Truly Modular: Modulares Interface

There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years about the “future” of DJing, brought much more up to the forefront of our minds with Native Instruments’ campaign to be defining it as… something.  To me, the paradigm of DJing has been clearly defined over the last… 3 decades (?) and no matter what the future is it will be a play on that until the current generation of DJs retire and the next generation starts doing things we could never conceive of.  When I first started DJing I believed that modal design was the way to go: you have a few buttons and controls on a small controller, but pack a ton of functionality under layers.  I quickly realized that was not the best way to go, at least for me, and started to really embrace modular control.  With the advancement of mobile, touch based controllers, there has been a lot movement in enhancing modular control, letting these secondary tools do everything the standard gear could not elegantly handle.  But there are tons of limitations to touch control, and a lot of people are very unhappy with the lack of tactile control and accuracy of what is out there.  So imagine my joy when I see a product coming about that embraces the customization of these little computers with the classic feeling of actual tactile control.  Enter the Modulares Interface B.A.

Modulares Interface iPad (2)

First, some words from the Modulares website provided by Florian Born:

Multi-touch devices like the iPad have become more and more popular over the last couple of years. Nowadays they are not only used for browsing and sending e-mails, but also as a medium for new fields of applications. One particular thing of multi-touch devices is in need of improvement: It is the lack of haptic feedback, which makes it difficult to set parameters precisely.
Regarding to this problem the project has been developed to provide a variety of physical controllers. These controllers expand the usage of a touch device with a haptic feedback while adjusting parameters. By using magnets, the different controllers can easily be arranged onto the iPad. A modular interface appears, which uses a given device just like the iPad.
The system contains three different parts:

  • The physical controllers (button, slider and knob), made out of conductive aluminium to pass on the electrical discharge of the human skin.
  • A frame, made out of aluminium and plastic, in which the iPad is inserted. The edge of the frame has embedded magnets, making it possible to position the controller precisely and easily.
  • The software, running as an app on the iPad. It organizes the control elements and sends the parameters to the corresponding software, which is controlled by the modular interface.

Effectively, the classic method of DJing has always been modular.  You have three individual pieces you combine to create one set up: two turntables and a mixer.  Depending on your skill and desire you could add or remove pieces for more or less control.  You could have an effect unit, a turntable, a mixer and a synth, or a drum machine, or a microphone, or any combination of that and whatever your imagination could come up with.  There were always alternatives, like rackmounted CD decks, and now with all-in-one controllers there has been a real move away from any sort of modular solution, and manufacturers have, in my opinion, almost universally dropped the ball on modular set ups, either making them FAR too complicated, or so specific that if you don’t want to use it for its one intended purpose it’s effectively useless.  That’s what excites me the most about this product, since you can, effectively, build whatever you want and use it like a regular controller, in a nifty package that looks really sleek.


Modulares Interface iPad (1)

The part of this that really interests me is that I can easily and intuitively create an elegant solution for whatever my needs are.  If I want to use two turntables and a mixer I can program this to be an effects controller and move on.  If I want to supplement an all-in-one like the S4 but add some extra controls for better Remix Deck integration or super knobs I can build this out for it. It can do as much or as little as I want, and I don’t need to keep buying controllers to take advantage of extra features (at least in software that leaves adequate access to controls via MIDI).  Granted, it still requires an iPad, which is not an insignificant purchase, and I’m not sure if it can communicate via a cable, or CCK, or only wirelessly like the Lemur app.

As far as existing gear, I’m reminded very much of the successful kickstarter for The Palette, and the ill-fated Mawzer modular controller. While I’m still super excited for the Palette to be seen, and kind of heart broken than I’ll never get to use the Mawzer, this idea blends the two into a very interesting concept, allowing for a true modular controller while still feeling chunky and heavy. Unfortunately, there are no plans for an official release, so all I can do is dream my fancy dreams about how awesome this would be to have in front of me.

Florian Born was kind enough to take time out of his day to respond to some questions we asked.

I have read varying accounts, but what keeps the controls from scratching the iPad?

I used a piece of conductive foam with a low resistance in this prototype to prevent the aluminum from scretching the display.

How much customization would you like to allow for the software side of this?  Would you be hoping for a lot of direct integration into software or more user based customization for macros?

I think it would be the coolest to have a macro based customization for the user because this whole idea behind this interface is to give the control to the user. He can structure his interface in the way he likes so it is a logical consequence to give him also the possibility to assign what ever he wants to his controllers.

Can you eventually use the iPad to drive color based feedback as well?

There is already a optical feedback. If you touch a controller the display below changes from black to white. But sure there could also be more feedback like visualizing the actual value with a blend between to colors.

What protocol does this send?  Is it OSC over Wifi?  MIDI via a CCK?  A combination?

At the moment it is just OSC.

Are you hoping to turn this into a market ready product?  If so, can you give us any insight into cost?

This is not planed yet. But let’s see what the future brings.

What is your ideal use case for this product?  How would you approach organizing the controls for your own workflow?

Since i’m more a programming and graphic guy I would use the controllers for my own programming sketches that are mostly related to the topic of creative coding. I also would love to use it for film editing, graphic design or 3d construction.

But I’m also curious what all the sound / music / DJ geeks would do with such a thing!

Did any previous types of gear inspire this idea?

Not really but while developing this idea I found this beautiful controller from teenage engineering. The OP-1. I really love the design of this controller.

Are you hoping to provide any other types of controls beyond buttons, faders and knobs?  Would joysticks, switches or pads be possible?

For me these three are the main controllers. But also the other ones would be possible. The switch is a no-brainer, the iPad joystick is already available by company’s that are related to the game industry. The Pad would be a tricky one but also possible is think.

Dan’s thoughts

I’m always on the fence about touch screens and DJing. I get that you get a huge advantage in  being able to have the screen adapt to feedback, and with a lot of apps, templates allow so much flexibility. But the loss of decent feedback to your fingers means it’s too easy to make mistakes in the heat of the moment. That’s why modular touch-based controllers appear as concepts every so often.

With these sort of systems, you sort of get the best of both worlds. There have been attempts before to add tactile feedback to tablets, but this is certainly the most thought through so far. There’s also a lot of potential in the idea of using colour feedback to show change in value of the control you’re using. Having tried apps like TouchOSC and various DJ apps, it becomes obvious why there’s such a scramble on both iOS and Android to get devices talking with MIDI controllers. Something like Modulares could proove to be a great compromise. Hopefully we’ll get a play of it!