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The “Thummer” is a legitimate controller design.

Although I need to note that Jim Plamondon, the inventor and promoter thereof, hasn’t had much luck finding investors willing to bankroll mass production. And it is a shame. A simple version of it would not be very costly to manufacture.

He has been very, very aggressive about promoting his idea. For example: Valleywag, Wall Street Journal, Wired, Engadget, Coolest-Gadgets, and a TV station in Austin TX.

Didn’t anyone tell Mr. Plamondon, a former Microsoft marketing dude, how difficult it is to sell a new kind of musical instrument to musicians? If I were offering advice, I’d tell him to start small. Manufacture a boutique version, get some user feedback. Build the business up slowly, because, trust me, it is the only way.

This IS NOT a mass market. It IS NOT like selling a videogame gadget. Musicians are conservative and spend irrational amounts of time practicing on their existing instruments. Popularizing a new instrument is like invading Russia. Look at Adolphe Sax — he battled other instrument makers in court over patents, and his saxophone did not become popular until well after his death.

Judging from the Wall Street Journal article, which ran six months ago, this is probably a dead issue by now:

“Taking stock of his savings, he says he has about six months left before he’ll have to find a full-time job. At that point the Thummer will be relegated to an evenings-and-weekends enterprise, he says, “and that’s the death of a start-up.””

How NOT to sell your obscure self-released industrial CD.

Matrix ran a link today to this Denver outfit, called Revolution State.

Right there, on the front page, frontman Ben Pebley runs his Livejournal. In which he:

(1) complains that he can’t figure out how Trent Reznor manages to give away his music for free.

And (2) bitches “I hate audacious bastards that think they are somehow “entitled” to steal our music. There is NO reason in the world that anyone is entitled to steal our music. It’s only $10 for our CD for fucks sake!”

Sorry, Ben, with all due respect, you’re doing this incorrectly.

I’ve never heard of you. And since the mp3 samples on your “discog” section are broken links, I still have no idea what your work sounds like. Without some reference, I’m not inclined to drop $10 on your CD. Just trumpeting your love of Einsturzende Neubauten and Coil won’t quite do the job. You still have to get people to notice you. Living in Denver won’t help either–have you toured on the East or West Coasts lately?

Perhaps the “provegan animal liberation revolution” needs some work.

(Message to Dave Lovelace: read their Livejournal and tell me what you think.)

Tapdrum — a DIY kit

It’s been around for several years. There is an AOL homepage from 1999.
The guy who runs this is named Urip Wisnuardi, I think he’s Indonesian. He also sells OEM GPS modules.
A Tapdrum board accepts up to 8 analog inputs from piezo sensors (or whatever–you could feed audio into it if desired), from which it generates MIDI note and velocity data. More than one Tapdrum circuit can be daisychained together to obtain more than 8 inputs….video here.

Anyone built this? Share your experiences.

The Tonal Plexus IS shipping….

I just heard from Aaron Hunt, the head of H-PI Instruments. He says that their Tonal Plexus MIDI controller has been shipping since last October, in the 2-octave and 4-octave form.

$1292 is really not much to pay for a PROGRAMMABLE microtonal keyboard that can do ANY scale, with 422 keys (!). In fact, that’s a steal.
tonal plexus layout
Think about it–the next instrument up that can do this, the Haken, costs THREE TIMES as much as the Tonal Plexus. Not sure if the C-Thru can do programmable scales.

Plus, microtonality makes it more flexible than the other alternate keyboards, which H-Pi lists here.

(No idea the Terpstra cost $10,000. Still no idea if they shipped any.)

I am very tempted to get a 2-octave Tonal Plexus. No, this is not an advertisement. It would be interesting to see if it can give full effect with popular MIDI-CV converters like the Kenton.

Aaron’s site also has a section on microtonal keyboards of the past. READ IT.

The Ohm

Apparently is now shipping–announced last year: The Livid Ohm Controller
Ohm controller
Pretty! Sexy too! Unfortunately I can’t tell if it can be programmed to put out MIDI note-on and note-off from the keys. It is oriented toward DJs who use software, specifically Livid’s, which is included, in which case an $899 price is a screaming bargain. (Don’t ask about Linux usability.) They also have another key-to-MIDI board for DIYing, which is “shipping soon”:

What makes me sad: when CDM ran an article about the Ohm last year, their comments section filled up with sleazy trolling. Scroll down to read it. Little shits. It’s a miracle that Livid manufactured this controller, most software-oriented companies can’t be bothered to make hardware. No wonder there aren’t more alternate controllers available…..put one out, stand back and watch as faceless bastards attack you in comment areas.

Still looking for an alternate MIDI controller

Forgot to check Doepfer. It’s great that Dieter is doing something different, and for that I salute him and encourage him.

The CTM64 is not only available now, you can even buy the separate parts and piece them together as needed. It handles up to 64 button inputs.
Doepfer CTM64
If you want to make an alternate controller, this looks to be the least costly way. The CTM64 main board is $135 from Analogue Haven. The 8×8 square matrix button board is 125 euros direct, ask Analogue Haven if they have them. You can always create your own. I’m thinking of getting a CTM64 and designing a PC board for a keyboard with a staggered key arrangement, using these tact switches. Caps are available for them—in 6 colors.

Now, if only Dieter would put out that touchplate keyboard he keeps showing……

Betcha never heard of this MIDI controller.

The Opal controller

By reading this guy’s site, one gets the feeling that he was the original designer of the C-Thru controller. And it looks as if he and C-Thru had a falling-out. So now he’s making his own version. It appears to be the same key layout as the C-Thru. No prices are mentioned. (Not likely to be a bargain.)

I only found out about this because an Opal owner put his hamster in a plastic ball and let the little bugger roll around on his Opal controller. And put it on Youtube. (I really do wish the “Web 2.0 Revolution” would allow us to tag Youtube videos for stupidity.)

sorry, it’s hosed again

We upgraded to the latest version of WordPress (2.3.3) as of ten days ago, and it’s already polluted with some kind of virus that posts spam links in the message bodies. It also blocks comment posting and screws up various settings. As before, WordPress is unhelpful.

Please try to post something and let’s see if it works.

I sincerely hope this guy is serious

Jammer keyboard DIY

Because I want one of his kits. Two, in fact.

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Alternate MIDI controllers that are reasonably priced…..

…are very difficult to find. The piano-keyboard paradigm has such a death grip on electronic synthesis, it’s embarrassing. This is electronics; the control system is arbitrary and can take any form. But you can’t buy “any form”.

I am always looking for an easier gadget to play riffs on. Having not been tortured with piano lessons in childhood, my preference is for something new. Sadly, a cursory examination tends to turn up very little…..that isn’t priced like a boutique product.

You’ve heard of the Haken Continuum. Interesting and clever, extremely well-built, Jordan Rudess has one and swears by it. Tempting to me; sadly, it starts at $3390…for the short version. Bills come first.

Haken Continuum fingerboard

The Jambass is still being made. Only $199, meant to stick to the back of a guitar or bass neck. It’s a membrane keyboard, so it gives weak tactile feedback and will probably wear out fairly quickly. Still, very very tempting. I wish the keys were closer together.

Jambass keyboard

If you’re not afraid of the 120-year-old Jankó “isomorphic” keyboard design, there are (quite) a few possibilities. Unfortunately they all seem to be costly, and not sold at retail dealers. (Yes, I know I could DIY one. When I have the time. Which is maybe never.)

(Please, no jokes about accordions. Why do accordionists have better ergonomic designs to use than synth players do? Sad.)

Article about Janko here.

Jankó keyboards are like the Dvorak typewriter keyboard layout. Superior, but ignored, because people are stupid and can’t be bothered to learn a new layout.

I’ve only seen two Jankó-like controllers on display at NAMM recently; the C-Thru, which I am reasonably sure is actually shipping–


…and the Thumtronics Thummer. Great compact design and intriguing to me, but as far as I can tell, it is not shipping. No idea if it ever came out or not.


Blogs were buzzing about the Japanese-made Chromatone a few years ago. Unfortunately I can’t find any evidence that it was actually shipped. Never offered in the US anyway.


There was the Terpstra. Also no idea if it was shipped.

Terpstra keyboard

And the extremely imposing Tonal Plexus. Perfect for microtonal scales. Also no idea if it was ever shipped to paying customers.

Tonal Plexus keyboard

Not Jankó-like, but seems to stay available, is Starr Labs’ Z-Board. Aimed mostly at guitarists. I have never, ever seen one in use by an actual musician. Only $2995. Starr used to make a Jankó controller called the Microzone, now called the “Wilson Microzone”–the small version is still listed on their site for $3825. The big version, with 810 keys, is $8800.

Starr Z-Board

I’ve read the Blüthner company will cheerfully build you a grand piano with a Jankó keyboard, for only 7000 euros….on top of the cost of the piano….

And the worst part of all this is: whenever a news site or blog runs a story about one of these alternative controllers, the naysayers crawl out of the slime and start whining “there’s no way I could ever learn to play that”, “it has too many buttons and it scares me”, “I invested in keyboard lessons and I’m not throwing away all that investment”, etc etc. The simple fact that the Jankó design was MEANT TO BE EASIER TO PLAY….they don’t care. Musicians are so conservative it’s disgusting.

I’ve got an M-Audio Trigger Finger. Programmable and well-built—If only the pads were smaller and easier to press, it would be great. Yamaha Tenori-On? Costly, and apparently not available yet. Monome? Needs a PC running MAX-MSP, USB interface only. I’d get a Serge TKB, except they are costly, have a long lead time, and don’t put out MIDI. Already have a Doepfer ribbon controller. Does Buchla still make the Thunder?

Suggestions are welcome.

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Immanentize the eschaton

We’ve been having difficulties, but now we are back up and running.

(Thanks Mike! It turns out that a lot of WordPress users have had the same problem–

spammers have cracked WP’s system and are using it to generate phony ad revenue.

Of course, WP management are denying it.)

Mighty synth companies made mistakes. (Sometimes, very embarrassing ones.)

A friend mentioned seeing an ARP Quadra in a pawnshop yesterday. He asked the pawnbroker to plug it in, and sure enough–it was totally non-functional.

In case you were not aware of it, the Quadra was ARP’s 1978 attempt to make a “super keyboard” by tossing together a pile of assorted stuff they already had. So, it’s basically a “sandwich” containing an Omni string synth, an Axxe (or Solus? some disagreement) lead synth, a simple one-VCO bass synth, and a really nice phaser, all stuffed into a very large box with a cheap keyboard assembly (which was easily ruined if you dropped the Quadra, as it protruded from the case) and a very primitive preset capability. I seem to recall that it sold for more than $4000 when it came out.

Should you be tempted to buy one, be aware that it is guaranteed that the membrane buttons will be unusable and very difficult to replace or substitute. And the electronics will have a long list of issues. Synth-collector snobs don’t like to talk about the Quadra…….Oh well, at least it had a nice phaser. Long ago I was tempted to buy a used Quadra because it could do fascinating, warped things…but then I heard the horror stories about it…..

Sonic State’s Quadra info

Emulator Archive’s info on the Quadra

A brave soul repairs his Quadra’s buttons, by building a subpanel with regular pushbuttons–BIG job

(If you want just the phaser, you could maybe DIY your own from Juergen Haible’s design)

ARP Quadra

A prediction from some years ago….


Unfortunately, the recent generations of highly versatile, polyphonic keyboard synthesizers and digital samplers have resulted in a diminished interest in the ondes Martenot today. In the years following Maurice Martenot’s death in 1980, manufacture of the ondes (which had always been a family business) ceased altogether. Perhaps with renewed interest in these wonderful devices, which are most unlike synthesizers, manufacture will start up once again.”

Well-known thereminist Mr. Pringle predicted the arrival of the French Connection.
(now if he’d just update his website–this looks to have been put up around 1998.)

I like this photo.

I like this one

Persecuting the Persephone

So, in the year+ I’ve been working with the Wretch Machine, I’ve wanted to find as many ways as possible to control it. I’ve worked with sequencers, I’ve worked with a Yamaha CS-15, and all of them have been fun and useful for sending pitch data to the Wretch, but I’ve got a better solution: the Eowave Persephone:


It outputs CV from the ribbon, which I use the M#@g CP-251 attenuator to tweak a bit. It works really well. For trigger, I use the audio out of the Persephone which works perfectly as well.

To illustrate – I did a little tune:

Some drums, and some crappy pads in the background to form a point of reference for tuning. Note that this is my first two takes chopped up, and I am by no means a ribbon controller performer of any credibility. but I had fun.