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.

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:

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.

Note Surface 5: Starr Labs

Starr Labs has been making MIDI controllers fro quite some time now. Their approach is decidedly guitar-centric. Your typical guitar does not make the best MIDI controller because the strings are not switches, and MIDI likes clean, simple data. To do away with having to translate a vibrating string into a pitch number, velocity number and a clear note off time, they designed a MIDI controller that plays like a guitar. This was a great idea, as millions of people already know how to play guitar.

They then went a few steps farther and made the Z-board and G-board, matrix controllers. The Z-board is laid out like a massive guitar neck, (rows in fourths) and the G-board is an even more massive with 576 matrixed keys. And because surely a bigger array can be built, they did the he Wilson 990 Generalized Keyboard with an array of 810 keys! A Generalized keyboard is yet another isomorphic system. Read about it here, and see an example, here.

These products are for the serious musician, or at least the seriously rich musician as you can see here.

Note Surface 4: More Isomophism

The Harmonic Table is implemented by the Axis. This system has six adjacent notes per key and so there are three axis. (Keys are shaped like hexagons.) Perfect fifths up, major thirds up and to the right and minor thirds up and to the left. Again, this is an isomorphic system, plus you can hit a triad chord with one finger. Very cool. I really like this system because it has chromatics in line and whole steps follow a somewhat logical pattern. Here is the downside: 29 notes per octave. That is a lot of real estate, and don’t forget, keys cost money.

The Chromotone uses the Janco or Wholetone system. Keys in this system are also hexagons except the three axis are horizontal, and up left and right. Whole tones go across, and chromatics are on the diagonals. Another isomorphic system, this one has excellent physical distance to pitch distance congruity. It doesn’t have the advantages of close chords that the two previous systems have, but I think this is likely the most intuitive and versatile of the systems discussed so far. Check out the videos, they are very impressive.

Same downside as the rest: lots of keys per octave.

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