Redefining the mobile DJ: walking away from the booth.

Following the launch of my Lemur Template, Traxus Scratch Live, which effectively allows you to control Serato Scratch Live from an Ipad through the Lemur app, I’ve been thinking a lot about the iPad as a DJ control surface. Right now, the Traxus Scratch Live template can effectively replace turntables using time code, or other midi controllers that deal with platter control and of course, looping and EFX. So, if for nothing more than a mental exercise, let’s explore what it would take to go completely mobile, and leave the DJ booth behind. We’ve got the ability to manipulate and beat match songs, but now we need to kill the volume on the incoming track, as well as send its signal to a pair of headphones that are being fed wireless audio.

Traxus Scratch Live, the first Lemur template with true platter control for Serato Scratch Live

Traxus Scratch Live, the first Lemur template with true platter control for Serato Scratch Live

Spare any latency issues with the streaming of the audio signal, mixer controls are as simple as mapping to Traktor’s built in faders and EQ. However, Serato does not offer these features. This could be worked around by feeding the outputs from the Serato Box into the inputs of a second internal sound card that were wired into channels in Ableton Live that each had their own EQ’s (and other effects as desired). You could then wire one stereo out into your mains, and another into a wireless transmitter by which you could cue remotely. If you’re a wiz with the Bridge (if such a thing exists) you also open up a whole world with regards to taking samples into live from the currently playing track… After wiring together this not so simple setup, you could do some simple template building and midi mapping to effectively build a 2 to 4 channel mixer with faders , cue buttons, and EQ’s, therefore addressing our two most obvious problems: cueing up and mixing in the tracks. The choke point however, is that we still need a way to select them.

A quick mock up of a controller template for an Ableton Live based DJ mixer.

A quick mock up of a controller template for an Ableton Live based DJ mixer.

What none of the major players offer at this time is the ability to remotely navigate your library and select which track you’d like to load prior to cuing it up. Sure, you can midi map the navigation and loading/unloading controls but that still ties you to a monitor, and therefore a laptop. At best, I suppose you could rig up a big screen or projector however there is a lot to be considered about whether you’d mind the crowd to see everything that’s going on, or prefer to evade the trainspotters. Ideally one of the major players would provide some kind of stream for the meta data of the tracks currently being browsed, perhaps over OSC in the manner that livecontrol for TouchOSC has managed to dynamically send the clip names to the iPad.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, and may be a race against the clock as tablets and laptops approach singularity. With increased presence and processing power, it becomes more feasible to believe that fully fledged touch screen dj software may be introduced for these devices somewhat negating the need for full remote control. Nevertheless, there is still the case for artists whom are pushing the envelope and using a composite of several software in their performance wanting simpler means of more centralized control (which is one of the finer points of touch screen midi /osc apps). Add to this that APIs are the way of the future, as proved by max for live which has expanded Ableton’s potential by unforetold amounts, it seems only natural that one of the major DJ software companies should also move in that direction (or that a new player should evolve to fill the void).

So, where does that leave us? Well, when adding mixer controls Traxus Scratch Live, we are in a position where we could potentially DJ from the dance floor, so long as we are willing to stream our monitor’s feed to a publicly visible place. There are of course sacrifices, inevitable latency issues are the first that come to mind. If present, the video latency shouldn’t be a choke point, so long as the performer is skilled enough to mix by ear, so the primary concern is the latency of whatever we are using to stream wireless audio. Given the technology that exists for feeding singers live monitoring (of which I am admittedly uninformed on the finer workings), it seems that negligible latency is a reasonable expectation.

To what means? As a turntable native, I’m a bit apprehensive to leave my 1200’s in the dust. I initially developed the template with the idea of using it in tandem with my decks in a 4 deck environment. I was never a fan of CD decks or other wired midi controllers, but the unmatched flexibility of lemur (and honestly, the Star Trek aesthetics) hooked me, and the notion of complete mobility has inspired further interest. Imagine hosting a house party, the last thing any host wants to do is ignore their guests, and sitting behind the decks all night might not be the most social move (fact: in Detroit it is a sin to have more than 8 people over and *not* have a live DJ). Now, envision working the room while carrying an iPad and a pair of headphones and perhaps you can start to see the benefits of added mobility.

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