A look at the keys of a new instrument, now embraced as such by a community of players. Alpha image (CC-BY) Ross Elliott.

Amidst the general-purpose computing platforms (laptop, iPad), and latest iterations of the conventional synthesizer (keyboard, knobs), the quest to build something genuinely specific, self-contained, and unique drives on. These creations are strange breeds, evolutionary singularities that aim to embody something the more generic instruments of our age lack: personality and soul. They’re the kind of object you might want to practice for years, to treat in their digital, “post-mechanical” form the way you would a violin or piano. They have a feel, more than the smooth surface of a trackpad or plane of multitouch glass, something that pushes back when you push it.

And while many such creations have shown up in proof-of-concept demos and academic conferences, the Eigenharp is an instrument a small but growing community of players are embracing in the long haul.

Musician and Eigen advocate Geert Bevin is back with the latest round of updates as those players hone their chops and try to really master their Eigen playing. And if you want to get involved yourself, there’s even a regular, Web-based clubhouse, thanks to Google’s fledgling “Hangout” technology on Google+. Geert tells us:

Independently from Eigenlabs, Eigenharp players are now organizing a clubhouse, twice a week, on opposite times to allow everyone to join at one point or another. This happens on Monday at 4PM CEST (Europe) and Wednesday 4PM CDT (US), using Google+ Hangouts. I’m hosting the European one and it’s streamed and recorded on Livestream
People that interested in the Eigenharp are invited to join one of the hangouts and circle me or Larry Heilman on Google+ to get access.

Our guide, Geert, joins pioneering instrument inventors Roger Linn and David Wessel. From a symposium provocatively-titled “The Eigenharp, SLABS and LinnStrument: Hands-on with three new musical instruments for the post-mechanical age,” at the University of California Berkeley. Photo (CC-BY) Thomas Bonte (who is, incidentally, creator of the free and open source notation software MuseScore).

Now, some of the artists videos, in a wide survey Geert has put together that spans genres.

António Machado (Portugal) used his Eigenharp Alpha during the INCastelo open-air show with dancers in a medieval castle.

Here is what António has to say about this performance: “I compose music and take care of sound design for most of the dance shows from DançArte and we were in the two final shows of the cycle ‘In/Out’ focusing on local architecture and their surroundings. The ‘In’ part in August, outdoors and the ‘Out’ part inside a traditional theatre. Planning ten months ahead, August 2011 would bring us to Palmela´s medieval Castle built in the year 1150, to get inspired by and ultimately create “In Castelo”. Again the choice of performing with the Alpha suited me perfectly. It is visually stunning, so I was able to connect with the audience through the lights, using the “Arranger” and was free to interact with the surroundings, the dancers and their choreography. I have a very high degree of control over each sound/sample/AU or iVST and effects used, right from the instrument, so I don’t need to look at the computer screen while performing”


BangStrokeBlow (UK) live with an original instrumental:

BangStrokeBlow is a London-based duo of Eigenharpists; they make infectious, dance floor-oriented, experimental music. They retain many of the sensibilities of modern electronica but through the Eigenharp, have developed a much more expressive and human way of performing this music live. Expect anything from Hip Hop to Breakbeat to Trance; every single note will eat away at your internal organs, in a fuzzy, buzzy, rapturous way.


Dino Soldo (UK) has used the Eigenharp for the 2010 world tour of Leonard Cohen:

Here’s what he had to say during an interview: “I can be onstage just with this, the computer on the side and my horns. That’s my fantasy. The visual is everything… Being on stage is a fantasy and this contributes to that fantasy. I wanna get rid of my keyboards. I wanna have a whole side of my stage disappear. Make the stage a little cleaner. There’s enough buttons for me to get everything I wanna have happen, happen. Really all you have to do is get your brain situated around the Eigenharp, then the Eigenharp is ready to go… The possibilities are truly endless. It really allows me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do with a solo instrument.”


Flytecase (Belgium) live with an original song, “Same Place Again”:

Flytecase is a Belgian alternative pop-rock band, they used the Eigenharp Alpha for most synth arrangements on their debut album ‘Speaker Mind’ and are now preparing a new live show that uses the Eigenharp on stage. This is one of the finished songs, written on the Eigenharp and performed live in Charleroi, Belgium during the Fêtes de Wallonie Festival.


Ian and Paul Harriman (UK) using AudioCubes and Eigenharp at Electro-Music 2011 festival:

Ian and Paul Harriman using AudioCubes and Eigenharp at Electro-Music 2011 festival [Percussa (AudioCubes) blog]

Paul Harriman has played the Eigenharp Alpha for two years in a row at the Electro-Music festival and performed a piece together with his son on Audiocubes this year. As well as playing leads and pads live on the Alpha, all the backing tracks are also triggered and controlled by the Eigenharp.


Kayla Kavanagh (UK) live with an original song, “Take me home”:

Kayla is a Yorkshire-based singer-songwriter who plays nine instruments. She started a year and a half ago with the Eigenharp Pico and has since then moved on to the Eigenharp Alpha. Her last album is one of the world’s first to feature the Eigenharp. Kayla played at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival with her first original song on the Eigenharp Alpha.


Thanks for this, Geert! This covers quite a range; it seems that you’re bound to find something that sparks interest. If others would like to do a similar round-up for an alternative instrument/controller, I’m all ears.