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Non-Keyboard Controllers

chysn

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Non-Keyboard Controllers
« on: June 07, 2017, 08:42:53 PM »
In a discussion at Moogfest 2017, Dave Smith affirmed that he has no interest in producing non-keyboard controllers. This, of course, shouldn't surprise anyone. First of all, DSI doesn't design its own keybeds anyway, so controllers would be a departure well out of DSI's comfort zone. But also, the mass market manufacturers--of which DSI is one--are generally committed to the tenacious idea that synthesizers are played with keyboards.

I don't really want to debate the merits of that idea here. But I was having a discussion with another member via PM about non-keyboard controllers, and I thought it might be an interesting topic for others, whether you use a non-keyboard controller now, or are considering getting one.

There is an undercurrent of old-fashioned experimentalism in parts of the industry. There are controllers that challenge old truths like "there is an inherent relationship between physical space and notes" and "there are such things as notes." Ideally, experimentalism dovetails nicely with practicality and expressiveness.

My personal favorite example of this is Make Noise Pressure Points. Pressure Points is strongly influenced by the old Buchla 216 touch plate voltage source. It leaves the actual behavior of the plates up to the player, allowing a lot of different uses (quantizer scale selection, preset management, sequencing). It encourages development of interesting playing techniques, and is very responsive.

What do you like? What do you want to do?
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2017, 08:59:17 AM »
Of the various non-traditional controllers that I've seen, most are not something I would really pay for, but I could see how they might otherwise be interesting to play with.  There is this one I saw recently from a small company emerging in Poland that has one that looks really neat.   I forget the name, but its, white colored, with sort of a R. Linn design with a sequencer.   

Perhaps more far out there, and not at all a hands-on controller like you are asking about chysn, but I would like the idea of experimenting triggering pitches and placing note spacing using "natural things" and seeing what you can come up with.  I know this has been done before quite a bit-but there's so many sources!.    How 'about using a sunrise light intensities and it's various hues as the variables as the source?   I had a computer program which used a photographs and "converts them to sound", which was interesting to play with for like a day or two.  But it never really amounted to anything musical, no matter how pretty the picture :)  I guess ultimately I'll stay locked to the 'ole piano style controls. 

DSI Equipment: Poly Evolver Keyboard, Evolver desktop, Prophet 8,  Pro-2, OB6, P-12
 

https://Soundcloud.com/wavescape-1

chysn

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Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2017, 06:39:00 PM »
There is this one I saw recently from a small company emerging in Poland that has one that looks really neat.   I forget the name, but its, white colored, with sort of a R. Linn design with a sequencer.

If you see it again and learn the name or the company, please come back and share. There are some coming out that I'm interested in. Soundmachines Arches looks terrific, but there's no release date. I love capacitive touch plate things, but I'm cursed with a really close 50kW AM station. I might need to build a Faraday cage inside my synth.

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Perhaps more far out there, and not at all a hands-on controller like you are asking about chysn, but I would like the idea of experimenting triggering pitches and placing note spacing using "natural things" and seeing what you can come up with.

I'd say that counts. Personally, I've never been pleased with results from that sort of thing, and I feel like I've given it a fair shake. I did not build my synth for generative music. My music is staunchly tonal, and I like to have control over what notes are in it. (I haven't given up the illusion that there are such things as notes.)

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I guess ultimately I'll stay locked to the 'ole piano style controls.

Sure, that makes sense.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2017, 04:57:52 AM »
I think these days it's key to understand keyboard and non-keyboard controllers as a plurality of diverse input and articulation devices that can easily co-exist, mostly because they're complementary by nature, no matter which side one is leaning towards. It's definitely not a situation of keyboard controllers on one side and all the alternative controllers on the other side just as much as it's no sign of conceptual weakness that there are many different alternative controllers instead of just the one alternative to the traditional keyboard. I emphasize the latter because it's often being suggested that it has to be either the traditional keyboard or one other normative standard, the latter of which is often treated like one minority option due to its lack of traditional context.

But then, it already gets difficult where to draw the line, i.e. where a controller starts to become a non-keyboard controller. There are certainly a couple of alternatives that fall into a sort of hybrid category like the Haken Continuum or the ROLI seaboard, or the Touchť by Expressive E, the latter of which makes for an immensely useful addition to a Minimoog as much as to a Eurorack system. What they all have in common though, is that they provide greater flexibility in terms of expression and enhanced controller modes of which MPE support is just one ingredient. So in that sense, I would say that there's a whole world of non-keyboard and enhanced keyboard-based controllers right now which shapes a continuum of alternative input devices that would include the aformentioned Continuum, Seaboard, and Touchť amongst the Theremin, ribbon controllers, the touch stripes on the Prophet 12 and Pro 2, the KMI K-Board Pro, the Linnstrument, the Music Easel keyboard and its various reincarnations in Eurorack format (most notably Verbos and Sputnik), the Pressure Points, the infamous ROLI blocks, the iPad/iPhone in conjunction with a plethora of apps (from the Animoog to effect processing apps like the Eventide H9 control software), MPC-based controllers, Ableton's Push 2, and the planned SoundMachines Arches as well as its Buchla role models.

There are of course immense differences between some of those controllers, but they all provide alternatives to the standard keyboard controller and go either beyond the obvious expressive limits of the standard keyboard's on/off control and channel aftertouch, or the standard keyboard layout. And it's this plurality of options that I regard to be the strength of all these different controllers, as they help to customize one's controller options on different scales (pun intended) and for different needs.

The discussion about notes and scales is difficult and cannot be pinned down to the east coast vs west coast paradigms, as even Buchla established a standard for 12-tone scales with his 0.1 volts per semitone. That doesn't change the circumstance that the traditional and first and foremost organ-based keyboard controller is in itself nothing more than a contingent choice when it comes to synthesizers, and above that one of the most primitive ones, unlike the keyboard on an acoustic string instrument. And that's where the objectifiable advantages of alternative controllers come into play.

Beyond more control in terms of expression, the advantage of true non-keyboard controllers lies of course in opening a vast number of options beyond the 12-tone scale keyboard dogma, whether one is pursuing an aleatory or generative music approach or something else. As there is absolutely no reason for the synthesizer to be tied to any musical tradition, particularly all the Western music standards, basically all of the non-keyboard controllers more or less provide a solution for synthesizer-generated or rather electronic music coming to itself - granted, one perceives the synthesizer as an opportunity to transcend traditional boundaries in terms of sound and tonality.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2017, 05:53:23 AM by Paul Dither »

chysn

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Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2017, 05:33:22 AM »
You're right, it's certainly not an either/or thing, and there's strength in the diversity of options.

When I first considered building a modular system, my assumption was that it would be a glorified desktop Mopho or Minitaur, that I'd mostly play it with a connected keyboard (Little Phatty). Of all the mistaken assumptions I had about modular, this is where I was the wrongest; the modular is usually a standalone instrument, controlled with the knobs and patch cables, and using the touch plates as gates and voltage sources for modulation and scale selection.

With most non-keyboard controllers (a term which I used specifically to exclude things like the Seaboard, QuNexus, and the capacitive piano-type controllers), the vast flexibility comes at the price of universality and consistency. You can't sit down at a Pressure Points and know what it's going to do without following the cables, and once the patch is broken down, it'll never behave in exactly the same way again.

I wouldn't abide the lack of an 88-key piano in my home. It's still an important part of my life, and I'm glad that my kids have some proficiency with it, because there's a ton of value to that universality. But I don't insist on my synth having a keyboard for exactly the same reason that I don't insist on my guitar having a keyboard.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2017, 06:20:39 AM »
When I first considered building a modular system, my assumption was that it would be a glorified desktop Mopho or Minitaur, that I'd mostly play it with a connected keyboard (Little Phatty). Of all the mistaken assumptions I had about modular, this is where I was the wrongest; the modular is usually a standalone instrument, controlled with the knobs and patch cables, and using the touch plates as gates and voltage sources for modulation and scale selection.

True, with a modular system you have instant access to an open and constantly modifiable architecture. So in that sense it's as radical as a knob (and jack) per function concept can possibly get, since even the most rudimentary functional interfaces and interconnections become sources to play with, which in turn puts more emphasis on the technological approach, whether one consciously operates with a more technologically focused mindset or not.

With most non-keyboard controllers (a term which I used specifically to exclude things like the Seaboard, QuNexus, and the capacitive piano-type controllers), the vast flexibility comes at the price of universality and consistency. You can't sit down at a Pressure Points and know what it's going to do without following the cables, and once the patch is broken down, it'll never behave in exactly the same way again.

That's why I was trying to emphasize that the non-keyboard or modular way of doing things is strictly complementary to the traditional keyboard controller. I might also add that I meant that in a way that tolerates both options equally, as it wouldn't be particularly helpful to argue that keyboard controllers are bad while all the rest represents a better solution. There are objectifiable limits and opportunities inherent in both, no matter what the individual preferences are. Immediate modifiability excludes immediate universal control options. One's limits become the other one's strengths and vice versa. Hence, working with a modular system also encourages a more analytical approach, which is pretty much the flipside of intuition - at least that kind of intuition a somewhat trained pianist experiences or can rely upon when sitting down at any traditional keyboard controller. With a modular system, the user is of course more confronted with how the whole apparatus is working in the first place, i.e. the interaction is put to the forefront on a technological level, or in more accurate terms: the kinetic experience, the mere flow of processing. A pianist, for example, doesn't necessarily have to know about the most fundamental ways a sound is produced on a piano in order to operate the instrument, at least not beyond specific playing techniques. The playing techniques don't have to be broken down into their physical elements to reach a thorough acoustic understanding for performing. This is a bit different with a modular synth. In order to perform with it, a technological understanding of the single module's functionality and interaction possibilities is mandatory. Of course still not to the degree of an engineering masterclass, but nevertheless you gotta know your stuff in order to fulfill certain tasks in an instant. A particularly good example for that approach are multifuntional utility modules like the Make Noise Maths, which people use as an LFO, as an envelope, or to control a melody, and so on.

What you described about the lack of universality and consistency probably serves as a good practical example of what I was referring to when I mentioned the more technological approach above. A modular system in conjunction with controllers that are as far away as possible from keyboard controllers in that they are exclusively tied to the logic of the modular system itself finds its standard only in the absolute priority of immediate modification of a possibly ever changing system. That pretty much defines the characteristics of the physiognomy of a modular system to use an old-fashioned word about appearance.

There are nevertheless bridges between the approaches towards non-traditional and traditional instruments, which lie in the amount of dedication that is invested in learning a new instrument just like a new language. There's for example something wonderfully old-fashioned about Suzanne Ciani's description of how she dedicated herself for years exclusively to the Buchla 200 system and later the 200e. The same could be said about Morton Subotnik or almost anyone who chose to switch to a modular setup. So while there are some fundamental differences between how non-traditional and traditional instruments are being operated, the amount of dedication that needs to be invested in order to master a specific and even constantly modifiable instrument stays basically the same.

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2017, 06:43:04 AM »
That's why I was trying to emphasize that the non-keyboard or modular way of doing things is strictly complementary to the traditional keyboard controller. I might also add that I meant that in a way that tolerates both options equally, as it wouldn't be particularly helpful to argue that keyboard controllers are bad while all the rest represents a better solution. There are objectifiable limits and opportunities inherent in both, no matter what the individual preferences are. Immediate modifiability excludes immediate universal control options. One's limits become the other one's strengths and vice versa. Hence, working with a modular system also encourages a more analytical approach, which is pretty much the flipside of intuition - at least that kind of intuition a somewhat trained pianist experiences or can rely upon when sitting down at any traditional keyboard controller. With a modular system, the user is of course more confronted with how the whole apparatus is working in the first place, i.e. the interaction is put to the forefront on a technological level, or in more accurate terms: the kinetic experience, the mere flow of processing. A pianist, for example, doesn't necessarily have to know about the most fundamental ways a sound is produced on a piano in order to operate the instrument, at least not beyond specific playing techniques. The playing techniques don't have to be broken down into their physical elements to reach a thorough acoustic understanding for performing. This is a bit different with a modular synth. In order to perform with it, a technological understanding of the single module's functionality and interaction possibilities is mandatory. Of course still not to the degree of an engineering masterclass, but nevertheless you gotta know your stuff in order to fulfill certain tasks in an instant. A particularly good example for that approach are multifuntional utility modules like the Make Noise Maths, which people use as an LFO, as an envelope, or to control a melody, and so on.

What you described about the lack of universality and consistency probably serves as a good practical example of what I was referring to when I mentioned the more technological approach above. A modular system in conjunction with controllers that are as far away as possible from keyboard controllers in that they are exclusively tied to the logic of the modular system itself finds its standard only in the absolute priority of immediate modification of a possibly ever changing system. That pretty much defines the characteristics of the physiognomy of a modular system to use an old-fashioned word about appearance.

There are nevertheless bridges between the approaches towards non-traditional and traditional instruments, which lie in the amount of dedication that is invested in learning a new instrument just like a new language. There's for example something wonderfully old-fashioned about Suzanne Ciani's description of how she dedicated herself for years exclusively to the Buchla 200 system and later the 200e. The same could be said about Morton Subotnik or almost anyone who chose to switch to a modular setup. So while there are some fundamental differences between how non-traditional and traditional instruments are being operated, the amount of dedication that needs to be invested in order to master a specific and even constantly modifiable instrument stays basically the same.

To me, this is the most appealing aspect of a modern take on a modular system: there exists no expectation that one must control the system across a discrete, even frequency-dividing twelve-tone grid.
Sequential / DSI stuff: Prophet-6 Keyboard, Prophet 12 Keyboard, Mono Evolver Keyboard, Split-Eight, Prophet 2000

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2017, 11:50:42 AM »
Chysn,

Does the Haken Audio Continuum count?   If they weren't so darn expensive I'd get one.    Just watched a recent post on synthopia of this controlling a  Doepfer  Dark Energy- and I already have one of those.  Holly cow!  best cello from a synth ever.
DSI Equipment: Poly Evolver Keyboard, Evolver desktop, Prophet 8,  Pro-2, OB6, P-12
 

https://Soundcloud.com/wavescape-1

chysn

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Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2017, 07:44:43 PM »
Does the Haken Audio Continuum count?

I, for one, am not going to nitpick over definitions, because I'd prefer to learn about new things, even if they might have some passing resemblance to a keyboard.

I checked out a video, and the Continuum does look really interesting under the right hands. I like capacitative touch plate controllers a lot, but I have RF interference challenges here. So I'm happy to see these resistive fingerboards come along. Not enough of them have CV, though.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Arturia MicroBrute
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore2
Modular Grid: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/354385
GitHub: https://github.com/chysn

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2018, 01:53:02 PM »
This is the main non-keyboard controller Iíd like to get if I can scrape the cash together ($3850 plus shipping and taxes). Synth bass controlled by bass guitar with only 5-8ms latency is a reality:

http://industrialradio.com.au/products/pro-4-midi-bass.html

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2018, 10:59:39 PM »
I don't know if these count as "non-keyboard":

Thee soundplane  https://madronalabs.com/soundplane very nice piece of kit made by a very nice guy, on my wish list.

Also the Eigenharp http://www.eigenlabs.com/info/ wonderful hardware unfortunately let down by woeful software, I have one of the small ones the keys are amazingly good.

Another on my list of wants is the Opal http://www.shapeofmusic.com/overview.php




Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2018, 11:00:31 PM »
This is the main non-keyboard controller Iíd like to get if I can scrape the cash together ($3850 plus shipping and taxes). Synth bass controlled by bass guitar with only 5-8ms latency is a reality:

http://industrialradio.com.au/products/pro-4-midi-bass.html

That looks pretty neat, do you know anything about the fret sense?

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2018, 07:41:05 AM »
This is the main non-keyboard controller Iíd like to get if I can scrape the cash together ($3850 plus shipping and taxes). Synth bass controlled by bass guitar with only 5-8ms latency is a reality:

http://industrialradio.com.au/products/pro-4-midi-bass.html

That looks pretty neat, do you know anything about the fret sense?

Iíve had a lengthy exchange with the guys who make it and they are very helpful in answering questions. Also, thereís a guy here in the UK who plays one and Iíve talked to him. Hopefully Iíll get down to play his before deciding whether to order. Otherwise Iíve watched all the videos on it I can.

Pitch information is provided by the the contact of string against fret (or lack thereof for open strings). This is why the latency is so low as it is not converting pitch to midi. Triggering is handled by piezos (one in each bridge saddle, which means itís polyphonic too).

You can create a dead zone too so that midi is only triggered on certain areas. This is great for slapping as the strings hitting the upper frets (ie the cause of slapping sounds) can be prevented from sending midi data.

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2018, 08:41:58 AM »
Thanks for the info.

How does it handle pitch bends and vibrato, does it also have a pitch detector from the strings?


Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #14 on: July 17, 2018, 09:19:05 AM »
Thanks for the info.

How does it handle pitch bends and vibrato, does it also have a pitch detector from the strings?

Pitch bend is handled by tension sensing in the saddles and its sensitivity is adjustable in software, as is the bend range.

The saddles also send velocity data.

Itís also possible to use string bends to send afterouch information instead.

As I said, pitch information is sent from the actual fret position (in the same way that note information is sent from a keyboard by which key one presses). Transposition is also possible in the software.

Thereís also a mode in which merely pressing the string to the fret will send a gate signal.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2018, 09:24:25 AM by Quatschmacher »

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #15 on: July 17, 2018, 09:28:31 AM »
A couple of other cool features are that patch and parameter changes are possible directly from the fretboard in combination with the toggle switch.

Furthermore, I believe the pot that controls the synth volume can be reconfigured to send any CC.

The interface also has inputs for expression and footswitch, MIDI I/O and the piezos all have individual outputs.

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #16 on: July 17, 2018, 10:12:01 PM »
Sounds very interesting, when you get one post some info of how it goes ;)

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #17 on: July 18, 2018, 02:46:44 AM »
Sounds very interesting, when you get one post some info of how it goes ;)

Still got a fair bit to save up. Iím having to weigh it up very carefully as for that money I could get a Pro 2 and a P6 (or other DSI poly)!

Re: Non-Keyboard Controllers
« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2018, 09:00:08 PM »
It would be cool to see Roger Linn do another collaboration with Dave or even someone in the VST market and do a hardware synth with a built in Linnstrument.
Prophet 6, Prophet X, Moog Sub 37, Tempest Drum Computer, Roland V Piano, Fender American Stratocaster, Roger Linn Adrenalinn iii, Origin Effects Cali76 and SlideRig compressor, ASUS Zenbook Pro Computer, Soundcraft MTK 22 Mixer, Mark Of The Unicorn Digital Performer 10 Software.