Thursday, February 14, 2008

New Media Interfaces and the Lemur

After reading Soren Pøld's article on interfaces, I was left thinking over whether I generally regard the interface as an aesthetic form with its own art, or only as a passive tool, an instrument that allows me to connect with my computer. Pold mentions how powerful the role is that software-hardware combinations play in the creation of digital art and cites the influence of products by Steinberg and Roland on electronic music. (33.) Having used several such pieces of software and hardware myself, I realized that I thought of them mainly as tools and rarely considered their aesthetics. As Pøld notes, programs like Auto-Illustrator challenge these “traditional conceptualizations of user, object, and software,” (34.) but Auto-Illustrator feels to me more like a piece of art that can be played with than a functional tool. Manovich, in his article, makes something of a call to fill the “untouched space completely open for experimentation and creative research—using programming to generate and/or control figurative/fictional media.” (pg. 216.) While the Flash art that he discusses seems to head in this direction, I was interested to see if there was anything I could think of that utilized both an aesthetic and a pragmatic approach to the interface.

I was reminded of going to a Björk concert this past summer where the stage was covered with several widescreen monitors. I soon realized that these screens were displaying the interfaces used by Alan Pollard and the other backing musicians/technicians to help create Björk's unique live sound. The monitors were displaying brightly colored, simple geometric forms that the moved around with their hands to control synthesizers, drum machines, equalizers and other effects. After the concert I did some quick research and found that the band had been using “Lemurs”, specialized audio/media control surfaces designed by JazzMutant. According to the product website ( the Lemur is customizable, and allows the user to “design the appropriate interface that will precisely fit your needs, fit your hands and your idea of how a controller should work.” The site also reads, “At last, you can create your own interface, fitting your needs, whatever the software is you wish to control. For that purpose, the Lemur comes with a workflow optimized interface editor running on your choice of MacOSX or Windows.”

This sort of product seems to be a step forward in the development of both interface aesthetics and functionality. It still remains, however, within the field of music, which Manovich notes (pg. 218.) is still the most culturally advanced in this regard. It was exciting to visit the Cave to have a taste of some similar innovations that aren’t so specifically music oriented. But as Manovich also notes, right now most programming investments of this sort are “only possible in a commercial game company or in a university.” (pg. 216.) I am eager to see, therefore, what new sorts of dynamic interfaces, both artistic and pragmatic, the future will bring.

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