You’ve got piano keyboards, you’ve got various grids. But whole new worlds of melodic playing and rapid-fire melodies become possible when you go relative. ReBoard does just that, and it makes even playing from your QWERTY keyboard “awesomely simple” — and enjoyable.

ReBoard is a beautifully designed, easy-to-play Max for Live device that opens up relative playing in any MIDI track in Ableton Live. It’s the creation of developer Tim Charlemagne / Soundmanufacture.

Relative playing refers to the notion of playing intervals, rather than playing pitches directly. It’s a concept best embodied in instrument design in the work of Leon Gruenbaum. Gruenbaum also collaborated with Eventide on their Misha Eurorack sequencer module. I’ve got a multi-part feature on that coming this month, and I’m particularly excited to have the Misha in hardware and ReBoard here in software.

Leon Gruenbaum – MISHA and Samchillian

The original Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee was something else, though. It was accompanied by a gorgeous, punk-style mod of an ergonomic keyboard (have to ask Leon which one). It’s one of the first stories ever to appear on CDM, and its video needs to be experienced in its full 144p glory (like, literally, just as YouTube had launched, I think even before it was owned by Google – product demos should be more like this):

ReBoard comes with a host of features, but honestly, the first thing you should do is, stick it on a track, add an instrument (metallophones are great), and start wailing on your QWERTY (or QWERTZ or AZERTY etc). You’ll find that intuitively you start to get around very quickly. Glide works, too, automatically.

From there, there are plenty of useful mapping choices:

Click to embiggen. Check those “extra” triggers and a ton of options throughout.
  • Choose from a preset set of scales
  • Map your own user scales
  • Custom map interval triggers to any key or MIDI input event (see round button next to each)
  • Remap to any custom interval
  • Center on any custom root
  • Set output range (which in turn you could combine with splits, etc.)
  • Define additional actions based on fixed or interval relations (see “Extra Functions”)
  • Playing modes: at the highest or lowest extremes of range, either (1) repeat the last note, (2) play the last triggered interval at the edge, (3) loop to the other side of the range
  • A/B outputs assign triggered intervals to one of two different ranges

Also, you can set up more complex multi’s simply by instantiating multiple devices on different channels – or via Racks – using the usual Live MIDI routing features.

And you can save and load settings via drag-and-drop files.

Fantastic. Watch:

My only criticism here, and I’m passing this on to the developer, is that it’d be great to have a mode that hides the piano keyboard and piano note names, as these don’t really fit music outside the western classical idiom. For now, if you’re willing to ignore this and do some mental math, this already has tons of potential for tunings outside 12-TET. (The scales are of course a little misleading in that they also map to the western pitch collection but they already work properly if you send them to a voice that is set to the correct tuning. After all, even MIDI pitch is just a collection of integers.)

Cost: US$29 / 24 EUR.

Love it. And yeah, while I’m not sure exactly what it means to be playing electronic acid jazz Pelog Tembung, I’m kind of all about it.

Now who wants to join me on building a new custom keyboard? Or, yeah, maybe time to check used Microsoft ergonomic keyboard prices.


Already one of you wrote in with a relative tool for MIDI (multi-platform) called ‘delta’:

I expect there are others – nominees?

To be clear, relative pitch didn’t start or end with the Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeeee – this is not the time or the place for it, but a full history (and present, and future?) would be very welcome!