

    Great article!

  • genjutsushi

    Great piece of journalism Peter. Very interesting article

  • dyscode

    Wow Peter, your articles during the last few days (since the iPad release incdentally?!) have been excepional.

    great digging!

  • Seadweller

    Nice article !

    Nice talk

    Lots of info and…philosophy on concepts etc..

    But i really cannot see (and the article in sot very informative on that) how Lemur will survive the $500 iPad competition and how will it evolve..

  • http://protofuse.net/ julien

    the problem with all these LITTLE screens/surfaces, is the word little :)

    I mean, as a lot of person making music, controlling software with infinity of features, we need interface with almost ALL important data under the eyes.

    probably I'll be the black sheep here, but.. I really need that.

    I don't want to have many many submenus because in that case I'd have to remember too much technical data.

    so, size matters!

    some people wrote me I have only 2 hands, BUT we have more more more ideas and need than the number 2 and indeed, I only want to be intuitive on stage.

    this is one of the reason I built the protodeck controller.

    if one day (and I know this day will come) I can have a big surface/screen to do that, I'll probably buy (or build) it :D

    but it is too early!

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

    @Julien: Stantum's sensing technology supports displays up to 30". (Based on what I know about what Apple uses, actually, I'm not certain that's true of their tech.) It might involve one heck of a flight case, but I could see people porting some larger displays around. 3M's first product I believe is also going to be a desktop display. (I'm on the notification list for that; it's supposed to come out this month.)

    Of course, the other way to go is density. a higher-density 10" display might be more enjoyable to use than a low-resolution 10" display. And there are strategies for fitting more on that surface.

    @Seadweller: Guillaume doesn't dwell on this point for obvious reasons, but you'll notice he does mention that selling the display tech to the mass market could allow them to reduce the cost of the Lemur. In the meantime, I still hear some appeal of the Lemur for musicians – and you don't need a lot of demand, because it's a small-scale product. I think it will continue to evolve with the rest of the tech. In fact, it's interesting to see technology developed for the Lemur, down to even some of the control widgets, showing up in the demos for Stantum.

  • http://protofuse.net julien

    @Peter: I cannot imagine the price, the fragility with a 30? …

    really, it is cool for making visual performance and for proof of concept but in real stage conditions I'm very doubtful.

    But I'm sure solid/robust tools will come :)

    I'm optimistic everytime !!

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

    Well, 30" is huge, but there are already multi-touch displays going for a couple hundred bucks. Displays are generally pretty cheap right now, so if anyone adds multi-touch in volume, I don't think it'll be pricey. A 19" I could see carrying around, if you really needed extra space. The trick right now is the displays are mostly using optical tracking, which doesn't work very well for multi-touch as we generally want to use it in music. If there's a Stantum or 3M digitizer on there, it's another story, though.

    Of course, a laptop / slate / tablet / netbook (slatebook? netlet?) will probably be far more practical.

  • http://protofuse.net julien

    Peter, I agree and I'm sure you understood that.

    As you wrote under the first picture:

    "The Lemur was the first material, commercially-available tool that suggested touch could be expressive in music and visual performance. But touch is just getting started"

    For instance, the potentiometer touch is very required.

    every actions that only fits with 1D (one free-degree) could be nice. I make a translation of my fader, or my virtual fader… all the same..

    but the pots ?!

    I'm not old school, it is just a question of need and of acceptance degree.

    I'm not sure we'll have the perfect fit between 3D world and 2D surfaces as we already had with the real analog world and the virtual digital world.

    But I'm probably noone for writing this :p

  • Darren

    Wonderful and informative read! Thank you!

    Perhaps of interest; a friend just sent me this video about Pranav Mistry and his 'Sixth Sense' technology…still wrapping my head around the implications. Pertinent to the discussion?
    http://www.ted.com/talks/pranav_mistry_the_thrill

  • http://bottomfeeder.ca/top Kassen

    “The Lemur was the first material, commercially-available tool that suggested touch could be expressive in music and visual performance. But touch is just getting started”

    I'm assuming this refers to electronic music, because otherwise it's off by millennia… but even in electronic music it's off by decades; the Fairlight was using touch for musical expression back in '79. The Roland PMA-5 had musical touch in a portable form in the 90's (and sticks to standards). That's without even going into the Cracklebox which -in the '70s- already had musically expressive multi-touch in a extremely portable form.

    This is not to say the more recent devices aren't relevant, but they aren't relevant for those reasons.

    Touch isn't "just getting started"; I've been experimenting with it since 1977 myself. Offering touch as a interface commercially is widely claimed to be the world's oldest profession.

  • http://W1xer.at Jay Vaughan

    Virus TOUCH anyone?

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

    @Kassen: I should have qualified "unlimited-finger touch displays." And the context is computing.

    The Lemur really *was* the first commercial product once you define that category. And within the context of unifying touch and the display *with* multiple touch points and pen input on the same device, yes, it is just getting started. It's just also been – as your past suggests – a long time coming. ;)

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

    i wonder…if their mystery product collab might be the Microsoft Courier… to me, it looks like that product concept demo would do wonderfully on Stantum's hardware… hand writing recognition, pen, touch and all…

  • http://www.lividinstruments.com peter Nyboer

    Great article. Thanks to Guillaume for spending the time and being articulate. I have a glib thesis that the two biggest motivators for the computer's evolution has been music and war, and this seems to be supporting that idea!

  • http://bottomfeeder.ca/top Kassen

    Peter; then I agree, but the need to define the context that narrowly shows how this is a logical and incremental evolution. While there are milestones I'm not seeing the sudden revolution that some seem to feel is upon us any day now.

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

    Yeah, but the evolution moves things into the territory in which they're actually usable, where the fusion between display and touch and pen works properly, and the result is enough of a commodity that it's affordable. The other examples either weren't displays or lacked really versatile input in those displays.

    I agree that some of this stuff gets over-hyped – for instance, I still see plenty of use in the mouse and keyboard everyone else suddenly wants to throw out, and a touch pot, for instance, still can't compete with a few dollars spent on the real hardware. And yes, some of the other expressive touch interfaces you mention may work better as actual instruments, which I think isn't quite the goal of these displays.

  • http://www.myspace.com/fsl1138muisc FSK1138

    great interview –

    ipad=hype

    i try to tell people but the they seem to be on the idrugs over a $500+ netbook(slate) with out a keyboard ,stylus or ports i guess it is magical"

    love the korg ielecribe though!!

  • Damian

    ipad=hype. Now that's funny.

    I have a Lemur my friend (I've had one for over 4 years) and I'll tell you this much. Resistive multitouch is a poor choice for live performance purposes. Oh and I have an iPad too– and it blows my Lemur out of the water.

    I can use it at work, in the studio, and in front of 1500 people with a fully functional, 4 deck setup with unnoticeable latency on a wifi link to my MBP. The iPad almost feels like an instrument in that context. Try picking up a Lemur and moving around in the booth. Wired ethernet, wired power cord, resistive touchscreen = legacy technology.

    I'm just so completely fed up with the Apple bashing that goes on. The independent developers are the heart and soul of the iPad. These are the guys pushing the boundaries. So you know what? Lets just stop bashing the form factor when it is clearly better in every way.

    When will the naysayers finally look past the hardware and 'closed development platform' and finally see that developer innovation is what drives the success of these platforms? Its easy to gripe fellas, but lets add some substance to the discussion.

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

    @Damian: I'm unclear on what your objection is to resistive technology is. As for the wired Ethernet and lack of a battery, those are Lemur features, and part of what I wanted to point to here was what's possible with other hardware.

    In fact, by your own argument, if the third-party developers are the ones pushing the envelope, and it's not just about the hardware or the platform, then if someone other than Apple comes up with compelling technology, this could be a horse race.

    Anyway, I'm curious what your objection to resistive technology is. What don't you like? Some of the other resistive implementations aren't able to track multiple points, but Stantum solved that problem, and unlike capacitive input, you can use objects and pens. That's a major factor for artists, unless they want to be limited to finger painting all the time. That's not to say capacitive isn't working well on the iPad; it is — I just wouldn't entirely rule out a sensing method. It's about selecting the right tool for the job.

  • Emu

    @Damian in defense of the haters, they have every right to be pissed about 'closed development platform' too much complacency makes a market stagnate and exploitation rampant. Apple is definitely a company about domination. In order to conquer the haters they have to improve their products. The haters also help bring new features to competitor products which forces apple in turn to respond. So you're welcome!

  • http://google.de Paul

    I bet Damian doesn't have a lemur :)

  • http://bottomfeeder.ca/top Kassen

    "When will the naysayers finally look past the hardware []?"

    When there is hardware that doesn't require me to look past it.

  • HEXnibble

    There's definitely a lot of hate coming from bitter Lemur owners. Not to mention the usual MS/Google fanboys.

  • beatniks3

    i agree with the comment about the guy's vocabulary, impressive! fantastic article and interview, thank you for putting the work into it.

  • http://w1xer.at/ Jay Vaughan

    I'm telling you now: the hardware synth manufacturers are going to be licensing Lemur tech for their defense against Apple.

    The iPad *kills* the hardware synth market right now .. imagine when you can get 20 or 30 synths for the iPad for $100, compared to how much you have to pay for a Virus or Blofeld or whatever.

    Synth manufacturers have two choices: make their own competing hardware (licensing from Lemur and professionalizing the multitouch interface, the same way they "monster cable" the audio interfaces and pretty knobs that make their wares so expensive) or .. give up and just start writing softsynths for iPad.

    I'd say we're going to see some mean competition about this in the hardware synth market. There won't be >$2000 synths with .20c knobs on them for much longer, if the iPad gets its way ..

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  • dajebus

    Great article!

    Too bad its a electronic typewriter and someone just started selling a word processor for a lot less.

  • http://bottomfeeder.ca/top Kassen

    "The iPad *kills* the hardware synth market right now .. imagine when you can get 20 or 30 synths for the iPad for $100, compared to how much you have to pay for a Virus or Blofeld or whatever."

    I don't know about that. Unlike the iPad the Virus is actually out here (the iPad isn't even out yet where I am), unlike the iPad it will work with my computer (still no Linux compatibility for Apple's portables) using standard plugs and plain MIDI, it has multiple full size jack outputs… Those are strong points to me, though I can see why for most people synths like that are less convenient than plugins (probably the real hardware killers).

    If there would be apps that equal a Virus and MIDI in/out then I could see the iPad competing in that market but I'm not seeing that right now. Something equalling a Virus would take some serious developer resources, I don't think releasing something like that in the 3-5$ price range would make sense; VST and AU plugins with those kinds of features are far more expensive too.

    I do agree with your note about cheap knobs on expensive synths. I have a problem with those too, as well as with the cheap buttons. I'm not sure touch technology will solve that though. With a real button, no matter how cheap, you can rest your finger on it, making sure you'll hit it blindly when the right moment comes. With touch technology you can't do that.

  • http://bottomfeeder.ca/top Kassen

    "There’s definitely a lot of hate coming from bitter Lemur owners. Not to mention the usual MS/Google fanboys."

    I completely fail to see how one's preferences in search engines is supposed to affect perspectives on touch technology and plenty of Windows users also use Apple products like Quicktime. I know I didn't search on Google to figure out how I felt about this. I just tried the Lemur at a demo and played with a iPhone. I probably would have bought a Lemur, despite the latency and limited configurability (where is the IDE to make new objects?) if it had been 500e or so. I might have bought a iPhone as a toy if it had been about 200e and I could have developed for it on Linux. That is assuming the claims about the latency improving since I played with one a few years ago are right.

    That's not "hatred", they are just too expensive and limited compared to my needs. I do hate the iPhone's corny interface design, but that's beside the point; it's not like the average hardware synth will win any beauty contests. I'm just not buying stuff that I can't write open code for and know it'll work in a decade.

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  • HEXnibble

    MS: HP Slate fanboys

    Google: Android fanboys

    which usually mean Apple/iPad haters

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  • James Ussher

    As a long time (late 2004) and still a heavy lemur user..I have to say Giullaume's comments are spot on. The Lemur firmware seems to never cease to be tweaked in some beneficial way and still continues to turn heads.

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  • http://www.subcycle.org Christian Bannister

    Great post.

    I have been struggling with the lack of a viable platform for experimentation and development in the touchscreen space for a while. I eventually had to build my own touchscreen just to have the opportunity to insert my own graphics and really own the device with a custom presentation layer. I do not want a modern and functional take on the interface, but rather a rich visual interface with a great deal of personalization (my interface). Still waiting for this product.

    I completely understand the need for a very component based and modular approach to the interface and I understand that it is not easy to find a broad audience for something that does not work out of the box and you would be asking musicians to create their own visuals. . BUT. . I am convinced there is substantial audience for a more malleable version of the Lemur. The technical savvy of the Lemur audience might be underestimated and I think there are a whole lot of people who want to make custom presentation layers and software for their Lemur touchscreens. They want to participate and help the paradigm reach it's potential.

    The iPad, forget about it. The ethos of the device is centered around a storefront and not a DIY ideal. The idea of working with Flash or Processing is not an option here. I want to prototype and play, not strive for SJ's ideals of stability and efficiency. Another modernist preventing me from doing my thing, my way on my device.

    At any rate, I hope there is another voice in the touchscreen market to fill the void soon because we are missing out on a lot of great musical innovation in the meantime. I have run into a whole lot of people who feel the same way.

  • http://veqtor.blogspot.com Veqtor

    I really think stantum/jazzmutant should use the opportunity the iPad opens up to sell a port of the lemur software on the iPad platform.

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  • Steve Elbows

    Bottom line is how good the multitouch technology really is compared to the competition. Its quite hard to judge right now, though I would expect there is far more competition on this front than this article implies. Time should also be taken to consider what downsides Stantums technology has, for there are surely some, none of the different touchscreen technologies are without some downside. If the Lemur is anything to go by then the most obvious disadvantage is that the touchscreen somewhat interferes with visibility of the screen, which is a real consideration for certain applications.

    On the software front I dont think it will be long before we get to see some serious progress, after all we are getting to a point where even webapps/sites can have multitouch capabilities. With a few more devices and development environments available, it will soon be easier to judge whether any other touchscreens are just fine for applications such as realtime performance where latency is an issue. Are there any early indications of how the iPad is doing in this regard, latency and number of points that can be tracked/accuracy?

    Stantums patents may well come in handy.

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  • http://www.myspace.com/djhuski Dj Huski

    I have a question for the Lemur developers: I liked the demo of the new Ableton Live integration, but can you sit together with Propellerhead and create Reason integration (or even better: create some automap function)?

  • HEXnibble

    @Dj Huski: Check out LiveOSC for iPad for Ableton Live integration.

    And check out this TouchOSC integration with Reason.

  • Subje

    great post been reading it twice because of intervals of work :P

  • eric

    Very nice article…Found your statement "cheaper JazzMutant-branded products" being spot on, it seems to be a dream and a demand, even a hope.

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  • Damian

    @ Peter Kirn – Hi Peter, resistive technology with a membrane– exactly as deployed with the Lemur is flawed because unintended 'touches' can occur. In live situations on multiple occasions– I have been burned by the lack of response and by the film initiating unintended events.

    @ Paul – You have no idea of projects I have coded on my Lemur. Lets just say that I am absolutely pushing the boundaries with it. Try building a chord sequencer natively in Logic or mapping all your VSTs to a unified UI concept. It is a good platform but it has hit its expiration date in terms of form factor. My key point is that the mistake was dedicating so much time and resources to Stantum. The whole basis of the company's success has been abstracted by multi-touch OS frameworks and large corporate investment.

    Again, I've got almost 5 years with the Lemur platform and after 1 gig with an iPad/TouchOSC my decision has been made. Btw, Paul, would you like to buy my Lemur? I'll cut you a great deal.

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

    Well, I'm interested to try the new device, to see if they've improved upon responsiveness.

    In the meantime, there are other capacitive solutions that DO support stylus, even though iPhone/iPad do not. (Yes, there's a faux stylus you can use with these devices, but it has a fingertip-shaped tip, so there's not MUCH advantage – and the device lacks palm rejection, so…)

    The other advantage of resistive, (or tradeoff, maybe, as it does require pressure), is the sensitivity to levels of pressure.

    But yes, when it comes to fingertip response, Apple's capacitive screen is currently the best I've seen yet.

  • Damian

    @EMU– I missed your comment. The haters can keep on hating. How many of them now own a phone with a touch interface? How many of them will own an iPad. I hold to my previous statement. Who cares about what company is making the form factor or the hardware– it is ALL about the software right? Its all about gaining a capability.

    Perhaps my professional background in computer science is has been based on faulty logic but isn't that what a computer is for?

    As an early adopter of touch technology (and a person that paid a heavy premium to do so), I reiterate your previous message to me. I say, 'You're very welcome.' Enjoy your Android, iPhone, Lemur, iPad– but just remember they are platforms. They are simply a way to interact with software.

    Find what works out best for you and live in peace.

  • Damian

    @Peter– you are definitely correct. Pressure sensitivity is where things are about to get interesting. For an interesting paradigm shift, check out the Pianist Pro app. Dig down into the drum machine mode. The developer offered a really interesting approach to modifying pitch and modulation parameters while performing live.

    Regardless of one's preferences- fingertip, stylus, pressure sensitivity– we will only reach a mature state once ALL of these are accounted for. Credit is definitely due to the Lemur team– and believe me, I want to see them succeed. Competition is king, I'd love nothing more than for JazzMutant to open up their platform– to at least the same level Apple has while allowing me to upgrade the unit's dismal amount of internal memory.

  • stormtrooper

    nobody has mentioned that all display driven controllers lack physical feedback… which is for me as a pro musician a really important feature.

    i think multitouch is very overrated today… the lemur is nice (i use mine on an everyday basis)

    but for example a wacom intuos with pen + osculator could be much more musical and expressive…

    another bad example … for video mixing physical feedback is essential … because you want to look at the screen and not at the controller…

    a motorized faderbox or a simple bcr 2000 is much better for this purpose.

    my 5 cents…

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  • HEXnibble

    @stormtrooper: "a wacom intuos with pen + osculator could be much more musical and expressive…"

    I don't see how that could be "much more musical and expressive" than finger gestures on the iPad.

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  • 23fx23

    nice article

    imo pb is stantum = overpriced closed environement.

    apple = decent priced, still semi closed environemt not as music/mulitouch knowledge.

    usine+windows7+ ie 3M = open environment, total modularity, adaptative pricing (sure 2k10 is multitouch democratisation, thanks apple, so hw is still to slowly but coming…), evolutive.

    serious music and multitouch

    knowledge as it's creator plays live with a touch screen device since years.

    once apple will make the swich operate and beeing commercially verified , be sure

    all big pc competitor will follow, and keeping on selling a closed 2K device will clearly atlast appear as irrelevent to people. was maybe true in 2004, it won't in 2010, im 99percent convinced,and i personnally will enjoy that.

    music is not only for rich people, im totally anti those ideas of music industry should have such frontiers, and while i respect a lot stantum work, I really hope some hp,3m,Lg,sony,behringher korg or whatever bring a similar 5x cheaper device music adapted, while being OPEN and that will CLOSE stantum monopole insane years of prices abuses and locking politics.. apple started that out.

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  • robthom

    Touch may become a legitimate sub-genre,
    like circuit bending,
    but I just dont see how it will be able to replace the fine control possible from a dedicated interface.