On May 18 I joined a new fraternity. That was the day I finished building my Monome 40h kit. It’s been a while since I built anything electronic, but I got it to work, after a lot of slaving over a hot soldering iron.
For the uninitiated, the Monome is little more than a box of buttons that light up. For electronic musicians it represents a unique way to control the software they use. Brian Crabtree, one of the creators of the Monome has wrtten mlr, a loop player/slicer using Max/MSP. This is the app that is most associated with Monome. Other programs have been written to control Ableton Live, the defacto standard for laptop music.
The Monome 40h has 64 buttons in an 8 x 8 grid (64 = 40 in hex). The kit version of the 40h consists of a logic board and the button grid. Building the logic board was fairly straightforward since is had a fairly low component count. The Amtel controller and the Max chip, two large integrated circuits were provided with sockets, so unless one was to install them backwards there was no way to damage them. The button board was another story altogether. Each of the 64 buttons required the installation of an LED, and a diode. The diodes, however, are surface mount diodes, which means that they are very small and are soldered to small pads rather than in to holes in the circuit board. It took a couple of hours to solder all 64 of them, allowing time to rest my eyes. The LEDs were next, at it was with them that I shot myself in the foot. In my zeal to get the project done, I soldered all 64 LEDs in backwards. It took a while to sort that out, but with the help of the very benevolant Monome forum community I realized the error of my ways. To effect the repair I had to go and buy a solder remover, a small manual vacuum. I did a few of the LEDs with solder wick, but that took alltogether too long. The solder vacuum was also more effective removing solder from the plated-through holes of the button grid board.
After correcting the button grid it was time to test my work…again. Since my computers run Linux, I used serial-pyio, a utility written in Python to communicate with the Monome. Once I connected the Monome to my netbook using a USB cable I started serial-pyio. Serial-pyio comes with some test utilities that test both button and LED functionality, and my Monome passed with flying colours, or colour, in my case, green.
With electronic functionality proven it was time to house the circuit boards in a case. Most Monome builder take the opportunity to house their kit in a unique case. My favourite is a case built from Lego. I chose a clear acrylic case from Curious Inventor. My case is somewhat large, but it will allow for customizations, such as LEDs for ambient lighting,
and various devices to connect to the logic board’s analogue inputs (accelerometers, pots, and so on). I may even try to put a micro-aquarium in it.
I’ll be using my Monome with axiome primarily. It provides better visual feedback of what the loopers are doing and the buttons provide more immediate control of axiome. While axoime is a very cool I felt I needed to search for other apps to use with the Monome. My search was quickly rewarded on the Monome forum. Grain allows the user to perform granular synthesis on two sound buffers with the Monome providing control over grain position, position randomization, grain length, pitch and volume. In addition, up to 64 button presses can be recorded for each parameter, allowing sequencer-like control. Grain is written in ChuCK, and thus viable in Linux. I hope to post some pieces made in Grain soon. Stay tuned…
Here’s a couple of photos during construction Monome stuff