The appeal of new controllers is melding gesture and sound, metaphor – in tangible form – and musical idea. So before talking about this controller, have a listen to the sounds it produces in the hands of one user, even if another user might do something very different. In a demonstration by Richard Devine, sparse percussive sounds reminiscent of early sonic experiments by the likes of Varese echo in clusters of water-like drops and echoing rumbles. (Richard is perhaps better known for dense, sometimes raucously relentless walls of sound; this formally more contemplative, which I really enjoy, even if it’s just a demo.)
Whether this immediate sonic application is your cup of tea, you can then have a look at the controller. Most of it is conventional, if nicely executed: encoders ringed by LEDs, pots, and buttons. But its central controller, looking like the exposed innards of a hard drive, is something else: the Spin is not a potentiometer, not a knob, not a faux turntable. It’s something different. Instead of just responding to rotation, it responds to inertia, built around the rotational movement but allowing new degrees of subtlety and control. As the creator describes it (well worth reading his entire description, but I like the ideas in this bit):
The spin allow the user to change a parameter with another feeling than a simple potentiometer:
large amplitude movement for a small variation.
control of the increment of the variation.
the spin can be launched and stopped, the variation stay under control using the increment parameter.
the spin can be automated, with 2 parameters for time control: increment and speed.
the spin can play a note and change its velocity, while a rotary controls the note pitch.
the spin can be assigned on any rotary and use its MIDI mapping to change his value, while automated or not.
the spin can fight against embedded sequencer.
(Because of a couple of grammatical errors translating to English, we also know that the spin is masculine. Odd – it seems actually kind of feminine to me. I’ll let you reflect on that.)
The notion of using inertia in a rotary controller isn’t entirely foreign to larger commercial projects; Native Instruments touted something like that in their Traktor Kontrol S4 controller. Here, though, freed from having to operate a DJ software and its turntable-derived sound ideas, inertial control can come to the fore as the principal interaction idea, applied to new musical parameters.
Richard Devine, who’s so on top of things I think he already owns musical inventions that I just happened to think about, is of course all over this. From his description:
The timeFrog II is a powerful and flexible MIDI device dedicated to music computer and MIDI applications.
The spin/inertial sensor provides a totally new kind of control surface, which opens new way for playing with parameters.
The 8 endless encoders, 4 potentiometers and 6 buttons form a functional and compact.
There is also a embedded 4 steps sequencer: 4×4 steps x 6 voices
This patch was setup in Ableton Max For Live using only two instances of SonicCharge’s Synplant software synthesizer. These two patches where customized and designed to work with the timeFrogII. Creating for some very unique musical gestures. All sequencing and note generation is from the timeFrog controller.
Richard tells us:
I recently received this really interesting MIDI controller from my friend Oliver over at Undead Instruments. I met Oliver in Belgium last month when I was on tour through Brussels. I was really intrigued by this midi controller he was working on called the timeFrog II. I only recently had the chance to sit down and play with it. Quite interesting and different approach from the other midi controllers I have seen and played with. I hadn’t seen any proper demonstration videos yet of this strange device so I thought I would do one.
More video demos, from other artists, show the gamut of what this instrument can do: