So, you ask, what is Open Sound Control? To answer simply, it’s a new way of transferring data between devices specifically designed for musical applications. I’ve heard it referred to as “MIDI 2.0,” but that does not really do it justice. Where MIDI is limited to operating one parameter at a time, 0 – 127, OSC does not have these limitations and can rely on “bundles” which trigger multiple parameters or controls at a time. Also, OSC has been specifically developed for use across networks like Wi-Fi and 3G and can be chained to multiple inputs simultaneously with minimal latency, MIDI can not say the same. By itself, OSC is just a content format, a means for transferring messages between devices. But when coupled with powerful DAW software or special hardware, it becomes exponentially more amazing.
Implementation – There have already been several major software manufacturers (Traktor DJ Studio, Quartz Composer, Reaktor) who have adopted OSC support for use in their products as well as many experimental controllers like the uOSC or the MIDIbox that can use OSC to communicate. Probably the biggest advance for OSC has been it’s implementation in the iPhone. Several apps have already been released, namely TouchOSC, Mrmr and OSCemote that allow intuitive, touch and motion based control of many parameters and settings via OSC. For the full list of apps and hardware that currently support OSC, check the Wikipedia entry here.
Sounds fun, but….How do I use this in my DAW? Well, if you can accept MIDI input in your workstation like Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, Fruity Loops, Acid, Adobe Audition or any similar product, then via a program called OSCulator you can convert your OSC messages into MIDI. Sound a bit backwards? It is. MIDI compared to OSC is a bit archaic, but at present it’s the only way to use those special controllers and awesome iPhone apps in your MIDI-based studio. OSCulator also allows you to accept messages from many experimental and non-standard controllers, most notably the WiiMote. Just imagine a world in which you were controlling filter modulation and resonance via the accelerometers on your iPhone while changing loop points and song sequencing with your WiiMote. Two-handed OSC goodness! You could even strap some WiiMotes to your feet and be a one person quadra-OSC-controlling madman on stage!
My prediction – Within 5 years, OSC will completely replace MIDI as the new standard of intra-device communication in music and will reduce the need for hard-wired controllers. If that were the case, I think there would also be a push towards touch and motion-based controllers, or at least better integration of those elements in traditional synths and controllers. I can already imagine an MPC or drum sampler with a built in touch screen that allowed for multiple parameter and control changes to occur in real-time with no latency.
The options are endless, the stage is set and the future for OSC is wide open. With platforms like the App Store to perpetuate this protocol and get it more mainstream exposure, we can only see more expansion from OSC. So let’s get out there and support it’s development and hassle our DAW software developers to implement OSC into their systems!