Richard Lainhart mans the Haken Continuum at an early installment of our Handmade Music series, back in 2007. Meanwhile, in 2011: among many options, four digital instruments challenge you to practice – really – with expressions that are deep and satisfying.

Is there anything genuinely new in digital instruments? Isn’t it just a load of repeated novelty, without the ability to actually make useful musical noises? Hasn’t the technology just gotten in the way of the music? Isn’t … (sigh) .. all you see … all you get … (repeat ad infinitum)

Even among technologist futurists, skepticism about the iterative process of new digital design runs rampant. But if you yearn for a bit more optimism, here are four strong counter-examples, projects that, building upon previous research, begin to reach a level of maturity and expressivity that could inspire. They’re inventions that you might want to pick up and spend time learning, play into late evenings for the joy of the challenge of them, creations with which you’d build a relationship. They’re not alone, but you can catch all four in the Bay Area starting today through this weekend, and I hope that they help kick-start a new conversation about what instruments can be. In place of the novelty of new invention, they might just start to raise questions about what could really last.

None other than our friend Roger Linn, creator of the LinnDrum, MPC, and new designs, is hosting the event. Geert Bevin of Eigenlabs fills CDM in on the details, and has some reflections on what’s special about these four examples:

One thing that makes these instruments so uniquely expressive is their ability to sense the precise movements of each finger in 3-dimensional space (for example, pressure for note expression, left/right for pitch, and forward/backward for timbre), and to do that for all fingers simultaneously. But each instrument also presents many other innovative ideas and improvements over the limitations of traditional mechanical-age instruments.

The instruments:

The Eigenharp, demonstrated by Geert Bevin, Senior Software Developer from UK-based Eigenlabs.

The Continuum from Haken Audio, demonstrated by Bay Area pianist Ed Goldfarb.

SLABS, a new instrument designed by David Wessel, director of Cal Berkeley’s CNMAT computer music department.

SLABS: Arrays of Pressure Sensitive Touch Pads

The LinnStrument prototype by Roger Linn.

If You’re Going to (Be Near) San Francisco…

Live event details, from Geert – if you make it and can help document for CDM, we’d be hugely grateful (hello from, for the moment, Montreal)

Here are the events:

Thursday, May 5 from 7 to 9 p.m.
Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Audio (CCRMA)
660 Lomita Dr. Stanford, CA 94305
At this event, the Eigenharp, Continuum and LinnStrument will be demonstrated and discussed.

Friday, May 6 from 7 to 9 p.m.
University of California Berkeley’s Center For New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT)
1750 Arch Street, Berkeley, CA 94709
At this event, the Eigenharp. SLABS and LinnStrument will be demonstrated and discussed.

Saturday, May 7 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Guitar Center San Francisco, Pro Audio Department
1645 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94109
At this event, the Eigenharp and LinnStrument will be demonstrated and discussed.

Monday, May 9 from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m.
SF Music Tech Conference
Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
At this event, the Eigenharp, Continuum and LinnStrument will be demonstrated and discussed.
Note: Conference entry fee is required–see

Please join us to see, learn about ~ and even try out for yourself ~ these radical new instruments that are changing the way music is made.

Please note that these instruments are not otherwise available in the bay area to see or try out.

Additional events might still be added, keep an eye on

Enjoy if you make it. Aside from these four, what new instruments would make your short list?