The latest iteration; image courtesy Roger Linn Designs.

Moving beyond touching a screen as two-dimensional plane, Roger Linn’s concept music controller, the Linnstrument, adds tactile response and expression. Roger calls it “3D Note Expression,” but in lay terms, it means pushing harder on the controller makes it respond differently, as you’d expect from a physical instrument.

Roger this week posts an update on how his development is going and what he imagines – good timing, as this week we also saw another design on the same lines, the Soundplane. The sensing methods are different, enough so that I can easily see room for both, but the upshot is the same. Randy Jones in that story also reflects that, once these things are invented, what will really be essential is musicians to play the things and develop lots of interesting software that can use the controllers. See, previously:

A Glimpse of the Soundplane Controller, Innovative Tactile Multi-Touch, in the Lab; Call to Action

The major change in Roger’s latest update, apart from adjusting the form factor to something longer and more spacious, is the addition of different overlays, including traditional keyboard “manuals,” fret-style grids, and honeycomb-patterns hexagonal grids like the one at top.

It isn’t just a blank slate any more – certainly not in Roger’s mind, at least. Linn, a guitarist by training, has an extensive schema worked out for a grid that would function like the frets on a guitar neck. Movements in any direction can make an adjustment, impacting timbre (perpendicular to the front edge), pitch bends (parallel to that edge), and loudness (pressure).

It’s still all concept, with one working prototype; Roger’s professed style is to work in big-picture concepts. But I’d love to see some of these ideas reach fruition.

I’m still hopeful that a simple, inexpensive, open source option could evolve from this landscape. I hope for that not necessarily even because of a philosophical belief in open source so much as the sense that such an open field could lend itself to experimentation by, say, the people who read this site, not only in creating software but building the instruments. In the case of Roger’s design, unlike the more novel approach used by Randy, patent questions are less of an issue. And a community of people experimenting in such a way could simultaneously yield software that could be compatible with the proprietary and commercial projects.

Lots more ideas and reflections – including detailed notions of how you’d play this thing – on Roger’s site:
Preview: LinnStrument – A New Musical Instrument with 3D Note Expression

And here’s a new video, entitled, cheerily, “Gloomy Sunday” (the music of Rezső Seress):

For review, Roger’s original demo video:

  • Color me INTERESTED.

  • eL

    love it in hex!

  • Jamsire Ernoir


  • Venetian Snares actually cover that same song in that album with a completely unpronounceable name (Rossz csillag alatt született):

  • Oh. Now this is getting interesting. I really dig the new look.

  • Any information on the interface connection? MIDI? OSC? Both? For me, both would be essential.

  • I don't know where to send him suggestions, or even if they are welcome, but:

    I really wish this will come with customizable stencil-skins… Or, really, just another one from the ones pictured, one that I would want: one for hand-percussion / finger tapping… I would imagine optimal is something with ample or zoned concentric circles…

    This comes from the perspective of someone who has been holding a whole lot while Korg matures their product Wavedrum and lowers it's price … or the Zendrum guys lowered their prices too.

    I hope finger-tapping/hand-percussion is nicely supported, is what i mean.

    Plus Hex!!! yes finally. I will get this one, fo-sho.

  • @mesmer  Blank overlays to draw or print on yourself would be nice if they're reasonably priced. 
    I'd also like to combine overlays.  Guitar and hex, drums and keys and so on. I mean it allows splits, so why not?
    I'll be paying close attention to the amount of customization and control the software allows. 
    I'd want the option to make my own custom shapes and I'd like the ability to remap the controls. I mean I might want pressure to control pitch, left-right pan and up-down volume or even less traditional controls too.
    The split functionality is really exciting. I hope it doesn't have to be 50/50 though as I can think of a lot of cases where something like 80/20 would be useful. 
    I'd like to use the split to control multiple hardware synths, but I have to admit I'm a little worried about sending that much midi out of my computer and having enough usb ports!
    I also hope consideration is given to collaborative uses, that is make the software smart enough to allow multiple unique and shared(!) instances.
    The volume control is curious, but smart. I don't think I've seen that on a hardware controller before. 
    I'm a little bummed about lack of midi, but I understand. 
    The autotune feature better allow non-standard tunings! 
    Anyway, looking forward to it!

  • leakeg

    Nice to hear an update on this, it really looks like an amazing and intuitive interface. Wish I wasn't a poor uni student because I'd love to invest in this and see it get off the ground. The expression possible here seems above and beyond anything else offered except perhaps the Eigenharp – but that instrument just seems to overcomplicate what the Linnstrument makes look very simple.

    And the ability to experiment with a variety of note layouts (Harmonic Table, Wicki-Hayden, Janko, guitar style and probably a lot more) would be pretty awesome.

  • oh my god!!!!!!!
    I'll buy it right now !!!!

    i Don't care about the cost!!!

  • vanceg

    @Mesmer – You mention Wavedrum and percussion playing: I can't say how focused the Linnstrument will be on immediate response needed for percussion playing.
    This does look like an interesting controller and I'm surely looking to hear more about it.

    I do know that the prototype which has evolved into the MadronaLabs Soundplane has some impressive abilities as a percussion controller.
    You might check out: at about 2:27

    (Full disclosure: I'm currently involved with Madrona Labs in helping get the Soundplane ready for public release. That said – I'm not asserting one or the other of these remarkable tools will be best for your uses! )

  • Jim Aikin

    I want one! As a cautionary note, however, there's a reason why the piano keyboard works so well for polyphonic music: Tactile feedback. You can feel the edges of keys, so your brain knows if your hand is shifting left or right, and you can feel the resistance as the key descends, so you can learn to calibrate your soft and loud playing.

    Playing polyphonically is not easy; pianists spend years learning the fingering techniques they use. The investment of time makes sense, because the piano is widely available. How many people will invest a similar amount of time in an instrument from a small manufacturer that can only be repaired if you ship it back to the shop, and that if stolen might not be replaceable if the manufacturer has gone out of business? So there are socio-economic issues to contemplate as well.