Aleph: Monome’s Adaptable Soundcomputer

By Brian Parker

Last week, Monome, the company known for its simple, open-source control surfaces, unveiled their newest device Aleph. Aleph, which upon firing up displays a bit-mapped form of its namesake Hebrew letter, is a programmable, adaptable sound-computer capable of just about anything from audio sampling to analog synthesis to USB control and integration with other devices and DAWs. The current Monome collection features a variety of grid and encoder-based control surfaces which are popular in the electronic and experimental music communities, with capabilities and success in audio-visual, programming, and science applications.

Designed and engineered by Monome creator Brian Crabtree and musician Ezra Buchla, the Aleph offers an alternative to performing live with a laptop computer running various applications, which can often be precarious and risky. While the Aleph is open-source, Monome and an enthusiastic community of Monome programmers have a variety of applications that the Aleph can run, including sequencers, samplers, effects processors, and digital controllers.

The Aleph can itself be controlled by other devices with options to extend its functionality to other the Monome devices, modular synths via 4 control voltage ins and outs, computers via USB connection and control, and even a footswitch or expression pedal via 1/4″ jack.

The “beautifully low resolution” grayscale OLED screen is lined by four assignable key switches on the bottom, and four analog gain stages with LED indicator lights on the top. Visually, the Aleph is bold and iconic without an over-designed interface. While simple and powerful, Monome includes a disclaimer that Aleph is not intended to replace a laptop computer, which can juggle lots of processes at once. Rather it performs a few processes simultaneously and very efficiently without noise or interference.

The minimal design of the Aleph is both limiting and liberating, in that the user can define the parameters of any program to perform simple operations while a more advanced user or programmer could create very complex combinations of applications in a whirlwind of code. However, the Aleph represents a return to standalone instrumentation and the overall future of electronic-based music applications and devices.

The Mac platform has long been and will remain a staple for creatives in music and the arts, but its convenient ubiquity can often seem like a creative burden. The Aleph is not necessarily the single device that will change the face of the industry, but it does offer a new perspective on streamlined music production.