So, I've really enjoyed playing with my monome 40h this last week, even if the play was often punctuated by long bouts of downloading and configuring. After the first couple of days I pretty much had the hang of what needs to be running for it to work, and was able to play with some of the neat pre-built apps available free on monome's site.
balron asks, and then answers the essential question: "What is the best way to map a 12-tone scale to an 8x8 grid?" Essentially it's a tonal chord generator. There's a huge drop-down menu with various tonal mappings to choose from. Then it lets you set 4 levels of delayed and shifted responses to what you play, which can create some crazy sequencer-like music as well as contemplative jazz-ish compositions, depending how you tune and play it. The responses display on the leds as they play, which is really cool because then you can follow the response lights with similar patterns of your own - like jamming.
flin is like having 8 vertical 8-step sequencers. Think of led raindrops. You can push buttons on the monome to set the drops to be short and fast or long and slow. 8 virtual on-screen keyboards let you assign the notes. The droplets trigger MIDI which I send out to my synth. Hours of mindless fun right there.
flip is 4 "pages" of an 8-beat sequencer sampler. You drag .wav samples onto 4 pads and then use the buttons to arrange each sample. Holding the space-bar on you computer puts the monome into control mode, where you can use button groupings to mute and un-mute, switch samples, switch which sample you're working on, and relative volume levels. Hitting the ~ (tilde) key scrambles the sample randomly. Shift lets you reset the sample to normal again. Again, hours of mindless fun.
mlr is similar to flip in that it allows you to load up samples and then control them with the monome. It maps a sample horizontally to each row and then you can control the begin- and end-points with the monome. Good for "glitching" e.g. re-starting the sample from different points. You can also set individual samples to play in reverse (right to left).
There are more apps for Chuck, Pd, Processing, Reaktor 5, etc, but by now I had started looking for a good tool to chop up some songs so I could play with mlr and flip some more (being tired of the same 20 clips I downloaded off the internet). This sent me on a trip down beat-slicing lane.
My basic desire was an app that would slice a song into 64 roughly equal parts based on the beat structure of the song. Then map each part to a button on the monome. Turns out this takes some pretty fancy algorithms to do automatically. I found a lot of tools, but they all had pretty hefty price tags, so I spent some time looking at free or opensource options, per some suggestions on the monome site. After various frustrations with VSTs in Cubase and/or interfaces that were baffling to me, I started to think that perhaps a commercial app would be the way to go. At least there would be documentation and a forum and some Youtube vids and I could get some support if/when totally lost.
After considering Max/MSP and Abelton Live 6, I ended up choosing Reaktor. I'll probably eventually get both Max/MSP AND Live, but for now I think Reaktor will give me the most bang for my buck.
Reaktor looks deep, in terms of having a lot of ready-to-use apps (ensembles) but also a sophisticated and accessible core for building my own tools.
AND it has a couple of different beat-slicing tools built right in. I found it for $224.50 shipped from Nova Musik. There are already a few apps up on monome.org for Reaktor, and it speaks OSC, so I'm psyched.