It’s a keyboard, with elements of a hammer-style action. But it’s also gestural, with per-note articulations. And now, it’s more than just a preorder concept. Expressive E’s Osmose is here, complete with artist backing from Paris to LA to Chennai India, Jean-Michel Jarre to Flying Lotus to A.R. Rahman.
And yeah, that’s A.R. Rahman of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours fame and the likes of J3PO and Tarik Azzouz (think Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, etc.).
The story so far
But artists aside for a second – the Osmose really is something special. We’ve seen expressive, per-note articulations on MPE-compatible instruments/controllers. For grids, there are excellent choices like the Linnstrument. For continuous touch spaces, you have the Madrona Labs Soundplane (currently a little hard to get) and the Haken Continuum (easier) and the Joué (good alternative to the discontinued Sensel Morph).
But if your hands have keyboard chops, choices have been tougher. Sure, there was the much-hyped ROLI Seaboard and family, but these occupied a kind of controller uncanny valley. There’s a keyboard layout, rather than a fully fluid surface or grid. But you don’t get keyboard action, which to an experienced player makes these more like playing a mattress pad than a piano.
The Osmose was, from the start, something different. It owes its lineage more to some of the early experiments in augmented keyboards than the current generation. The idea – begin with the kinetic feeling of a keyboard, but add additional articulations that a piano or harpsichord or organ can’t.
And it feels great. It plays like a piano – even arguably more satisfyingly than a lot of synth actions, with the satisfying mechanical sensation of playing a concert grand with all the resistance and tactile feedback that entails. But then you discover all sorts of additional dimensions, for bending pitch or sculpting sounds. And I only played a late prototype – Expression E tell me they’ve been hard at work on refining those details as they move to production, even versus what I saw.
What you get now, they say, is the culmination of a long process of working with preorder customers and artists with hundreds of on-the-spot tests and feedback from players.
It’s three instruments in one, all backed by a keyboard manual with 49 full-sized keys with “3D control”:
- A standalone synthesizer, powered by the EaganMatrix sound engine from Haken (already designed from the ground up for this kind of control, on the Continuum)
- An MPE MIDI controller, for playing all your favorite MPE-ready hardware and software synths (yeah, I need to update my guide)
- A classic MIDI controller when you need it
It’s a 24-voice digital polysynth, it’s got USB and MIDI DIN, and all in a solid but easily luggable 8.3 kg package.
Preorders for truly early adopters have been running for some time now. But now, the first orders are arriving – the first batch late in 2022 and now early backers shipments “continuously.” They say they’re navigating a resurgent pandemic (oh, don’t I know it), and inflation (yup) and component issues (the thing that keeps us all up at night now), but orders are flowing.
You couldn’t actually get on that preorder list for a while; now you can again.
Price, despite inflation, is locked in at: $/€1,799
- Sound engine with subtractive, DM, physical modeling synthesis (various approaches), 500 factory presets, 128 user memories – this sounds really great out of the box, and it’s fun to play it with this different interface
- Assignable mod and pitch sliders
- MPE arpeggiator (yeah, about time!)
- Pressure glide
- Digital stereo effects: reverb, mod delay, swept echo, analog echo, LPF and HPF delay
- Big color display
- 9 push encoders
- 2 continuous pedal inputs (macro or sustain)
- macOS/Windows editor software
I’m really keen to loan one for review when one is available. This is still a grand piano, so it definitely is a little western (ahem), but there’s also real potential to produce hybrid instruments that mash-up that keyboard paradigm with other playing and tuning and inflection. (Will dig into that more soon.) It’s also good to see not just western white dudes, though the gender spectrum here looks pretty skewed in this first batch.
Oh yeah, and if you can’t afford a whole keyboard instrument right now or want to augment what you’ve already got, the Touché from Expression E that came first is still available – even discounted.
The SE model even got a bit price cut: [links to resellers are affiliate links]
Expressive E Touché [Sweetwater]
Expressive E Touché SE [Sweetwater]
Expressive E Touché [Thomann]
Expressive E Touché SE [Thomann]
And for more on Osmose and preorder details:
Osmose preorder [Sweetwater]
Osmose preorder [Thomann]