monome explained

  • I stumbled across the monome while reading through the Moog forum and tried to learn more about it, but that's not so easy.

    I've looked at youtube videos and others but nobody seems to explain what's going on. In fact, they don't seem to talk at all, just push buttons with flashing lights. It's like I entered a strange alien world, or perhaps like I stepped through some type of time warp into the future. I am on the other side of a generation gap.

    Where do I start to learn about what's going on here. Can I just ask? What's going on here? What does this monome do? How does it work? What's it connected to? Do those questions even make sense?

  • a monome is a reconfigurable grid of backlit keypads which connects to a computer. interaction between the keys and lights is determined by the application running on the computer. there is no hard-wired functionality.

    what you see in the videos are demonstrations of the monome used with various software

  • As the monome is simply a box with LEDs and buttons, the interface is a blank slate for whatever suitable use you can imagine. Pressing a button sends a serial message to the computer over a USB cable. An LED can be lit from a message from the computer. These behaviors are completely decoupled. That is the extent of the monome itself.

    Any behavior or application beyond that comes from the software running on the computer. Most applications are music-oriented, but one could use the monome for video applications, or games or sequencing DNA, whatever. Some music applications generate MIDI data. Others generate audio.

    I feel these videos are a good introduction to monome's flexibility:

  • I went to the first pointer you posted, I felt like I was walking in on the middle of a movie. Is there a pointer to the beginning of the movie?

    Maybe if I could learn all about one application, what it did, how it worked. Sometime like that would help a lot to explain what's going on. That's the way we learned things back in the 20th century. I can see that it's different in this century, interesting really, but it seems to make my head spin.

    (The above was posted before I saw your second comment Stretta)

    Ok, I saw the demos, they are very much like the ones that inspired my first post.

    I'll try asking questions.

    Are applications something you buy, are given, or do you have to write them yourself?

    How would one go about finding out what the person pushing the buttons is actually doing in the links you posted?

  • With all due respect, johnjay, I don't see anything different with a first impression of a monome in 2008 from a first impression of a minimoog in 1970. ("what's going on here? all those knobs and switches! I'm a musician, not a scientist! only one note at a time?") I'm quite sure the minimoog made people's head spin. There was no frame of reference.

    As far as an application is concerned, take mlr as an example. It is the most popular application and you'll see a lot of videos of people using mlr.

    The core functionality of mlr is playing a sample loop. Now, if you trigger a sample loop with a sampler, the sample usually triggers the sample at the beginning. If you re-trigger the sample, the same thing starts from the beginning.

    Now, imagine a row of eight buttons on the monome. The same sample is mapped across the row of eight buttons. If you press the first button, the sample plays from the beginning. If you press the fifth button, the sample starts at the half-way point, and so on. Now imagine multiple rows of buttons - each loaded with a different sample loop. Now, imagine the ability to sequence button presses, then play over that.

    Now, imagine taking all this technology and making music:

  • Most applications are free. You can download them from that first scary link.
    Or, if you want to write something yourself, the monome supports many languages/environments. A majority of applications are created in Max:

    If you look carefully in the two intro videos I directed you to, the name of the application being demonstrated is displayed in the lower right hand corner. To find out more about that application, go to the apps link and find the application there.

  • If you look at the docs page, that will direct you to many of the applications that people have made for the monome, there is a small description about what each of the appications/patches does. If you download some of them, there is also documentation on how to use these apps.
    The monome is a very addictive piece of hardware, especially with something like mlr, where you can start chopping your loops like nobodies business and therefore turning a track into something completely new.
    Actually it is pretty addictive with most of the apps!

  • I don't know about 1970 and the minimoog but I would love know what was running through John Lennon's head as Bob Moog was explaining VCOs and such. George must have got it though. I've heard that in the Moog modular days there really wasn't any documentation and Bob would give his customers enough of a personal tutorial to get them started and send them on their way. That sounds similiar to what you folks are doing for me here.

    It seems to me that there are differences though. The Moog modules were based on classical electrical engineering constructs- you could if you wanted to crack enough books and find out what was going on. Of course that wasn't a practicle thing for most muscians to do and it seems that people can do just fine on a voyager without knowing what poles are doing in their filter. On the other had this monome + application is at a whole different level of abstraction and, depending on the application, could be a lot harder to wrap your head around.

    The comments were very helpful, and I think I got the idea, at least in a basic way. Thanks.

  • Just to give you an idea of how I use my monome. I run MIDI applications like polygome or Molar VST (which run on my laptop) and then send that MIDI data over to a MIDI=>CV box to sequence my modular.

    I think sampling/looping is probably the most common use for the monome with plenty of apps dedicated to it. But like hinted above they also have been used for light shows and or lighting controls, really anything a button with an indicator light would be good for controlling.

  • Thanks, I think I'm catching on. I need to chew on it for a few days.

    What is the relationship between monone and Tenori? I mean, did one inspire the other?

  • i noticed recently that the tenori-on has some MIDI capabilities. if you could light the leds from afar you could have a monome emulator running on it. however, the tenori-on makes sound on it's own, whereas the monome is simply a controller for other programs.

  • johnjay

    I've been wondering for a long time how to explain the monome to people and I think I came up with something. think of the pixels on your computer. thousands of tiny little squares that light up (different colors of course but bare with me) now those pixels give you feedback of what the software is doing. now imagine those pixels a little larger, and larger and larger and larger, eventually you get a pixel the size of a monome button. think of monome buttons as really large pixels on a computer that let you touch the software inside. of course you have very limited pictures but if the monome had 10,000 buttons you could display a movie on it. there are already programs writen that scroll words accross it. (not the most handy thing in the world but why not?)

    I don't know if that helps. basically, you push a button and the software does something, the software tells the monome how to display it's lights for visual feedback of whats going on.

  • "What is the relationship between monone and Tenori? I mean, did one inspire the other?"

    From what I understand, the monome pre-dates the Tenorion. The similarity between the two ends at "they have flashy button things". The Tenorion generates its own sounds, while the monome manipulates software to create,recreate,mix,edit,loop sound.

    Much of the love for monome comes from its possibilities. Since its not limited to a sound bank of pre-made loops (like the tenorion) , its only limited by the software (which is rewriteable) and by the person standing behind the computer.

    Hope that this helps (and isn't incorrect, ha)

  • The tenori-on is a self-contained, closed system. It can output MIDI notes from the sequencer, but it ends there.

    You can't:

    • change the behavior of the internal software
    • send data BACK to the tenori on, specifically, to tell it what LEDs to light

    ... which is sort of the whole point of the monome. It is one thing to route a set of buttons to do something, but without feeding data back to the leds, the system is inherently dumb. A one way street. You can't determine the behavior of the buttons, creating radio groups, check boxes, momentaries, etc... OR ANYTHING. You just have a grid of buttons and there are any number of products that can do that.

    Furthermore, while the tenori on sends MIDI notes from the sequencer, I don't believe there is a mode that allows a 1:1 unique MIDI note assignment from the buttons. There are 128 MIDI notes. There are 256 buttons. Yes, in theory, there are ways to get around this (using two MIDI channels, dividing up the remaining buttons to other messages, etc...) but the fact of the matter is the Tenori-on wasn't designed with this use in mind.

    Even if there were a firmware hack that allows lighting arbitrary LEDs, MIDI is a supremely bad protocol for this communication. For a number of reasons.

  • in the tenori's defense, i appreciate the turn-on-and-go quality, in addition to the all-in-one-ness of it. playing music while riding trains is a great joy-- having a complicated mess of computers on the seat sometimes ruins the uhm, mood?

    the tenori fits into the category of a normal synth. the monome is different, but there's room for both.

    on that note, who's working on the one-board-computer embedded in their monome device with a battery?

  • Got it. Comparing a ternoi-on to a monome is like saying "nice banjo" to a guitar player.

    How would I go about understanding what the switches and lights are connected to, what that widget does, and how it communicates with the computer it's connected to. Is there a link you can point me to that explains this a bit?

    As I was watching all thes videos I realized that I really have no connection with the type of music I hear the monome being used to make. I understand that the type of music being played has nothing to do with monome, never-the-less everthing I'm running into has a "certain style" to it. What is this music? Do people put it on their ipods? I could use some pointers to the really good "songs?". I mean, are they songs? Also, if Jazz or blues playesr use a monome, well that would be interesting to hear.

  • "on that note, who's working on the one-board-computer embedded in their monome device with a battery?"

    Last idea I had was putting a arduino in a box with the correct usb cable out and some sort of battery source and headphone jack. Then you could load versions of monome apps onto that and use it as a portable external player.

    edit for clarification: you would then plug this box into the monome and it would be the "portable" interface.

    Mainly considered this due to the quickly runnning out space on the arduino chips.

  • "Got it. Comparing a ternoi-on to a monome is like saying "nice banjo" to a guitar player."

    A better way to think about it is the difference between a keyboard synth, and a MIDI Keyboard, one makes sound, whereas the other tells something else to make sound.

    too bad about no MIDI input on the tenori-on, but i haven't seen anything with KP3 monome apps that would make me call MIDI 'supremely bad'. rather i think it is an adequate solution with a little bit of work.

  • "I really have no connection with the type of music I hear the monome being used to make"

    I understand what you mean here. I felt a similar way at first. It takes awhile to understand that the monome can be used in any genre. While many in the community use it for electronic music, its also being widely used in others. The machine is only limited by the scope of your creativity.

    So, if your dedicated, creative, and are passionate to the idea of integrating it to your set, then it works in any genre.

    I will say, however, and correct me if im wrong, that it doesn't appear to be used exclusively for one genre, at least not too often. Most people use it to fuse different styles together.

  • So after some poking around it seems that the switches and lights are connected to a little "computer" inside the box that bridges the switches and lights to a USB port and that connects to a full size computer. Is this right?

    Now there's this open sound control - protocol? layer? whatever-- that seems to be the new midi but not really because it's not at all hardware based it's a , communication protocol for musical things that runs on top of other communication protocols??? Any clarifications would be appreciated.

    Also, still looking for pointers to compelling pieces of any genre of music using these instruments. My experience so far, which is very limited, has been that it's all a bit robotic sounding. Which is fine, but not really my cup of tea.

    Another thought that comes to mind is that simple on-off switches might be a bit limiting for expressive sound. How does the equilivant of velocity sensing take place on a monome?

  • "Another thought that comes to mind is that simple on-off switches might be a bit limiting for expressive sound. How does the equilivant of velocity sensing take place on a monome?"

    no velocity, they really are essentially on/off switches though once you start using one you realize how much can be done with them. if i had to worry about velocity on my monome i think my head would explode.

    "Also, still looking for pointers to compelling pieces of any genre of music using these instruments. My experience so far, which is very limited, has been that it's all a bit robotic sounding. Which is fine, but not really my cup of tea."

    i'm gonna play devils advocate to the rest of the board and agree with you in saying for the most part, things made with a monome do have a certain sound to them, at least for mlr. i don't think this is a bad thing and i do think you can still make many genres of music with it, but it does have a certain feel to it that just yells monome.

  • DJ64 is another program that emulates a turntable set up as well as other effects. It is meant to be a tool for DJing. It was made by Bitbasic and very well documented.

    and here is a video going through the basic features and explaining the layout:

    just posting this to give another idea of some of the things possible with the monome.

  • I was away from musical composition and production for over a decade as I pursued (the most difficult part of) my career in grad school and academia. Recently, I realized that I needed an avocation, so here I am. I want to give you confidence, johnjay, that you can figure this out and it will be very rewarding.

    While rebuilding my home studio from the ground up about a year ago, I stumbled upon this video looking for new analogue and analogue style synthesizers:

    It was the first monome video I ever saw and I was hooked. [Note: the program (I later learned) is called "boiingg." Once a column light "hits" the bottom row again, it triggers the assigned note. You can very how far out you start this "boing," and thus the relative lengths of time before each note is re-triggered. This can be changed real-time. Really simple, and really fun: especially for real-time fiddling with the synthesizer patch as well.]

    I was interested, so I did a search and found Stretta's web site. Stretta is the one who has helped you out a lot in the above discussion, but he has been too modest (I am guessing) to send you to his own website. I came to understand the monome in no small part simply by following his videos and blog posting in chronological (reverse blogological) order, which I suggest that you do right now. Go to his website:

    Click "monome" in the side bar. Scroll down and keep clicking for "older posts" until you get the the last page. Watch and read each post, working your way back up to present. Most of your quandaries and queries will be answered in the process - including how to use this for something other than electoronica-style fast-beat driven music.

    Again, Stretta has creative commons albums of his music in the side bar that you can download. Try his "grids: the all monome album":

    And you will begin to hear many of the creative ways that the monome can be used for really expressive and not necessarily "dance-y" sounding music.

    After that, check out the monome wiki "docs" page again, that Stretta pointed out to you in one of the first posts on this discussion. You will be in a better place to understand the "getting started" stuff at that point:

    Finally, do you have an iPhone? If so, I highly recommend that you start off by getting the "haplome" application that is a free download and start working with it. I did and it made my time of waiting for my 64 far less excruciating and it also gave me some learning time so that my transition to an actual monome was quite easy and pleasant. Warning: when I retried my link for this, it looks like its creator is taking it down for some more work right now. But do some searches both in this community and on google and on the app store at apple and see if you can get it going.

    [One last note: keep in mind that the 64 (and only the 64) has "tilt," which is a way of granting some extra expression to the monome. You can use the tilt function to adjust velocity, note-length, filter cut-off frequency -- anything you can link a MIDI code to. Search for something like "monome" and "tilt."]

  • Thanks for all the info folks. You have a very nice community here. It's all very impressive. Stretta's web site is amazing.

  • also very cool is the ability of the monome (and many of the patches designed for the monome, such as mlr) to work in tandem with different instruments. stretta has a very cool video demonstrating this:

    essentially, he's recording bits of what he's playing into mlr then manipulating them as he would any other sample. it's a very cool feature of mlr that i've found to be incredibly powerful and wonderful sounding (especially when you consider that you can manipulate pitch, speed, and direction of playback).

    as for defining the monome itself, i think the definitions above do the box justice. think of it as the most minimalist controller ever created; it has a nearly infinite number of possibilities because of this, but it also requires a restructuring of thought. using the monome requires one to think differently than they may normally, especially if you're planning to redesign some program or controller or function for use on the monome.

    there's also a nice monome emulator here: it's a bit buggy, but it does the job and gets the point across. of course, part of the point of the monome is to get the musician away from the computer, so emulators tend to be missing the true feel of a monome.

    and welcome to the community! everyone here is really helpful, and amazingly knowledgeable. i've learned a lot from these guys about modern computer music, and really owe them quite a bit.

  • Another thought crossed my mind, johnjay. As I've been getting to know the monome I've come (I hope not too inaccurately) to categorize two main uses of the monome: sound collage and alternative control.

    What I mean by this is there are those coming from the more hip-hop, d.j., sample community from one angle, and those coming from the synthesizer, music-theory, experimental controller angle.

    QUALIFIERs: I don't mean this distinction to be a judgement from one side against the other (quite the contrary, in fact, I think they compliment one another): I don't mean that there is not significant cross-over between these two types: In fact, I would say the inventor, tehn, has one leg firmly in sound collage, and another firmly in alternative control.

    But, in general, you have pillars of the community on the sound collage style, like Daedelus and Edison. Then you've got Stretta as a pillar on the alternative control side. However, Stretta does sound collage as well, proving my disclaimer that there is a lot of cross over.

    But I think that may help you understand why you hear a particular sound in a lot of the vids up on the net. I think a lot of the vids on the net represent the sound collage / d.j. orientation. If you are not into, or not familiar with that kind of stuff, the monome may seem less accessible. Just keep in mind that it can be used to generate more "conventional" music production from the alternative controller angle.

    I'd love to read anyone else's comments. Am I being too generalizing? Is this a good basic schema? Any nuances? Thanks.

  • No, I think you've hit it pretty straight on. I'm into music in total myself, every aspect of it from every corner of history, so everything that this community stands for resonates with me in some way.

  • @tetramorph
    "But, in general, you have pillars of the community on the sound collage style, like Daedelus and Edison. Then you've got Stretta as a pillar on the alternative control side. However, Stretta does sound collage as well, proving my disclaimer that there is a lot of cross over."

    That's an interesting way to categorise the projects in monome world. I think there's some mileage in dividing things up like this.

    Rather than sound collage though, I think that what's most distinctive about the way that edison and deadalus (and others) are using the monome, is something else;

    They stick to a straightforward, tried-and-true template that has its origin in machines like the mpc: buttons map to samples or portions of samples. There's a direct correlation between what these people are doing with their fingers, and what we're hearing. From the perspective of the audience, this is a way of performing electronic music with a great deal of transparency and immediacy.

    So if i were to group monome use into two types i'd label them Performative vs Alternative Control. Again, the disclaimers you mentioned apply.

  • @bitbutter

    Okay, I like the clarification. But even for people who are using it in more the alternative controller style may still be doing so in order to be able to perform their electronic music live (as well). I mean, something like Polygom

  • Nice work.

    I guess that by performative, i'm trying to get at something more specific that performance (in its most inclusive sense): perhaps i'm thinking of virtuosity, but of course mlr-ish apps aren't the only ones that allow for displays of that. Then maybe it's the transparency/immediacy that's the important thing. I don't understand how polygome works--but on the other hand i suspect the same is true for mlr in the case of many people who've never heard it explained to them.

    It's not long before any such categorisation scheme runs into problems, being quite artificial from the outset. But i think they're interesting anyway, even if only as an indication of how people are thinking about the monome-scape.

  • @bitbutter

    Thanks for listening and for the kind word of encouragement.

    I hear you. I am certainly no virtuoso and now that you say it I think you are right that there is a bit of virtuosity in the use of apps like mlr. I never heard someone put it that way, but it actually relieves me a lot of my monome-anxiety -- I am no virtuoso, so I no longer have to aspire to such ends!

    And you are exactly right. I am fascinated with mlr the way, maybe, a cat is fascinated with water running out of a bathroom faucet. It is beautiful, compelling, and I am wrapped up in it while experiencing it. But I am glad that the "gods" are controlling it. And when it is not around, I'm not really thinking about it.

    But polygom

  • i find myself sending this link via e-mail often, so maybe it'd be good to keep it around.

  • @johnjay

    I find this video ( to be the best explanation of what the monome is. Really, is fantastic. Watch it.

    tehn is the one who created the monome, so you should listen to him.

    stretta is, perhaps, the one who has contributed the most to the community. His website is amazing, the apps he develops, even more, and his projects are real works of art.

    Welcome to the monome!

    PS: If you want one, let me suggest you to wait until January for the next edition of monomes. They are just gorgeous! I mean, just look at them:

  • Ok here's my explanation, and I dont own one yet lol.

    Picture a drum set. You have a mic for each drum sound and you record a sound file of each single drum. Now you assign each drum to a button and in theory you can play the "drums" on your monome. If it sounds robotic, that's because the sound files being used are robotic, or buttons are being pressed before the file finishes.

    I personally wouldn't think of the monome as an instrument like a piano, but a controller used to arrange sound clips. It's easy to make dance type Beats because it's all loops. The real trick is getting a more organic experieance out of it.

    Picture a digital delay guitar pedal. You can record guitar riffs onto your computer and use them as loops or effects at will in real time with button presses on the monome. I'd type more but I'm on an iPhone!

  • @l4mbr3tt4: There is much more to it than arranging sound clips, and you certainly dont have to use loops. The drum metaphor only describes one possibility, perhaps 64fingers but you can also send midi to control a drum kit (or whatever synth you want) a-la battery or some such, in various ways using different apps.

    There isnt much difference from a piano in that you press a button and something happens. Of course, the monome isnt velocity sensitive but there are ways around that. The main difference is that monome is much more versatile than the piano! There is something to be said for the restrictions of a single instrument (implying that the monome is multiple instruments; the tool changes based on the software), however.

  • from ulfp in another thread:
    ( )

    >> 3. I have a computer science degree. What attracted me to this community wasn't the music per se (although seeing edison's skills blew my mind), but the fact that people were doing some real cool stuff without realizing that they were programming. They were creating data flows I had never seen before, without having a single theoretical foundation, other than 'it feels/sounds right'. The monome is, for me, a physical manifestation of a perfect computational paradigm. And made by necessity, not theory!

  • Total monome fan, and also noob in here.
    This thread has enlighten me a lot about monome capabilites and functionalities, the only bad thing about monome: their availability; they're so scarce... With this thread I've decided to buy, but got to wait for a while (at least for a 64). Or does anybody has a spare one ;).

  • @Introvert;

    I was/am in a similar boat. The scarcity of the monome teamed with my budget meant that I'd resigned to being unable to get a monome.

    Instead I went into the groupbuy for the starfire arduinome boards and I have been able to get the parts for a 64 and a 128 for quite cheap in comparison.

    Perhaps asking in that thread whether or not it's too late to get in on that buy (I know the payment deadline is this friday but everything is worth asking).

  • ^ thanks a lot... money is not the issue (well at least for anytype of 64, bigger monomes... well... money then becomes the issue), it's my bad luck. On e-bay for example I lose in every auction there is, and for building one myself, I s*it my pants, it's so fucking scary. I been into the DIY thing a couple of times bending some cheap Casio pianos... but guess what... they blow up. So I guess my soldering abilities are really, really bad. I was going to buy this 2010 edition, but they sold like in a minute... I dont know what to do?? I'm dying for a monome !!!!!!!! I have been trying also the "trade" forum in here, but again no luck.
    Anyway thanks for the tip, I'm going to check it out... but let's not deviate from the thread theme...

    I have a question for you guys... it is sctrictly necessary knowledge of MAX for having a monome, or a DAW (as host) could be enough? for making music this is(even though I'm trying pure data right now -because it's free- but it's really tough...).

  • @ soundcyst;

    I like what you've said... It is soooo true, in fact these type of interactions with hardware/software that becomes this intuitive should be studied (as an investigation question) in schools, lol, I mean colleges and/or universities. Intuitive programming?

  • No. You don't need to know (or own) MAX/MSP to use a monome (but believe me, you will have a lot of fun making and using your patches and apps in MAX). You just need MAX Runtime in order to open the monome applications.

    I've just read this (I'm such a noob!).

    Edit: Read the faqs.

  • A thorough answer to the question, "What is a monome?" would have to describe the software for it and the music being made with it. It would be the length of a book.

  • (and the book would have to be a pop-up book ;)

  • thats a wonderful idea... i think we might be on to something

  • The monome is versatile enough to be different things to different people, methinks. I mostly use it as something in-between a computer keyboard with keys that light up, a mouse and a touchscreen. I use it with apps that I wrote myself in ChucK, doing MIDI or sample stuff. This is wonderful enough.

    Every now and then I make a stab at mlr, but at best I can make it sound like a mutilated version of something thousands have excelled at doing before me. Interesting to play with, and sometimes interesting to hear what others have done, but not really making sense as a musical path for me to walk down.


  • Hello.

    I've been absent from the forum for a long time now... Guess what? I'm back. And I read this thread (2 and a half years ago from my posts in here) and I realize I love the monome and the community. Re-reading this thread reminds me of how scared (and confused) I was for this lovely piece of gear (and how badly I wanted one)... Now that I have it (2010 was my year) it is not that hard, you just have to be a little disciplined, read, study, fall, pick yourself up, dust youself off and start all over again. :)

    Big hugs to the community. You guys are awesome.