My God … it’s full of keys!

While the black-and-white piano-style keyboard layout remains the standard, designers still look for ways of reinventing pitch in music controllers. Sometimes the aim is to make it easier to play harmonies (top) … and sometimes it’s 211 keys-per-octave microtonal mayhem.

First, at NAMM we see C-Thru Music’s new AXIS, the “world’s first harmonic table MIDI keyboard.” Despite outward appearances, all these extra keys are designed to make it easier to play. By placing thirds and fifths as a adjacent to one another, you don’t have to reach to find chords — you can mash your fingers together and still hit a perfect minor thirteenth chord. (That’s one Giant Step for ‘Trane, one tiny finger squash for you.) According to its creators, “even DJ’s can use it.” You be the judge.

C-Thru Music AXIS (thanks, Carl, Keith, and others!)

Of course, if you’re trying to terrify friends with wild looking keyboards, the C-Thru has nothing on the H-Pi instruments. 12 keys per octave? Try 211 keys per octave, 1,688 keys. The Tonal Plexus, after eight months in development, will ship in June 2007, starting at US$1292.

I could try to explain this, but it’s better to watch the videos. And if you ever fantasized about playing a Lego base plate, your time is now.

What’s interesting here is that, unlike continuously-pitched controllers like the Theremin or Continuum fingerboard, it’s possible to find exact instruments. And somewhere along the line, all diatonic scales — plus whole mess of other tunings — manage to fit in the space of a single octave.

Of course, I don’t imagine myself learning 211 notes to the octave (even if I’ve taught some keyboard skills classes where it seems like that’s what the students were playing). Fortunately, H-Pi has a lot of useful goodies for tuning nuts, including notation software and MIDI gadgets.

Most promising is The Tuning Box (TBX-1), which costs just US$350 and can retune any MIDI controller on-the-fly to any custom tuning. At that price, it might appeal to anyone interested in exploring tunings easily.

Thanks to Aaron Andrew Hunt for sharing his beautifully unusual work.

H-Pi Instruments

Not new, but the Continuum Fingerboard as I said goes the opposite direction — continuous expression, rather than a bunch of buttons/keys. See it in action in a recent GearWire video from NAMM:
The Haken Audio Continuum Fingerboard Video- WNAMM ’07 [GearWire]

Lots more microtonal / alternative keyboard layouts: Mike sends this fantastic historical roundup, also via Aaron Hunt’s site at Eastern Illinois University. Stunning, comprehensive history of these instruments!