Designing The Monome

German design studio Precious Forever has published an interesting interview with Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree, the designers behind the Monome grid-based music controller.


There are millions of electronic music controllers on the market. Regardless, many users seem to be unable to find a setup that is “just right” for them. Naturally, there’s no perfection, but do you think the model of developing modular open source software or hardware for yourself or for a constrained and specific target audience has the potential to become a serious counterbalance to the current industry? Or has it arrived there already?

I believe it’s certainly already arrived, and has been around for some time. Those who seek customization eventually find solutions (undoubtedly after using tons of commercial equipment).

This is not a market that is easy to commodify or mass-produce, as once there are ten thousand of something, it surely loses its appeal. There are only so many fancy knob boxes you can truly get excited about. More and more people may find themselves delving to lower levels, learning basic electronics, microcontrollers, or some programming environment. These tools are not music industry specific of course.

With this trend should be considered two things: first, spending all of your time designing tools means you’re probably not making as much music or art; secondly there will always be a demand for specialized and inventive devices. Those who discover their inventive potential will hopefully supply inspirational tools to those who choose to keep their focus on music or art. DIY will never be all-encompassing, nor should it be. Many tools don’t need to be re-invented.

Have you ever thought about the possibility of some “big” manufacturer stealing your ideas, incorporating them into their own products and selling them with another name? Or did this even happen to you?

it seems remarkably unlikely as there’s not a profitable incentive. We believe the intellectual property system is broken. Our best protection is our openness. We’re also quite confident in the build quality of our devices.

Similar products on the market (and upcoming) we don’t see as being absolutely derivative, and they really missed the main point. It’s not just about blinky buttons.

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