One of the most prominent new musical tools I saw in use during the MMiX performances and workshops last month was the Akai APC 40, a controller with buttons, knobs and sliders that was created specifically to work with Ableton LIVE.
The APC hasn’t been out that long, but already Ableton users have developed some far-out finger skills on the device, which almost remind me of keyboardists or guitarists with that kind of high speed dexterity on their own instruments. Some examples:
You could say the APC 40 is similar to the very popular monome, which made it’s first appearance on the electronic music scene as early as 2005. But the monome does not include knobs or faders, using just the minimal grid of backlit buttons on a square box, which is an open-ended interface that can be configured as toggles, groups, or sliders for pretty much any audio application. At this point, the active community of monome users and developers has started using the device for more sophisticated open source video, text and game applications.
The Novation design seems to split the difference between the APC and the monome, but it probably won’t be as open as the monome. I haven’t found anything solid yet on whether it will work with anything other than Ableton, but I expect someone will figure how to hack it. But the basis for all these controllers are those backlit chicklets, like it’s the most natural musical act to press something and make sound, whether it’s keys, frets, pedals or silicone buttons.