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Touching From A Distance

Leader By Paul White
Published July 2010

I've always been fascinated by the way the technology we create to help us do one job often pulls us in other directions, prompting us to develop something we never considered in the first place. For example, who'd have thought that early computers, such as the Commodore 64 and Atari ST, would make possible MIDI sequencing, which, due in no small part to its quantise and copy/paste abilities, gave rise to a whole generation of dance music, the influences of which still permeate pop music today, some quarter of a century on? The there's Auto-Tune, a piece of software that was originally designed to nudge slightly imperfect vocals into tune with minimal side effects, but which (as far as the listening public is concerned) would become best known for the robotic artifacts it creates when its settings are deliberately maladjusted.

Now it's the turn of Apple's tablet device, the iPad, to make a difference. So far, opinions remain divided, with some people claiming that it is simply a big iPhone that can't make phone calls, while others foresee all kinds of possibilities springing up. I think it's as a touch‑sensitive control surface with wireless connectivity that it shows the most potential. While the iPhone has already spawned some useful control applications, its small screen size was always going to be a limitation. If Apple are not already creating an app to allow the iPad to be used as a mixer/transport control surface for Logic Pro, they're not as forward‑looking as I give them credit for, but the real innovation will probably come from third‑party companies who can see possibilities others haven't yet considered.

I make no claim to be able to see further into the future than anyone else, but amongst the more obvious iPad applications are Wi‑Fi remote‑controlled mixing consoles and lighting controllers for small venue mixing (where the iPad acts as the remote controller for Wi‑Fi‑enabled hardware), backing-track playback, theatre spot-effect playback and multi‑function control surfaces along the lines of Jazz Mutant's Lemur and Dexter. It would also make a useful mobile controller for anyone who has multiple sound systems at home, linked to a Wi‑Fi audio distribution system such as Apple's Airport Extreme.

In the studio, a remote control surface could allow DAW control from behind a drum kit, inside the vocal booth or while playing in the live room, and while there are existing hardware devices that can do this already, the greater screen real‑estate means that more sophisticated control would be possible. Even using an iPad to provide a mirror of a DAW screen inside a vocal booth would be incredibly useful, but I have a feeling that the most creative thinking is yet to come. I can't help wondering what effect this technology will still be having on our music making in another 25 years.

Paul White Editor In Chief  

Published July 2010