Grid Music

I want to be a DJ. Those who know me know this to be true.

For about 18 months I’ve been playing with Ableton Live, a truly extraordinary application for creating music both linearly and on-the-fly. It is absolutely perfect for live entertainment. But last year, at its debut at our annual holiday party, it was (or rather, I was) a bit hobbled by the mouse-only access to its dizzying number of on-screen controls.

This year the problem is solved. I picked up what’s known as a control surface (basically a ton of hardware knobs and sliders) called the Novation Remote SL Zero which interfaces directly with the virtual controls of Ableton. Fine, great, I can mix and twiddle. But what was needed to put it over the top was the monome, that venerable, limited 8×8 controller that debuted to the infinite joy of audio geeks everywhere last year.

The monome is really a dumb device, a 64-button USB controller. But it has a loyal, smart following who’ve developed some amazing applications. One of them, called monogrid, let’s you chop up a song into discrete musical quanta so that they play out across the grid. Each button triggers that part of the sliced song, effectively turning the whole piece into a remixable unit — not unlike a turntable does, without the need to scratch across unwanted parcels (both a good thing and a bad thing).

Here’s my brother mucking around with Daft Punk’s “High Life”. Yes, his own metronome is a little off midway through, but that’s just proof that he’s really playing the thing.

Dorky? Yes. Crowd-pleasing? Absolutely.