Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Towards a philosophy of monome, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love minimalism

What is the monome? What does it do? What sounds does it make?

These are questions I get when I try to explain the monome and my love of it to most folks: friends, family, etc.

How can I explain how cool it is?

The monome 64 is a box. It is approximately 6" X 6" X 1.5." Without a computer that supports USB, that is all it is.

But not exactly. The monome is beautiful. It is itself an example of minimalist design done right. Very mod, it is made of handcrafted wood with a Mondrian-like grid of translucent silicon buttons placed within a punched grate of brushed metal. So it is art. You could, in the right place, hang it up on the wall.

Let's say, however, that we do have a computer that supports USB. Now what? The monome is now a box with the electronic capacity to send digital data regarding the pushing of its buttons to the computer. It is also capable of receiving, independently from such button pushing, signal to illumine the LED lights that back-light the various translucent silicon buttons.

And that is it. That is all the monome does. Which is just short of saying that it does nothing. And that is exactly where possibility enters.

The monome makes no sounds (intentionally); is not, of itself, a musical instrument, etc. What it makes, in the minds and hands of those capable, is possibility.

To those that would like the concrete before I wax philosophic, the monome is an interface or alternative controller, that allows for a near infinite possibility of user-designed and community shared software applications. If you want it to send MIDI data (info from a computer that triggers a synthesizer) then you can. If you want it for graphic design, there you have it. To trigger and modify sequences of musical patterns in real-time. To generate arpeggios, undulating recursive patterns - its up to the programmer.

In an important sense, the monome is neither the almost numbingly simple hardware, nor is it the near infinitely possible software - monome - is what happens when a creative mind brings the two (hardware and software) together in order to bring something new into the world. In order to generate unique (and sometimes unrepeatable) patterns of beauty.

So before this gets theological I will conclude by saying that I need some Aristotelian metaphysics at this point. And end it now with the intention: more to come . . .


  1. Less is more. I think maybe I'm beginning to get it (just short of nothing, that is).

    I'm not sure if this is really abstract or really concrete. Or both. Or neither.

    Thought provoking and cool. Thanks!

    Question: if Aristotle were the programmer, what wd he do with the monome? What about Plato?

  2. Good question! I'll try to answer that in my next "theoria" post.


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