Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Instrument That’s the Key to Electronic Music’s Future

Musical innovation is one of my favourite types of innovation. Re-imagining how an instrument can be played as suppose to how it could sound is rare. Things like this often come across as gimmicky at first, but sometimes end up changing music forever. Take a look at this new controller and imagine how it would change your music. It truly is impressive. Why does the music in Blade Runner resonate so deeply? The thing that made this 70s-era synthesizer so special was an inspired feature called Polyphonic Pressure. The CS-80 was one of the last keyboards where a notes volume could be tweaked by varying the finger pressure on a key. The resulting acoustic-like voicing was eerie and remarkably expressive. The thing that made this ’70s-era synthesizer so special was an inspired feature called “Polyphonic Pressure.” The CS-80 was one of the last keyboards where a note’s volume could be tweaked by varying the finger pressure on a key. The resulting acoustic-like voicing was eerie and remarkably expressive. By massaging individual keys to varying degrees, Vangelis could summon the plaintive cries of tin foil unicorns or replicants in love. Alienation and melancholy never sounded so good. Like Roy and Pris, though, the CS-80 was doomed. In 1980, when killjoy accountants cited high production costs and shrinking profit margins, management pulled the plug. Just like that, Polyphonic Pressure vanished from the Yamaha lineup. For musicians who mourned the passing of this iconic analog synth, there’s reason to rejoice. After 35 years, the next-gen polyphonic pressure instruments have arrived. On the electronic music circuit they’re known as PMCs: polyphonic multi-dimensional controllers. It’s the “multi” bit that’s important. Unlike Vangelis’ beloved CS-80, which could sense movement in one dimension, these sophisticated MIDI machines can sense finger movement in three dimensions simultaneously—in addition to controlling volume, a musician can also change a note’s pitch and timbre in real time. It’s revolutionary, and the manifesto goes something like this: The MIDI keyboard, that ubiquitous human interface popularized by Brit synth bands during the Reagan administration, is dino-tech. Thanks to progress in smart materials, sensors, software, and computing power, an improved 3-D pressure-sensitive interface has emerged to take its place. These instruments have liberated musicians, enabling them to play complex and hauntingly beautiful music the likes of which has never been heard before. Synthtopia, a website that celebrates digital music and analyzes every PMC prototype in fanatic detail, has culled the contestants in this race to a handful of contenders. There’s the Roli Seaboard, a surrealist piano with a squishy keyboard that feels like human flesh. The Haken Continuum, a crimson strip that looks like the world’s longest mouse pad, has its share of supporters, including Led Zeppelin bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones. Another entry is the Madrona Soundplane, a scored slab of walnut that could be mistaken for a pinochle board. The dark horse is the Eigenharp, a one-man-band contraption for postmodern Highlanders; in addition to 132 keys and two strip controllers, there’s also a breath pipe [...]

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