BHOREAL gets ready from MID New Media Design on Vimeo.

It’s been almost a decade since the monome first began making appearances. Now, grids are everywhere – and that raises the question, where will the next innovation come from?

What’s exciting about Bhoreal is that, far from simply cloning the monome, it realizes potential frontiers that the original monome couldn’t. And as Bhoreal reaches the final hours of crowd funding, the last chance to be first in line for the first hardware, it’s performing a lot of tricks to show off. Think lasers and robots.

See the video at top for a narrative of where the project has come.

Now, you can grab Bhoreal in kit form (even with a fader), or a slim, premade unit – whichever suits you best – among other goodies. The project ends Friday evening European time / late Friday night Asia-Pacific-Australia / Friday morning for the Americas, so you may want to get in on this now.

Bhoreal crowd-funding at Goteo

(Goteo is a Spanish-friendly Kickstarter rival.)

I caught up with the Bhoreal team as they demonstrated their creation to the public at Barcelona’s SONAR Festival. In fact, to me, it was really one of the greatest technological hits of the few days, as masses of people from the general public crowded in to pose with the giant, light-up robot and see what those pastel-bright square pads did.

And this is the moment at which Bhoreal can go places other grid controllers couldn’t – a perfect realization of some of the vision of monome.

For now, the pads are switches, like the monome – and unfortunately unlike the velocity-sensitive Push and other hardware. But you get full RGB and open, modifiable design.

Not just for music: here, Bhoreal controls a robot. The combination was irresistible to SONAR attendees.

Not just for music: here, Bhoreal controls a robot. The combination was irresistible to SONAR attendees.

Oh, yeah, and you can control lasers with it.

Oh, yeah, and you can control lasers with it.

It’s attracting more than just musical applications. The monome as originally unveiled was intended by creators Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain to be a general grid controller. But its acceptance was largely in the music community, who were the first to understand its potential. That’s perfectly healthy. But it’s equally healthy now to see Bhoreal with a full range of applications, including controlling visuals, lighting (perfectly suited to its RGB display), that giant robot, and lasers, among others.

It’s multi-lingual. It does OSC, and it does MIDI, wired and (OSC) wireless, and a custom firmware will emulate monome and build on what that community has done (and continues to do). (And, of course, the team is multi-lingual; even as it gets started in Barcelona, everyone is already speaking in a mix of English, Español, and Catalán.)

Iterative design is already yielding smarter hardware. I got to try the latest prototype devices. Working with a network of fabrication experts, the team is already building something slimmer and smarter. There’s already a clever case with magnets, which should make repairs and hacks easier. (Once the magnets attach, though, it’s perfectly firm.) You can see my impromptu picture, though it’s not quite done yet. Eventually, you’ll get a wireless version with battery power for remote use – something other products haven’t yet done. Even the modest budget so far promises more work on these elements.

CDM got to handle the new case designs in Barcelona. They're coming along nicely - and using magnets in place of screws works brilliantly.

CDM got to handle the new case designs in Barcelona. They’re coming along nicely – and using magnets in place of screws works brilliantly.

Design and fabrication in Catalunya will make those hardware ideas work. “Onshoring” is a hot buzzword right now, but in crisis-stricken Europe, it’s real. One thing the monome did successfully was to promote local manufacture and sustainable materials. That project, though, had as part of its message small-scale production. I think there’s value there, but it would also be well-complemented by projects that scale up, while working to produce economies around DIY and open source hardware. In Catalunya, that has already meant a collaborative design team (with the Hangar Arts Production Centre Interaction Lab, and MID – Media Interactive Design). But the team tells me that they’re looking to move more production back to Europe (and specifically Catalunya), not just one-off prototypes.

It’s open and builds on existing work. Open source hardware has come by great leaps since the 2006 introduction of monome. But what’s important about this is that it allows you to, as the saying goes, stand on the shoulders of giants rather than stepping on each other’s toes. So, Bhoreal’s hardware is built on Arduino, making programming (and advanced functionality) easier. In fact, I hope it will give back a standard MIDI implementation to that platform. And its firmware is open source, built on work by Jonathan Guberman for the Octint, in turn inspired by arduinome.

The setup for SONAR's digital hands-on area.  Photo courtesy Bhoreal.

The setup for SONAR’s digital hands-on area. Photo courtesy Bhoreal.

Up close with the pads. Yes, these are the pads from Sparkfun; future designs may use something original.  Photo courtesy Bhoreal.

Up close with the pads. Yes, these are the pads from Sparkfun; future designs may use something original. Photo courtesy Bhoreal.

monome compatible, but not a clone. An early concern of the monome project, and a stated motivation behind non-commercial restrictions, was that large-volume commodity products would rip off the design. But it’s worth noting that Bhoreal is genuinely original. While inspired by arduinome, the circuit and industrial design is now entirely new. The firmware is open, and builds on freely-licensed work. At the same time, compatibility with monome (via the aforementioned alternative fimware) is a good thing, as it protects the work people have done in that community creating patch.

Fab Lab Bcn recommends: BHOREAL midi controller in Goteo

More on the robot, developed with MID and Ferrolaur:

Robot, posing at SONAR. Photo courtesy Bhoreal.

Robot, posing at SONAR. Photo courtesy Bhoreal.

  • rudolpho

    so what exactly is different than a monome???
    I don’t get it. seems to be the same.

    • Derpatron9000

      It started out as a project on the monome forums. many people gave a lot of time and advice helping to make a color arduinome called octinct. The arduinome is based on the monome source files. All of this was provided on a non commercial basis.

      More discussion here:

      I also suspect they’ve used the monome software (serialosc and libmonome), which are open source.

    • Peter Kirn

      I don’t believe that help *provided on a forum* can be determined as covered by the monome license. And one of the best ways this project can give back to the monome project is by providing compatibility.

      This project is:
      1. not violating monome’s non-commercial license. Period. I’ve talked to the creators, and their work was either original or based on open-source projects (like serialosc and libmonome, which are “real” open source projects and lack the non-commercial restriction).

      2. giving back substantially to the monome community, with fully open-source hardware licenses.

      The monome community will have full access to firmware and hardware schematics, and can reuse them freely in their own projects.

    • Peter Kirn

      I’m researching this further. I don’t disagree with your conclusions here – I’m just absent some other information. And I hope in my haste I didn’t publish prematurely.

    • Derpatron9000


    • Peter Kirn

      And… yes.

      They’ve done entirely new hardware engineering and firmware.

      Portions reuse original work done on Octinct, for which they asked permission.

      So, I think there’s some misunderstandings in the monome thread. I personally find it unfortunate that people jumped to conclusions and even got downright sexist in a comment.

      Of course, the above sentence could be applied to all Internet forums everywhere, and generally the monome community is exceptionally civil. If you don’t like this project, move on.

      It’s the Bhoreal project’s obligation to prove some level of innovation. And it’s my obligation to make an argument — not necessarily for people to agree with it, of course.

    • Peter Kirn

      Completely different internal circuitry, based on the Arduino project which monome is not, RGB which is a non trivial difference technically, completely different enclosure approach, kit versions with sliders that have no real monome equivalent, connectivity that doesn’t rely on serial connections in the way monome does, a different approach to fabrication, a wireless and battery powered option, and an open source hardware license (monome hardware is proprietary and any modification must have the permission of the project to even publish)

      It’s easier to say what they have in common. They both have arrays of pads with switches, and both offer a product that’s 8×8. Otherwise, every other detail is different. But of course that feature is massive and they’re open about the inspiration. And I think as I said it builds on what the monome has done in a positive way.

    • Derpatron9000

      Isn’t it fair to say it’s based on Octinct, which is a color Arduinome (ardruno + Unsped shield) clone of monome? The RGB work seems to all have been done over on the monome forums years ago as part of the Octinct.

      “with sliders that have no real monome equivalent” Not so, the unsped shield had pin outs for this from when it was initially published.

      “monome hardware is proprietary” – Monome’s files specified a non-commercial license:

    • Peter Kirn

      There isn’t the kind of simple kit with a fader that they’re doing, no. Yes, you can do pinouts to faders.

      Technically, the monome hardware lacks explicit licensing that fits any widely-accepted definition of open source. The non-commercial restriction is a dealbreaker. And the griping and confusion over this is, to me, yet another example of why we don’t consider those open source projects. They can be useful, they may be the right choice for the project – but they’re not open source hardware.

    • Peter Kirn

      There is no monome equivalent of this simple, small-sized kit with a fader. That’s what I meant. Not that there is a pinout for a fader.

      In practice, hardware using a non-commercial Creative Commons license is proprietary hardware. There is almost no difference I can find between releasing your hardware specs under CC-NC and releasing it “Copyright monome project – for personal use only” as, say, KORG did with monotron’s filter, etc.

      I (and others) refer to monome as a hybrid product because portions of it are genuinely open source (patches, serialosc, etc.).

      The hardware and firmware cannot be considered open source and the fact that you really can’t use them – as illustrated here – only proves the point.

      There is something to be said for projects that are open to a community, in that they share materials, but those are effectively proprietary projects making themselves more hackable, not in any clear definition “open.”

    • Derpatron9000
    • Peter Kirn

      I profoundly disagree with this post:
      “It’s built up from Octinct, which was built up from Arduinome, which was built up from Monome’s published source files. Monome’s files specified a non-commercial license. As did Arduinome, to avoid running afoul of that. As did Octinct at the time Alex Posada took that project over from unsped. Alex helped develop bhoreal. So, bhoreal is tainted by exposure.”

      This will become apparent once they release the code. But “built up from” is a fairly vague connection to make before you accuse someone of violating a license.

      Some of these source files cover significantly simplistic tasks, like operating an array of buttons.

      I mean, I would find it really ironic if the monome community goes on about this projects “openness” but then uses as an axe the very non-commercial restriction that had prompted some of us to say it wasn’t open source hardware.

      Now, at the same time, I’m certainly not advocating that anyone violate that license. But my impression is that this is a project that can now be viewed as significantly different from monome’s implementation.

    • Peter Kirn

      If you keep reading, tehn’s conclusion is in that thread:

      “let’s get off the attack train, there’s no need. to be clear i’m not upset by this development and don’t intend to inspire a backlash. it’s simply not worth the energy.”

      I agree to some extent with Brian that I’d rather see more substantially original designs. However, if you’re building a development platform for other things, focusing on the 8×8 array and connectivity is useful.

      Also, the arguments made in that thread (and here) about “exposure” to prior work is generally a line of thinking associated with patents, not the violation of open code.

      My impression was that substantially evolving the schematics and firmware make this a worthy project.

      And that thread makes other arguments that I believe have no validity whatsoever. (Dinging Bhoreal for using open source firmware from the monome project is simply wrong – that firmware is covered by licenses that permit this use. And in one case, it’s an alternative firmware being specifically used to provide monome compatibility – which I think is a good thing for the monome community. As for comments criticizing the video for being too well-edited, and one misogynistic comment about someone in the video, that’s just silly.)

    • Peter Kirn

      Here is one of the octinct documentation pages:

      It was not my impression that octinct was viewed as violating the monome license, so why would it be that monome was?

  • aposada

    Frequently Asked Questions

  • edisonSF

    yea this is some biter shit….

    it has taken the monome and added some “new” perspectives to it

    but in the end, its a commercial rip off a non-commercial license…

    pic-nome anyone???

    • Peter Kirn

      Look – no.

      I’ve looked at their hardware and know a little bit about their firmware. My impression is that it is original work inspired by a grid controller.

      There have now been a substantial number of projects doing this kind of derivation – in that they find a new way of building grid controllers.

      I could be proven wrong when we see the source, but – significantly – that source will be under a fully open source hardware license. That means they will be obligated to share all they do, and then we can make a proper comparison. I’ll be extremely disappointed if I discover something was lifted wholesale, but my impression having talked to Alex and the team is that they’ve built something new.

    • Peter Kirn

      This is a more complex question, having to do with a number of components:

      The grid design of the monome is not protected by the licensing. Nor is using pads, triggers – any of it. Any such claim would likely fall under patent law as I understand it, and no one is even talking about that at this point.

      Components like serialosc are not bound by the non-commercial restriction.

      We’re talking therefore about firmware and logic board designs.

      My understanding is that both have been redesigned for Bhoreal. As such, they would not violate the license.

      Unfortunately, this means that running monome firmware on the Bhoreal I think *would* violate the non-commercial restriction. I’ve been critical of CC NC, because I think it basically makes something proprietary. I actually would advocate releasing materials under conventional copyright at that point, because “NC” mostly serves to confuse people.

      I hope that they do go to monome and ask for permission for this, though, because I think rendering grid hardware *incompatible* with the work of the monome community isn’t doing anyone a service.

      Essentially, monome is proprietary hardware that is liberal about sharing files (as projects from KORG, for instance, were recently), which uses key components of software that are open source and has a robust community.

      picnome released some materials but was not explicit about licensing. This is a fully open source project with a proper, explicit license.

    • Peter Kirn

      Just to be clear, though —

      The thorny issue is at what point schematics and firmware deviate enough to be considered original.

      And I don’t want to overstate my knowledge here:

      I really don’t know where that line would be drawn. In a community so small, and because only Brian and Kelli really represent monome, I would say it’s not really a legal definition but what they think is appropriate.

    • edisonSF

      werd… i can hear that…
      i see what you’re saying…

      but, all the licenses and schematics aside…
      it is just a wheel reinvention..
      at the end of the day, you’re making a “minimalist grid” running monome apps in your promo vid..

      i dunno, guess the world is ravenous for controllerismmmmmmm

    • Peter Kirn

      Fine, but these are two different things:

      “Hey, your shirt looks like the shirt I bought last week! Rip-off!”

      “Hey, you broke into my house and stole my shirt!”

      So —

      Having done further research, I’m satisfied for now that in fact the Bhoreal team has done their own engineering, and asked Octinct for permission on the rest. And even if you don’t like their actual product, this will include some open source hardware components that I think could be the basis of other interesting projects.

  • Marcin Zając

    I not fully understand the innovation of this project. VVVV has has already Novation Launchpad confuguration patches

    • Peter Kirn

      Uh, I didn’t say the sole innovation of this project was providing scripts for a grid in vvvv.

    • Marcin Zając

      Wow! You move to Berlin Kim ? Great! I’m sure someday we will meet :)

    • Peter Kirn

      Yes! I’m here!

  • ft 2t

    nice tag, awesomeness