Control Surface response

We’ve been working on the control surface try to make it as responsive as possible.  I think we really have it dialed it well now.  It is super fast, has a light touch and aftertouch works very well too.

I’m not the most dexterous person, but even I can move pretty quickly on the instrument.

I also wanted to show the Sonic Palette’s aftertouch capability.  Here’s a demo of that:

The vibrato is subtle; channel pressure assigned to a filter cutoff.

Maker Faire

If you’re in the S.F. Bay Area this weekend, drop in and see me at Maker Faire.  I’ll be showing the Sonic Palette in the Experimental Music & Art Zone, located in Wing A of Fiesta Hall.
See me at Maker Faire!

DocProteus Layout

I recently sold a controller to a gentleman who has the handle DocProteus.  He requested a very logical layout:
DocProteus Layout

DocProteus Layout

It’s not surprising that I’ve gotten a request for this set up, it’s very similar to a guitar, with consistent 4ths.

Then I see this video by Roger Linn, with his super-awesome musical touch control surface.  It has the same layout!  Great minds…    Roger Linn Design – New Musical Instrument Prototype

Twice a Man on tour

I was very happy to see that Swedish electronic music pioneer Karl Gasleben of Twice A Man is still using the Sonic Palette he bought in ’06. Along with Dan Soderqvist, the band has been making beautifully intriguing music since the early ’80′s. They tour quite a bit so be sure to check out their web site to see where you can catch their show.

Their Myspace is:

Many possible note layouts

When I first started thinking about this instrument, I had some ideas about how I wanted the keys laid out. I was going for maximum range in a 2d arrangement with half-steps and fifths. Not being a string player, I thought it might be nice have lower notes near your body and high notes away. I later realized that it’s a 12 stringed violin, and you are looking down from the scroll.

If we view it from the players angle looking down,

Your view

then we get my original system looking like this:

Default layout

Christensen System (CS) layout (MIDI note number & pitch)

While I think this is a great system, strangely, not everyone thinks like me, so we now offer any arrangement you’d like as long as it fits in the 12 by 7 grid. Here is what we currently have programmed:

This is the most popular request by far. It’s like a seven-string guitar.

Guitar Layout

Guitar Layout

This next one is chromatic left to right and octaves going up. Kinda piano-like.



Below is like a seven string violin, adding one lower string and two higher strings.


And here are a couple of variations on the first, CS.

CS breaking at the tritone

CS breaking at the tritone

Having the tritone on the x -axis, as is above, is very interesting to me. Take a closer look at that. There are only two notes possible per x-axis.

CS with fourths

CS with fourths

There may be someone out there that wants to work with the implications of a true 12-string guitar.

That’s what we have so far. I am including all of these plus some channel splits on the new model. There are many other possible arrangements. Please contact me if you have ideas for other layouts you think would work. Just be sure to put them into the 7 by 12 matrix.

Happy New Year,


SP09 in Cherry

A picture of the soon to be available SP09.

A Maple Sonic Palette

We just put together a Sonic Palette made of Maple. Great wood to work with and it makes for a classy looking controller.

Sonic Palette 09 Body

We have completed cutting a few bodies now and are just waiting for the boards to come back from assembly. Here is a body finished and awaiting the electronics.

This is maple with a natural finish.

Bumpy Keys

Some have commented on how bumpy the key surface is. This feature, is as far as I know, is unique to the Sonic Palette. MPC and drum machine pads are flat. Not so with the Sonic Palette’s keys. On each pad or key is a small dome. There are a couple of reasons for them. First, I wanted some kind of tactile reference for each key. This way the player can easily find the center of the key. And, the player can feel the keys and after some practice play the instrument without looking at it.

Second, is an ergonomic reason. Look at your hand. Now wiggle your fingers. How did you move them? Did you move them in an out like you were pushing out on something? Or, did you move them in and out in a gripping motion? Fingers were made to grip and this movement which is the same for plucking, picking and scratching is something that fingers excel at. The domes allow pressure to come from an angle other than just from above and this helps with playing dexterity.

The Christensen System

Now, on the Christensen system. (Full disclosure: I designed it, so this will be slanted.) It is not isomorphic like the Chromotone, Thummer, or Axis. And it is not a reproduction of an existing acoustic system like the Ztar. Well, that is not completely true, it is a variation on the violin’s system which has it’s strings tuned a fifth apart. This system expands upon it with the instrument having the equivalent of twelve strings. The strings are short however, spanning the distance of seven half steps, or a tritone. This eliminates the “shift” but does add a wrap-around “break”. (More on this in later posts.) Finally, instead of the lowest note bring at the top (away from the player) left side, the lowest note is on the bottom left.

What the system is, however, is symmertic and absolute, and in my experience, it works.

There are a number of reasons it works. The first is intuitiveness. The shortest distance between any two notes in western harmony is a half step. This is the relationship of adjacent keys in this system on the Y axis. This is where all the isometric systems become difficult to understand. There is no natural musical instruments that require an equivalent or further physical movement for a semitone, than for some larger interval, excerpt some wind instruments with elaborate keying or valve systems, and those instruments are considered the more difficult ones to play. On the x axis of the Christensen system, are fifths, which are very commonly played together and are very closely related harmonically. As I stated above, the lowest note is on the bottom left. Different, yes, but doesn’t moving up and away physically, suggest going up pitch-wise?

This is how it is symmetric; unlike the piano keyboard with it’s C Major foundation, or the guitar with that major third between the forth and fifth strings, the Christensen system has consistent relationships between key locations. Knowing that, a move of any interval, while not being always the same as would be in a isomorphic system, is greatly reduced to two possible options, due to the “break”, or wrap-around.

Ergonomically, this system works too. Any interval within six octaves can be reached with one hand. And, most three note combinations within three plus octaves, can be achieved with one hand, as well as many four note chords and, even a few five note chords. Orientation of the players hands and the surface is not dictated by the instrument so there is a little more freedom in hand position. Palms face the body which is a more comfortable position than having palms face down, which all “tabletop” systems require.

This system allows for a large range in a small area, a requirement for portability. This is due to what I call it being “absolute”. This means that there is one key per note. Again, isometric and string emulating systems have to sacrifice range or small size because they have redundant note buttons. Which brings us to the question of the value of having the same note represented in different locations. Beyond the fact that it means more buttons or keys, there is also the added complexity of having to figure out which key of a given note is best in a given situation, as opposed to knowing that if you need a certain pitch you always know where you are going to go. Many would argue that redundant notes provides options which is good, especially when it comes to ergonomics, and, the relationships between notes are better if kept consistent. I don’t disagree, but it is important to realize that there are consequences for these designs.

Finally, why seven by twelve? There are twelve notes in an octave and twelve keys, and seven notes in a diatonic scale, and seven notes to a perfect fifth. More on this in a later post.

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