The music of Bjork, Daft Punk, and Ryuichi Sakamoto don’t have much in common, on the surface. But they all run their live shows through Lemur, a multi-touch interface for creating real-time light shows and music mixes. The latest version was just released, and it features simpler graphics, and an improved ability to create custom touchscreens.
The Lemur is quickly becoming a defacto standard among top-shelf DJ’s who can afford the $2,300 price tag (especially in Europe, because the distribution stateside is spotty). From a design standpoint, it’s interesting in a couple ways: For one, the Lemur offers a good example of the kinds of features interface designers should pay attention to—cutting-edge DJ/musicians manipulate a far broader array of equipment, in real time, than many people can fathom, so the task of meeting their needs presents a high bar. The Lemur doesn’t succeed because it’s pretty and easy to interact with—rather, it’s good at mimicking the analog experience of futzing with mixing boards and synthesizers, allowing the user to flip around the details of the Lemur’s interface as easily as you’d move Scrabble tiles. (You can even tweak the pressure sensibility, to better mirror myriad dials and knobs.)
And Lemur is great news for musicians and music fans. As electronic music becomes more mainstream—from M.I.A. to Justice—these types of artists find themselves in a weird bind of having to create a credible live show. (And in the age of pirated MP3’s, those live shows are the best source of cash around.) The Lemur helps solves that, by giving them a bona fide instrument. In the future, it’ll allow clever musicians to become more like visual artists or stage directors, since the device can be linked up to light outputs—giving music a real time visual interpretation. That, in turn, puts live performances on the scale of Pink Floyd or the Flaming Lips at the hands of a single person. Daft Punk and Bjork are already proving what’s possible.