The JazzMutant Lemur is one of those futuristic pieces of gear that everybody's interested in. It's a customisable touchscreen interface that can be made to do just about anything.
There are downsides to the future, though. For a start, it's expensive, and it can be complex, too. These issues combine to give the Lemur the vibe of a research project at times, rather than a musical tool.
The Lemur has been available for a while now and connects to your computer via an Ethernet cable. It has a 12-inch touchscreen and behaves like a MIDI or OSC controller, but instead of having a 'fixed' interface, it can be customised using a library of objects – faders, pads, etc.
This flexibility makes the Lemur a lust object for many and the update to version 2.0 adds even more new features.
The updated Jazz Editor, the interface design tool, resides on your Mac or PC. This is where you can explore the new features before uploading templates to the Lemur.
The major workflow-related developments are the ability to store several setups in one screen, using tabs at the top of the screen to navigate them, making mid-show setup changes much smoother.
The second big innovation is aliases, which allow several copies of an object to refer to one 'master' on another page. New objects include: Breakpoint, allowing hands-on envelope control; Gesture – trackpad-style control using pinch and rotate finger movements; and a new Menu item, so you can build custom pop-up menus.
Any object can be directed to computer keyboard and mouse actions.
Multiline scripting has been added, and it's theoretically possible to get real-time feedback from Ableton Live, showing and updating clip names and colours on the Lemur's display. These last two features are potentially killer, but it takes a lot of digging around to get the Live feedback working.
And it's that 'digging around' which is the problem. The manual gives dry, technical, explanations of what objects do, but there's no indication of what you might use them for. You get the idea that they're counting on their forums to do the work for them, with Lemur users answering each others' gripes and generally helping each other through.
Be under no illusion, Lemur is a serious and complex piece of kit.
We've been living with the Lemur for a while, and the only new feature that we've found useful on a regular basis is the tabbing – the idea of scripting gives us a headache. Any phrase that begins 'if x = ...' is not very rock 'n' roll.
However, JazzMutant tells us that it's currently addressing user-feedback requests for video tutorials, documenting the use of the Lemur in real-world situations. Videos for DJing and VJing, live performance and sound design will be posted on their website in the coming weeks.
This is good news and proof that the developer is aware that if it wants the Lemur to survive in a world full of iDevices running TouchOSC and iTouchMIDI (not to mention more old-school technologies like the Akai APC40) it needs to de-geek its product further.
The Lemur remains expensive, and brilliant. If you've got plenty of time and money on your hands, then great. But if not, this update might not sway you just yet. But it's getting there.