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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–

c-thru.jpg

…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.

thumtronicsthummer.jpg

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.

chromatone_312.jpg

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….

Ondes-Martenot

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:

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.

Manifesto

Welcome to Deviantsynth.com – a music/musical equipment/ephemera related community centered blog with a difference.

We want ANARCHY. We want MADNESS. (no, not the fucking band.)

We want the readers to post twisted, schizophrenic bullshit–anything posted will be taken down if it is at all synth-collector-oriented, chiptune-related, dull, or sheeplike.

Otherwise, if it relates to electronic music somehow, fire away.

Photos of vintage keyboards are not welcome–unless they’re STRANGE keyboards. Links to ebay auctions of vintage gear are not welcome–unless it’s a homebrew piece of freaky warped weirdness.

The moderators of the Analogue Heaven mailing list are not welcome here.
Neither are the major traffic-generators from the AH list, OR from Synth-DIY. Links to schematics of exact copies of CS-80 filters are not welcome. Neither are links to fansites for Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze, Can, Tangerine Dream, Ultravox, Gay Fairy Twinkle, or any other hideous 70s or 80s funny-haircut nostalgia keyboard act. Nor is any Bob Moog fanboyism. Ass-kissers are kindly asked to use the Harmony Central forums instead–ass-kissing is Harmony Central’s main business.

All tech must be ODD. Germanium transistors, arcane synth modules, vacuum tubes, steam-powered piston oscillators, whatever–it has to be WRONG.

Unusual controllers are always welcome. If something looks like a Minimoog or has a piano-ish keyboard, it’s usually boring and we aren’t interested.

Press releases have to concern oddities, and must not come from any manufacturer who makes more than $100k per year.

Nothing against Matrixsynth or Music Thing, but they are just repeating, ad nauseaum, the same old neuroses of their readers–a gang of middle-aged owners of 30 broken Prophet-5s and/or 120 badly-scratched Fender Jaguars who want to get rich and become “music gods”, without actually doing anything.

Such people are counterproductive and do NOT aid the production of better, more interesting music. One must break eggs to make a delicious omelet.