When the original JazzMutant Lemur was introduced in 2004, it immediately generated a buzz. It was the first controller of it’s kind: A highly customizable touch screen controller with advanced features and multitouch functionality. The concept was simple. Customize a layout of knobs, sliders, buttons, and various other unique objects to create your own MIDI or OSC control surface. Many high profile artists began using the Lemur, including Björk, Modeselektor, and Richard Devine to name a few.
I felt that it was (and still is) the future of controllers and performance surfaces, because it frees us from the clunky, outdated grasp of MIDI controllers, by offering a more elegant, and intuitive solution. Future Music Magazine named it “Innovation of the Decade”. The cost was around $2,000.
Then came the iPad. At $500, it was far more affordable than the Lemur, and there was music and DJ software available for it right out of the gate. It seemed the Lemur was doomed. JazzMutant decided to stop manufacturing the Lemur last year, which left many of us wondering what was to become of the fabulous software that was miles ahead of anything else out there. There are many music and DJ apps available for the iPad at the moment, but most of them are either too constrictive, and lack the power to take advantage of the customization options that a touch screen affords, or they’re unrefined, and can’t do half of what the original Lemur could.
Fortunately, the good folks at Liine have come to the rescue. After a brief scuttlebutt, they’ve taken the original Lemur software, with its nearly ten years of development, and released it for iOS. All you need is a device sporting iOS 4.0, and you’re in the building. The new software includes all of the things we loved about the original Lemur, without the Lemur. Possibly the best and most unique feature is the incredible physics engine, which enables you to have objects such as sliders (and even a bouncing ball) bounce around with varying amounts of friction as you fling them across the screen. There are seventeen types of objects that you can duplicate, customize, and even write scripts for, including knobs, faders, pads, bouncing balls, LEDs, switches, and scopes.
The new Lemur software is by far the most advanced touch screen controller software out there, as it gives users the ability to create scripts for their controllers, and build intelligent systems much like in Max/MSP or Reaktor.
Lemur communicates either over Wi-Fi, or USB MIDI. It’s important to note that the software is compatible with Open Sound Control, which is a control protocol much like MIDI, with significant advantages. The latency is much lower, the resolution is higher, and frankly, it can be even simpler to set up. The downside of OSC is that most software (such as Ableton Live) doesn’t support it. It’s useful with programs like Max/MSP, Max 4 Live, Csound, Reaktor, and Modul8. Most users will connect the Lemur software to their computers using an ad hoc network, which is a decentralized wireless network coming from your computer that your iPad can connect to.
Using an ad hoc network as opposed to a router cuts down on latency, and helps you avoid showing up to a gig asking the sound guys if they have a wireless network you can sponge off of. If you want to use USB MIDI, you’ll need something along the lines of a Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer, and a USB MIDI interface.
Once Lemur is connected, you can either load a template, or customize and assign on the fly using the editor software that is available for download at no extra cost from the Liine website.
One great feature is the instant updating of the Lemur software on your iPad. It’s endlessly handy to be able to see what your interface will look like instantly, and make simple tweaks and changes without having to do any pesky syncing or manual updating. There is also a template available for controlling Ableton Live called Mu, which is specifically awesome.
There are many other great features associated with using the new Lemur software from Liine. Every step of the way, from building a layout, to connecting MIDI or OSC, to playing the gosh darn thing, is elegant and streamlined like a proper piece of software should be. The iPad is finally seeing its full potential.
Lemur is available for $49.99 from the App Store.
Evan Sutton is an electronic music producer, sound designer, and audio engineer. He is an instructor of Electronic Music Production and Sound Design, as well as a Curriculum Designer and Developer of the Sound Design Program at Dubspot. You can hear music, and find more about him at his outfit, Astrolith.net and SoundCloud.com/Astrolith.