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Using the Leap Motion and BetterTouchTool with Reason

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I would guess that a lot of people receiving brand new Leap Motion controllers this week are going to hit an immediate brick wall when they find that the apps in the firm’s store are for the most part cute and not that practically useful, and will start thinking “shit, don’t tell me this is Pebble all over again.” Like I did.

Do not despair. 

BetterTouchTool, a free download that also has a (paid) iPhone remote app, is a comprehensive gesture/multitouch device configuration utility that supports the Leap Motion (in a self-avowedly beta sense). It allows you to simply map gestures to a predefined range of actions, or to Automator scripts, keyboard shortcuts and the like. It is your friend, and the way out of your Leap Motion blues.

I’ve been using Reason as my main music tool recently, so I thought for a bit about the things that habitually piss me off while working with it, because they require me to look at the keyboard and hunt for key combinations or to touch the trackpad and retrieve the cursor from wherever it’s ended up. I started mapping them to gestures.

Doubtless this list will grow, but what I ended up with initially was:

  • Clap hands: undock the Rack
  • Two fingers swiped left: display Sequencer
  • Two fingers right: display Mixer
  • Two fingers up: display Rack
  • Two fingers down: minimise active window
  • Three fingers right: move active window to next monitor (I have two) and maximise.
  • Five fingers right: move active window to centre of next monitor, without changing size
  • One finger down: Start/Pause
  • One finger left: return to start of track

That means that after opening a blank template, I can split the rack and sequencer/mixer into separate windows, move them onto separate monitors, switch between sequencer and mixer as needed, and handle basic transport functions without having a keyboard or trackpad anywhere in sight.

I would think there are limits to how far this approach will work, particularly for mixing, and I see the question coming: why not use a grid/fader box, if that’s the case?

The answer, to me, comes in two parts.

The first is space. The LeapMotion is the size of a thumbdrive with thyroid issues, and will sneak into a gap on my desk. That means that at the throwing-shit-down-to-see-what-sticks stage, where I’m usually surrounded by a master keyboard and all sorts of hardware crap, I don’t need to think about where to put another box. I also, at that initial stage, am unlikely to need faders and stuff and would be using said box as a glorified REC/PLAY button. So we’re still looking for keys on a keyboard, then, but on the desk instead of hidden on a shelf under it.

The second is focus and speed. Now that I know where the Leap Motion (and more importantly, its “field of vision”) is, I can be turned to face the master keyboard or mic and know that I can start or stop the transport by reaching out to the right and waving a hand in the air: I don’t need to refocus on the keyboard and look for the spacebar. For that matter, I don’t even need to slide the keyboard out from underneath the desk, let alone squint at function keys to switch between sequencer/rack/mixer. Better still, I don’t have to try and remember which of F5-F7 is associated with which; I’ve assigned a left sweep to show the sequencer because that to me is going “back” to composing after looking at the mixer (for which I swipe right, because it feels like going away from the process to tweak); starting the transport is the drop of a conductor’s baton; returning to the start of the track is pointing at the head of the stave.

It’s early as yet to get too excited, but I think this thing works. The proof of it is that, with a little help from an excellent piece of software, it immediately brings simple tasks out of the realm of conscious thought and makes them a muscle memory. 

Doubtless there is spectacular stuff to come—for the moment, Google Earth is probably your best choice if you want to impress friends and family—but I’m in no rush. The hover-boots I can wait for; I have a pair of self-tying shoes, and that’ll do me just fine for the moment.

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