New instrument designs

There’s no shortage of ideas for how to make new instruments. And once upon a time, the MPC sampler (bottom right) was a new idea.

While on the subject of Roger Linn, Roger also lets us know he’s put up a new page with reflections on instrument design and a round-up of alternative electronic interfaces and instruments:

New High-Tech Musical Instruments [Roger Linn Design]

Roger should know; aside from being a successful musician and producer, he’s one of the best-known designers of modern electronic instruments. His LM-1 Drum Computer is accepted as the first modern drum machine. (Technically, it was the first-ever programmable, sampled drum machine, but that makes it the first sampled drum machine as we now know it.) At Akai, he pioneered the legendary MPC series. The AdrenaLinn, as covered today, is a collaboration with synth builder Dave Smith. Smith, maker of many beloved synthesizers and the “father of MIDI,” will in turn work with Linn on the upcoming BoomChik.

So, that covers what springs from Roger’s brain — what ideas from other instrument designers excite him?

People have been coming up with new ways to improve musical instruments for just about forever, but what interests me personally are the new ideas that break entirely with mechanical interfaces in favor of high-tech sensor interfaces, and particularly ones that can produce–or at least attempt to attain–finely nuanced musical subtlety.

And these aren’t just solutions in search of a problem: he notes that, wonderful as they are, guitars, keyboards, string instruments, wind instruments, and conventional computers all have limitations. Interesting solutions: the ReacTable interactive table, the Tenori-On and Monome grid-style controllers, expressive controllers like the Max Mathews Radio Baton and Don Buchla Lightning II, alternative keyboard interfaces, the Lemur touchscreen, and others.

Thanks for the link and the kind words, Roger. It’s great to see these exchanges of ideas, once the province of a couple of academic journals and the occasional print review, happening in real-time online between the designers themselves!

  • I only got 3 of these. Where's the Marimba Lumina BTW? That should be in this grid, for it is splendid.

    Also, the Thumbtronic device doesn't really exist beyond prototypes, does it?

    How much does it cost to obtain a Reactable? a 25k endowment?

  • Hey, it's his personal list. I'm sure you could come up with your own list and have it look different.

    I love the Marimba Lumina, but I believe it's not currently available. Don Buchla gets his multiple mentions on this list, anyway.

    The Thumtronics I think is not yet shipping, but it's still interesting as a prototype, and you can get its software free now and use it on a QWERTY layout.

    How much does it cost to obtain a ReacTable? Not much at all. The software it runs on is open source. You're still looking at the cost of setting up the projection and cameras, but that's a LOT less than 25k.

  • Spamchillian

    From the maker of the Samchillean:

    "the patent is on the idea of pitch selection by relative means"

    Anyone else find that disturbing? He's basically patented intervals on instruments. What?!

  • FYI; I designed the Lemur interface in the image above!

  • cyberpatrolunit: that interface is the sexy. you should live in a condo on the moon.

  • peter: could you point me to a url of the software for the reactable?

    if so, I'll compose some awful drone music for you.

    peace blitzkrieg!

  • spamchillian: no he didn't. Leon patented the process of using relative note information (intervals) as a way to trigger midi instruments. as far as I know he was the first to come up with that idea, develop the software, etc. you can argue if patenting this idea has benifeted leon or the prolifiration of the concept (my view is that it probably didn't).

    (BTW, I designed the samchillian concept that Linn posts there. pretty cool way to start the day. wake up, connect to the net, read that Roger linn notes something you've done 🙂

  • Perc

    That Thummer device is one of the most amazing things i've ever seen but it doesn't look like its getting anywhere fast. No updates to the website in a very long time, I remember seeing videos of it as a prototype a long time ago, maybe two years ago. Its a shame, I really hope it gets off the ground. Its surely the ultimate portable MIDI controller. Stick it in your bag with a laptop and some headphones and you can make as complex music as you could want pretty much anywhere.

  • Underworld use an AXIS, as listed in this, erm, list. Spot it in the photo blog of Simon Taylor, who is editing the new Underworld film clip, Crocodile.

  • ps, the AXIS is HUUUUUUGE if thats an MPC2000 next to it!!

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