I know what I want to do, but . . .

  • . . . I don't know what tools to use. Every video I've seen on the monome and similar controllers (Livid Block, Launchpad) is absolutely riveting. It calls to me, saying, "This has the potential to let me do what I want to do."

    What I want to do:

    I want to create beautiful, compelling, emotional, textured music. Music that paints stories in the mind. Check out Mikael Fyrek, Planet Boelex, Alkor, Crackle Creations, and URL for the kind of stuff I like to listen to.

    I want to create a simple loop, either directly from my piano's audio out or
    using it as a MIDI controller for software synths. Start/stop its playing, and add more and more layers of loops. Play them backwards, at different speeds; whatever makes it pretty.

    I want to add in small beats where appropriate, and do the same additive and subtractive layering for them. Ideally using a hardware controller rather than a software sequencer; maybe an MPD18 if not on the monome itself. I want to be able to sing into a mic, and add that to the mix.

    I want to be able to add effects, fades, even tempo changes to those loops all just by grabbing knobs or pushing buttons. I don't want to have to look at computer screen while experimenting. To me, any kind of software interface is just one more obstacle to sitting down and just playing, which is the whole point of instruments. That's why I like the piano, as limited as mine is -- I just sit down, press a key, and it makes noise.

    What I have:

    1. A Yamaha Nocturne. It's a digital piano, with a half dozen sound banks. It's designed almost solely for playing beautifully rendered piano sounds, though it also has MIDI, RCA, and headphone jacks.
    2. A Thinkpad R61i running Ubuntu Studio.
    3. A cheap Logitech USB microphone.

    I'd like to do all those things with just free software; a pure Linux stack, so that the only thing I have to buy is the grid controller and maybe a Korg nanoKontrol for knobs. But I'm willing to buy a Mac if that's what it takes. I was just hoping to avoid spending $500 for a used laptop and software on top of the grid controller cost, to say nothing of an additional M4L price.

    Despite reading the forums here at Monome, at Livid Instruments, at Novation, and elsewhere on what software and hardware people use, I still don't have a good idea what I really need to get the job done.

    I'm new to performing and writing electronic music. My background is in classical and new age piano performance. Way back in college, the only things I ever wrote were hymns. No software aside from Finale. So I don't have a clue which tools would let me take the music I constantly create in my head and put it into digital format.

    So, what are your suggestions? What's the workflow? What do I need to realize my musical dreams? Thanks.

  • sounds like you should check out mlr (max software for monome). i think you can map tempo/reverse/etc to hardware... but it handles live input and you can roll with 4-8 samples playing simultaneously...

    you dont need a mac - nor m4l.

  • What about the whole bit with controlling levels and effects using knobs and faders? From my limited understanding, it seems that that's only possible to assign functions to those hardware controls when running a DAW of some kind. That seems to imply getting a compatible software stack of some kind, most likely a Mac and Ableton Live. visinin seems to be the only artist using a Linux stack with his monome, and there aren't many details about how he does what he does. I did send him an email a day or so ago, asking about his workflow in Linux.

    I visited the monome wiki, and I've tried running the PureData-based apps in Ubuntu -- so far, PD is nothing but an exercise in frustration. None of the apps will even load properly. I suppose I could go the Max/MSP route using Wine, thus gaining access to the more common monome apps, but that seems rather problematic and kludgy. I read elsewhere on these forums that sample loading via drag'n'drop doesn't work for mlr.

    I've looked into mlr, and from the videos I've seen on Vimeo (particularly the howtos by galapagoose, edison, and stretta), it seems like it's definitely up to the task of doing loops and crunching them up into something new and tasty. There's just a steep learning curve. And getting it to run in whatever environment it needs.

  • mlr 2.51++ has some effects in there accessible through a secondary device. i believe mlrV does as well.

    can anyone comment on whether you can map controllers to mlr functions (levels/tempo/rev)?

    of course its possible with the m4l version... havent tried it in max.

  • Thanks for your responses. I didn't see that newest version of mlr; only the old 2.27 version on the wiki. I will give it another look, as well as try to dig up some mlrv documentation.

    There's an artist who hacked up mlrv to fix it for the Livid Block's faders and knobs (http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2010/01/26/livid-block-mlrv-jam/), but I haven't found his code anywhere. Too bad; it looks like a Block would be a really nice all-in-one bit of hardware; no need to buy several different controllers. Though I understand there would almost certainly be some troubles trying to get apps written for one device to work with a totally different device.

    Once again, I'm not opposed to buying a Mac and working within Live, if that's what it takes to do everything I want to do. For me, pragmatism trumps free software idealism -- and if it means scrounging up some more bucks to pay for it, then that's what I'll have to do.

  • personally, with my setup, i would imagine doing everything in live and m4l.

    record loops in live, chop via live clip chopper, effects and such in live. the only thing is that clips have to be in ram mode. i'm not sure if you can record new clips to default in ram... one would not want an extra step.

  • Not to take advantage of this thread, but I'm selling a Livid Block for pretty cheap...


    ...and, actually, you can use mlrV with the Block's controls if you use monomeserial and the mlrV midi insert. I've done it before. Works like a charm.

  • I saw your post, and bookmarked a day or two ago! It's the cheapest I've seen a Block, ever. I just need to know if the knobs and faders will work out-of-the-box with the standard monome apps here. Or whatever this mlrV MIDI insert thing is. If so . . . I will probably be sending you a PM.

    Edit: this insert? http://post.monome.org/comments.php?DiscussionID=3717

    I just watched the mlrV demo video by galapagoose (http://vimeo.com/2441155), and . . . yeah, that looks pretty much just like some of what I want to do. With the ability to do other stuff via MIDI (like the Block's faders or an MPD18 for drums) when an 8x8 grid just isn't enough. And it doesn't seem to need Live! Epic win?

  • You can do everything that you want. If it were me though, I would splash out a bit and get Ableton. You can use it as a host for all of the effects that you want which you could then control with whatever you like. It has great looper potential too. You could then use a VST like molar right in Ableton which will cut down on all the fuss. Molar would allow you to record loops and then chop them up. I did a performance with a female vocalist who sang all of her chorus backing vocals which I captured in molar to then start chopping up live on the fly. To add a little bit of complexness that you dont really need, she had a wiimote connected to a smattering of different effects on each of the backing vocals so she could wave it around and sweep filters and reverbs and so on. It worked really great.

    The downside of molar is its quantisation which you either grow to love or hate. I like it but it can be quirky to get your head around. MLRV would then be your choice. My buddy in my latest project uses it and triggers samples whilst singing. Its great but just a bit un reliable and very quirky in certain respects such as the way presets are saved (or not!) and it does not remember volume changes after saving (unless I am doing something wrong!) Super Secret MLRV is out next month and may be a force to recon with though.......

  • Indeed, I just found the ssmlrv thread and devoured its contents with my eyes. Greedily. This, possibly combined with that MIDI insert mentioned above might be just the ticket. Seems much more straightforward than trying to make Max/MSP apps work within Live.

    While I'm still scouring the webs for cheap (used?) grid controllers, I've started recording little loops and bits from my piano. Maybe soon I'll see if I can hook it into a softsynth on Ubuntu to give me more flexibility in the sounds I create. I'm trying to build up ideas and crunchy little tunes I'd love to serve on a monome, well chilled. Possibly even spicy percussive hot.

  • I think this could be a nice solution on linux but I'm afraid i haven't tried it:

    SooperLooper can be controlled with a monome: http://www.essej.net/sooperlooper/

    You should be able to feed all the inputs in to that and layer/overdub/change play back speed with that.

    You could trigger drum sounds/other samples in hydrogen: http://www.hydrogen-music.org/

    Route your voice, piano and drums together using JACK: http://jackaudio.org/

    Should be quite easy, super light weight and uber reliable.

    As far as fx are concerned have you considered something like a kaos pad?

  • remember he's running ubuntu here. Renoise and ardour perhaps?

  • "SooperLooper can be controlled with a monome:"

    Really? Just midi-mapping, or is there something more sophisticated out there?

  • triss' recommendations are pretty solid.

    if you're looking to stick with linux, triss already provided a fairly comprehensive list of software solutions to get started with (JACK being the most important imo). only downsides with linux is, yes, there aren't too many monome apps available and number of users/docs is a bit slim. but! there are a number of very knowledgeable linux users here that are generally more than happy to help others out! (me being one of them, so don't feel shy about e-mailing!)

  • pages works in linux! it may not be what you're after though. check into the "virmidi" module for IAC/midi yoke/virtual midi device functionality (jack might also be able to provide this).

    i tried ubuntu out for a bit, works well. i even got ableton live running fairly well under wine, plus a bunch of native instruments soft synths. wine is pretty amazing -- worth trying for any windows capable apps. i know max/msp has an issue with the drag and drop stuff under wine which is unfortunate :(

  • Thanks for the suggestions, folks. Man, the monome community is ridiculously friendly! Y'all rock. :)

    Here's my current situation on native apps in Linux:

    Ardour is a no-go. Spent 3 hours poking at it yesterday. Despite getting JACK to work correctly with a few other apps (softsynths and Freewheeling), Ardour refuses to take any inputs from my system. Not to mention I'm getting a fair amount of xruns, even after tweaking the latency down to 5-8ms, and that's without a realtime kernel (!). Still, the integrated Intel HDA chip is just too anemic and unreliable. If I stick with Linux, I'd have to get a cheap USB soundcard. M-Audio seems to be a favorite. (Maybe that's a necessity for Macs, too; I dunno. Are most Mac monome artists using external cards, whether FireWire or USB?)

    Audacity, a much simpler recorder, freezes up shortly after starting to record. I only get about 2 seconds of audio. Punted. Next!

    I ended up just using the built-in Gnome Sound Recorder, which takes the input from the mic jack and sends it straight to a .wav file. The quality is really good. I'm leaving the loops "raw," so that I can load up the files in a DAW or other program later on for processing and effects, if desired.

    I've used the apps mentioned by @triss some time ago. The problem with using those with a monome is that it turns the monome into nothing more than a very expensive MIDI push-button device. A laptop keyboard or even a $50 nanoPad could do the same job if it's just on/off keypressing. The monome really shines when you use apps like mlrV and the stretta suite; things that have the ability to do more than just activate sounds when pressing a button.

    To my knowledge, there's no way to get those monome-specific apps running while also communicating with Linux apps via JACK or MIDI. There aren't too many apps on Linux that even have proper function learning; i.e. "map this button to that control."

    On running apps via Wine:

    I really don't want to have to run anything in Wine. Getting JACK working with native Linux apps is troublesome enough as it is. Non-native apps . . . I may as well get a Mac if running Ableton Live is required at some point. Native platform = fewer headaches. Additionally, it seems like I've read far more "this is broken/very hard to configure" help threads for monome artists using Windows . . . I don't want to have to troubleshoot those same Windows issues within Wine, while also trying to force Ubuntu to work. That would tax my sanity.

    I'll take another look at the PureData-based apps in the wiki, just to see what they can do. Will also looking at the code for visinin's native Linux monome patches. I may be able to do some of my stuff using those before having to sit down in a linear DAW like Ardour. That'd be fine for recording an album, just not live noodling or improvisation. For that, it seems more and more that getting just a Mac and running Max/MSP plus the mlrV-type patches would work, without ever needing to run stuff into Ableton.

    * * *

    @triss had a good idea about using a Kaoss device, but they're pretty expensive. For simpler things like reverb/delay, I wonder if a plain ol' pedal; something from Boss or Line6, could be added? Though if the various versions of mlr/mlrV+insert/ssmlrv support arbitrary MIDI devices mapped to effects, then additional pricey hardware wouldn't be needed at all. That, to me, is pretty exciting!

    I could get a Mac, a monome, and just run the native Max/MSP apps, and do most everything I want to, headache-free. I could have my cake and share it with others. And then eat it. If I really needed to, on down the line, I could splash out for Live without worrying about making it work in Wine. The Mac/monome community is just so much more established, with a lot more knowledge and solutions available right from the start. At this point, I think I'm looking to just make music, not be an early Linux/monome trailblazer.


    Wow, the video for Pages is amazing! Thanks for sharing. It's compelling stuff. This looks like it could do basically everything, since it seems like it's even able to run other monome apps inside it. Though it's not really clear to me how much Pages can do as a standalone program, or how I'd go about hooking it up to stuff in Linux that hold all the samples or monome patches. If Live is required, both for clip launching and as a VST host, then that's one more thing to run inside Wine . . . or to just get a Mac and avoid another layer of complexity. :)

    * * *

    Keep the suggestions coming, folks! I just want to use whatever lets me create with the fewest obstacles and headaches. The simpler the setup, the better. Lowest-cost is always a big plus. There's enough of a learning curve (cliff?) just for learning how to play the various monome apps, to say nothing of trying to connect one program or controller to another.

  • well, if pages is working in ubuntu, i would definitely have a look at that, very flexible package there. Renoise has osc support, runs under linux, and looks very interesting indeed. I say this as an osx live user for years, any solution will require some cliff scaling to achieve what you want...

  • Renoise is fantastic, although not free. If you're good at scripting in Lua, you can make your own apps (there's a couple basic ones already). Supposedly it's pretty easy to learn, I just don't have the time.

    As for PD, are you using the one in Ubuntu's repository or the download? I'd suggest downloading extended. I haven't used Ubuntu in a couple years, but I remember getting pd-extended to work. Those were my pre-monome years though. I'd also continue trying to troubleshoot Ardour. If you can get the pd version of mlr and ardour going, you'll be right where you want, and with free software, too!

    Good luck, Linux can be a pain in the ass sometimes. The easy answer is "get a mac" but there's something to be said for doing it all in Linux.

  • @pixel ale:

    I'm no good at Lua or any real programming. Tracker-type apps like Renoise scare me, ever since I first tried Buzz a long, long time ago. Renoise is rather cheap, but the interface and tiny font don't seem intuitive or easily readable. :)

    I didn't know there was a different version of PureData. I got a lot of errors that suggested missing components, since I used the plain-vanilla version from the main Ubuntu Studio repository. I'll give the extended one a shot, and see what I can do with Ardour. Though without an external sound card, probably not much. There are always xruns and latency issues with the integrated audio chip.

    USB sound cards are okay for latency, regardless of operating system, right? Or do I really need to get another laptop with FireWire jacks (or a PCMCIA FireWire card + audio interface for my ThinkPad)? The only things I'd plug in are my piano, which already has a working E-Mu 1x1 MIDI-to-USB adapter and headphone/RCA jacks, and maybe a USB mic. I even have 1/4"-to-3.5mm jack adapters. Going for USB all around sure would be nice, since that makes it possible to use all my existing hardware, and makes it possible to buy a less expensive Macbook over a Macbook Pro. Or heck, one of the last-model Powerbook G4s for even cheaper. Can Powerbooks handle running monome applications, or Live concurrently?

  • I have been working in PD for a while, and have an app - loopy (see http://docs.monome.org/doku.php?id=app:loopy) - I would love to see tested in a linux environment. I will be setting up a simple linux machine during the next few weeks to get started on this.

    loopy, to be run in pd extended, provides a bank of 56 samples (7 rows x 8 columns) which can be triggered in momentary, trigger once or loop modes, and also can be sliced in mlr-like fashion.

    loopy also provides 7 recorders, which can record button presses, internal audio and external audio; and once recorded, loops can be assigned to sample bank buttons.

  • @bongo:

    Loopy was one of the most exciting PD apps I found on the wiki. Runs in something that's Linux-compatible, and it can take audio from any source or the monome itself, all without needing a DAW. And it can do mlr-style bitchopping, too! I can imagine grabbing raw piano tones from my piano's RCA out, playing them in loopy, then using JACK and a softsynth to play generated tones, sent to some kinda virtual device that loopy could grab as an input, and doing more live mashups from there. It's positively mouthwatering.

    I'll fix my installation of PureData, just to see how much appears to be working on Ubuntu . . . without actually having a grid controller, of course. Time to go shopping.

  • loopy does allow some triggering from the on-screen ui, so you could begin to play with it without having a physical controller. not sure if the public version on the wiki is as fully functional in this way as the development version i am currently working on. if and when you're ready to try loopy on your linux machine perhaps we should coordinate an off-board conversation to help get you going. i am really interested in getting this working well on linux (for myself and for others).

  • @bongo:

    I installed pd-extended and loopy-1.5. My testing notes are in your inbox.

  • @nightmorph - I don't think any of the errors pd gave are critical. I snet you an email with more info.

  • If you're using USB 2 (you probably are) then I wouldn't worry about latency. And yeah, those integrated audio chips are pretty awful when it comes to driver support. You can get a cheap interface for around $100 that will do loads better than your current setup.

    I'm going to agree with raja (once again) regarding a new system. I'd recommend going with an Intel Mac, since PPC support is starting to run thin. It ain't cheap, but think about how much you use your computer, audio-related or not, and you might be able to justify it. It would definitely make for a less headache-inducing setup.

  • @flpslx:

    Cool. Not having to go with FireWire simplifies the used Macbook shopping choices. Right now, I only have one analog device to plug in -- the line out for my piano. It also has MIDI in/out, for which I have a MIDI-to-USB converter. That and a USB mic are my only instruments. I'd just need something to plug speakers and headphones into for decent audio quality -- it'd sound better than plugging 'em into the laptop's headphone jack, right?

    This laptop would only be for audio production; I have no intention of giving up Linux as my daily desktop OS. So the hypothetical Mac doesn't have to be top-of-the-line; just the essentials for creating tunes.


    I've been a bleeding-edge pioneer long enough to see the error in my ways. I'm a Gentoo Linux developer, after all! Nowadays, I prefer to run reliable systems, without having 'em broken all the time because I had to chase after the latest and greatest incomplete, undocumented code.

    Like I said, the Mac monome users seem to have the most stable, supported, trouble-free experience, so that's where I'm leaning. I'm figuring out that I *can* still do loop-based composition on Linux; it's often just the more traditional, linear, time-consuming, get-stuck-in-the-DAW process.