For the last few decades, generally speaking, we’ve had computers, and we’ve had physical, modular, analog gear. Computers are endlessly patchable, but not using physical cords. Modulars use physical cords, but they lack the flexibility (and affordability) of a computer.
Now, US$25 and an Arduino can change that.
rePatcher is a simple, tangible modular interface for computers. It could work with any software, but right out of the gate it already works with two popular (virtual) patching environments, Max/MSP and the free and open source Pure Data (Pd). You use physical patch cords to make connections, and those connections are reflected in the patch you see on the screen. The patch cords are coupled with requisite encoders for dialing in additional parameter changes. (Reason comes up as a possible candidate for additional compatibility, which would, of course, be really sweet.)
rePatcher is built as a shield for Arduino, so you’ll need one of those, but that still keeps the price low enough to say I absolutely have to have one of these right now.
It’s not the first attempt to do something like this, but it might be the most accessible and affordable – and interesting. And while those cute little patch cords are fun, there’s nothing stopping someone from building on this idea and going to bigger cords and something more extensive than this 6×6 matrix.
Best of all: the magic happens entirely over USB, so if you want to make this work with something else – say, your favorite VJ software – you can do so with anything that can communicate over serial.