“It comes from tomorrow …but it’s here today.”

Well, now it is tomorrow. And yesterday’s tomorrow still looks futuristic. Try this test: show someone the video above for the Millioniser 2000, a MIDI harmonica designed by Ronald Schlimmer. Tell them this is a 2009 video designed to go viral, a fakery of 80s cheese. After all, the instrument itself looks impossibly futuristic. Surely this wasn’t really designed in 1979. Surely the close up thigh shots of the backup singer girls in the back are tongue-in-cheek parody.

Your friends will believe you. Of course, you’ll be lying.

It did indeed come from tomorrow – and speaking from tomorrow, I’d like my instrument back. The MIDI harmonica has sophisticated breath control, a compact form factor, clever controls for adjusting pitch, and — well, you know, all the goodness of the harmonica but with an easier pitch layout to figure out. From comments, we see that it does go well with our futuristic instruments, meaning you don’t have to get retro-sounding synths – you could get something more 2009-appropriate.

Rock Erickson -The first American called to Europe to play and record with Walter Mueller’s Millioniser 2000. Harmonica like in principal giving the end user complete control over synthesizer and midi functions with the sensitivity of your own breath. This instrument is a one of a kind powerhouse. The video starts off by showing the functions of Millioniser 2000 and then merges into the on stage video which was shot in London. Rick Fenn of “Lie For A Lie” Sony Music was the music director and lead guitarist along with Charlie Barret from The FIXX on bass. The Millioniser Breath Controller units that I’m currently using in the studio are breathing new life (literally) thru their capability to dynamically control some of the most popular software and rack synths ( Garritan Personal Orchestra, Roland Sound Canvas, Yamaha VL70 ect ) and samplers like SampleTank & Tascam Giga Studio ) in both the mono and polyphonic arena. If you have comments or questions please post here or email rock@millioniser.com

Oh yeah – and this all looks strikingly similar to the (less sophisticated) iPhone apps from Smule, featured in today’s interview.

All I know is, I desperately want one. And you might even be able to build one — the microcontroller inside, a Moto 68705, is the equivalent of what you can get very cheaply now.

Who were these forward-looking folk? According to Wim Dijkgraaf’s history of the instrument, you can thank Swiss harmonica player Walter Muller (“Walt Miller”), Ronald Schlimmer of SM Elektronik (that name should be familiar – think a lot of the sensors used in music projects now), and the good folks of Acorn Computers for assembly, who in turn had their own ahead-of-its-time products like the BBC Micro and the self-named Acorn. (The Acorn drove the original version of the Sibelius notation product now owned by Digidesign/Avid. Sibelius engineers swore they never got the performance out of Windows and Mac OS that they once had on the Acorn.)

Via our friend Elijah B. Torn and Matrixsynth.

Anyone out there who knows how to get this, yes, I want one. I’ll start working out and seeing if I can make my physique transparent, as that’ll help.

Lesson learned: tomorrow is yesterday.

Via comments: RA has more links, plus promising news that there may be indeed be a modern update of this instrument.

http://www.musicweb.ch/millioniser_2000.asp (long demo)
http://www.musicweb.ch/millioniser_geschichte.asp (sound demos and great pics)

  • http://www.loozabeats.net LZR

    Just wow. This one looks like *a lot* of fun.

  • Daniel

    I pray that somewhere out there is a futuristic blue grass band playing with one of these but dressed like Sun Ra

  • http://www.burntchicken.com/utm/ UTM

    If someone could just make a clip-on hardware adapter for the side of an iPhone and come up with the software (perhaps just an OSC controller mod)… this may come back to the future now. Or soon at least. Great video!

  • http://www.chromedecay.org Joshua Schnable

    Find someone with a MIDI accordion and you'd have the "stage presence" of a live laptop set down…

  • http://www.redvoidmusic.com/blog redvoid

    This reminds me of my Yamaha BC-1 breath controller from 1986 to control my Yamaha DX7 combined with a Hohner Melodica from the same era or earlier. The Akai EWI is another example. Midi breath control after all is Continuous Controller #2 (CC#2) so its not an afterthought. Hopefully the newfound popularity of the Smule iPhone apps will reignite development of new breath control products. Being a long time midi musician and trombone player I can have a lot of fun with that.

  • ra

    Oh boy. I own a promo record for that by "the faceless society", found in a thrift store here in Switzerland, the home of the Millioniser. No, I will not rip the record, it's incredibly bad (really bad in a bad mid-eighties easy listening way ). This was apparently marketed as a replacement for real instruments, mostly for one man bands. But check the following link for equally bad demos and wonderful photos (and the complete history of the Millioniser in German):

    http://www.musicweb.ch/millioniser_2000.asp (long demo)
    http://www.musicweb.ch/millioniser_geschichte.asp (sound demos and great pics)

    Apparently they were/are working on a new Millioniser, a Midi-Controller. It's named Millioniser 2005, so maybe it's gonna come from the past.

  • decrepitude

    Seriously?

    Man, CDM is always surprising me. Nice one guys, Now if I could just pick my jaw up off the floor.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, credit where it's due — Matrixsynth caught this one first. ;)

  • http://www.interdisco.net ra

    I just listened to the wonderful soundfile from Walter Mueller's introduction speech at the world premiere (day 2) of the Millioniser in Basel, Switzerland (where I live and where the Millioniser apparently was developed). Most of it is in Swiss German, so I translate you some tiny bits:

    Day one of the world premiere was in Zurich, Switzerland for an audience from the World Harmonica Association. After the presentation, the harmonica people apparently couldn't stop trying out the new instrument. Mueller says this is a proof that the instrument doesn't need a lot of practice – so making it easy seems to have been a goal.

    He introduces the band that's gonna play a demo set (excerpts in separate soundfile), the drummer is introduced as "Mr. Linn" – it's a Linndrum. He says that "today's Rock and Pop scene" is excluded intentionally, because he "doesn't have the hair for that anymore" and because it will be in the video shown later on. I guess that's the wonderful/gruesome video posted here.

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  • Wilbo

    My mind is blown. Greatest thing ever.

  • Damon

    Well, the more MIDI the better…

  • Rock E.

    Hello Everyone,

    I have read your posts and am glad the Millioniser is causing some dialogue.

    I have 2 Millioniser 2000's currently in the studio. They have worked all these years. Now I am connecting them via midi to control hardware & software synths, and samplers such as GigaStudio and SampleTank. A few tweaks to the software to accept the data and you can have some of the most heart felt string sections or grungy drum beats, using your tongue and left panel on the Millioniser control unit to roll out a rhythm. Sax licks, and bending screaming electric guitars are a breeze with the tools on board the M2000 control unit. Synth sounds and samples really come to life with the personal energy from the user.

    When we did the World Premiere in Zurich, Switzerland the Millioniser 2000 promotion came across as the must have for the bands of the day. That was presumptuous on our part. Walter was so excited with Millioniser after so many years of hard work, set backs and sinking everything he had into it that the whole promotion came across as catering to the harmonica crowd.(Walter is a famous harmonica player and has left his mark with his innovative contributions. http://www.millioniser.info/EN/walt_miller.asp)

    Walter told me that he envisioned the Millioniser as an extension for keyboard players (if they would accept the technology)so they could take the front line and experience for themselves as well as give a different experience to the audience with the Millioniser's ability to deliver total human expression to what ever it is plugged into and wail the roof off the house simply because you can. You don't have to be a harmonica player to reap the benefits of Millioniser. What makes Millioniser so unique and powerful is that you are actually executing note sounds via your lip position on the Millioniser control unit leaving your left and right hand free to execute pitch bends, octave jumps, patch changes, trills, poly and mono switches all while playing in motion.

    Ronald Schlimme is Walter Mueller's right hand man who I think has 2 brains :) , He is the man who makes it work.

    I am glad to hear ALL your comments. Healthy discussion is irreplaceable. I will try to post in the next 14 hours a video on the Youtube account that we did for the former Soviet Union called Svah-Bo-Dah (freedom) where the Millioniser 2000 powered apx 80% of all instruments and sounds.

    If I can help in any way answer any questions you may have please make contact. Maybe we could colaborate a project or song using Millioniser with something you may have in mind. Perhaps together we can make clear what the Millioniser truly is and capable of.

    Ideas/Concepts?

    rock@millioniser.com

    Thanks

  • Rock E.

    Here is the correct functioning link regarding Walter Mueller of Millioniser 2000.
    http://www.millioniser.info/EN/walt_miller.asp
    There is also more info on some of the other pages on that site.

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  • Matt

    Looks like he's playing a bar of chocolate !

  • jack

    POST MORE THINGS LIKE THIS FOREVER ALWAYS PETER PLEASE

  • Rock E.

    Hi, Regarding the Svah-Bo-Dah music video w/Millioniser 2000.

    Master video is getting located. Should post to Youtube in next 10 days. Going to post a Halloween video we did using Millioniser 2000 along with Bass harmonica and 2 foot chord harmonica. Mixing it up a bit. Traditional merges with Electronic.

    genre/different

    This will post by 7-25-09 AM or sooner.

    Thanks

    rock@millioniser.com

  • rob

    I soooo want one.

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  • George Harris

    I am not a harmonica player, but interested in electronic instruments. I first heard of the the "Millioniser 2000" on a cassette attached to the "Electronic Soundmaker and Computer Music Magazine" in February 1985. I recently played that cassette again and dismissed the instrument as a relic of the past, a "dead end". I was surprised to read that someone was considering an updated version to be made available in the future. I will be watching developments.

  • http://www.millioniser.com/ Rock E.

    Hello All, Please visit http://www.millioniser.com/

    We are working on soon launching some audio/video clips that display Millioniser using software samples and the expressive control it has over them by using "Harmonica Note Execution Principal".

    Feel free to comment and contribute.

    Rock

    Millioniser USA

  • http://www.millioniser.com Rock E
  • http://www.millioniser.com Rock E

    More recent Millioniser vids. Your posts are appreciated. Thank you.

    http://youtu.be/VQdov2XCGS8

    http://youtu.be/9SfTDBnQoxM

  • http://www.millioniser.com Rock Erickson

    Millioniser 2000 60 second jam • midi wind controller & synth
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLpFk_uvQ4M&fe

    Millioniser 2000 (midi wind controller) plays GVI Trumpet Sample 2011
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAEtVkljkMo&fe

    Millioniser 2000 Tutorial 2011 • midi wind controller & synth
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YM4bT8I4O_I

    Provided by Ronald Schlemme -Millioniser Engineer

    The history of the Millioniser

    The Millioniser is a harmonica wind synthesizer, invented by Walt Miller (Walter Müller).

    From the idea to the Millioniser

    The Milloniser was developed in a period of 5 years before it hit the market as the “Millioniser 2000”.

    In 1979, Walter Miller together with Harald Blobel and Urs-Peter Studer developed a prototype which could control a Roland Promars analogue synthesizer. The first control unit was still quite bulky, but its functions were working exactly as expected. With this unit, the two records “Xmas and you” and “Perfidia” were produced.

    In succession, a new control unit was developed by Urs-Peter Studer. This control unit was beautiful and elegant. It was intended for the use as a controller for a Promar Synthesizer. Unfortunately, the production was very expensive and complex. Because of this, Walter Miller was looking for a funding partner, which makes a redesign with its own synthesizer possible. At the same time he was looking for an engineer with experience in musical electronics.

    In 1982, Ronald Schlimme of SM Elektronik AG joined the team. The first job was to implement a standardized interface to normal synthesizers. Further, different aspects of modulating the sound had to be explored. A Roland Modular System 100M, a Moog Prodigy and different additional devices like equalizer, exiter, hall, chorus and phaser were used for this. The results were truly striking. A violinist was baffled about the authenticity while listening to Walter Miller playing on the Millioniser prototype. Similarly amazed was a trumpet player who was working as an instrument maker for brass instruments. The Millioniser can control 8 octaves or in other words, from a tuba up to a piccolo trumpet.

    In 1982/83, a polyphonic controller was developed, which could control a Roland Jupiter 4 synthesizer. The results were impressive.

    Finally in September of 1983, the long awaited funding of the Millioniser company in London became a reality.

    The development of the Millioniser

    In October 1983, the development of the new Millioniser 2000 started and everything was redesigned. The team: Alex Bärtschi, Peter Benz, Walter Müller, Wolfi Peccoraio, Marcel Rothen, Ronald Schlimme, Urs-Peter Studer, Felix Thommen

    Design, casing construction for the control unit and synthesizer, electronics, software, test software, manual, presets (sounds), prototype and production documents.

    The design phase started in October of 1983 and in April 1984, four working Millionisers were presented in the Sheraton in Zurich and Hilton in Basel. From the idea to the finished product in only 5 months. Housing plastic design and zinc injection die casting were not an easy task for Urs-Peter Studer and Injecta AG.

    Enclosure design by Walt Miller and Conran from London. The brilliant idea was to bevel the edge of the control unit, which gave it a slimmer appearance.

    The very first single chip microcontroller from Motorola with analogue inputs were used for the control unit. Motorola advertised these chips with the slogan: “We produce the processor; you play the music on it”. We then sent a letter to Motorola Europe in Geneva with the note “We would like to play music on the chip, but unfortunately, they are not available”. We then got plenty of support by Motorola in the form of sample chips and the head of the department for single chip processors and one of the developers showed their interest and support by visiting The Millioniser Team in Basel.

    Alex Bärtschi was the developer of the control unit electronics and software. Alex couldn’t understand why his calculations for the optocouplers didn’t match the results he observed. Then we found out that they have a memory effect. We then inverted the logic and all of a sudden it worked like a charm. The application engineer of Telefunken (the supplier of the optocouplers) was baffled when we explained that inverting the logic works better when sampled at 3000 times a second.

    Rock Erickson is the original Millioniser tester from USA and played the first control unit which was white in color.

    Ronald Schlimme was project leader and responsible for the Millioniser software and synthesizer design and implementation. The test software was written by Peter Benz and Ronald Schlimme. Everything was written in Assembler because the timing was critical. The engineering was finished in March 1984. Early in April, two presentations in the Sheraton (in front of the Sheraton in Zurich) and in the Hilton in Basel were held.

    We sent 800 invitations and expected around 100 visitors. To our surprise, over 400 came!

    The hall was very crowded and everyone was eager to see that which they had never seen before.

    In April, the manufacturing documents and a prototype were sent to the producer in Cardiff, Wales.

    In Closing: This whole development of Millioniser 2000 which is more complex than the modern PC of today took only 6 months from paper to production. Note, the engineering was without CAD software support. It was before the invention of the IBM-PC and the first CAD system had just been released.

    I welcome any questions, comments, collaborations. rock@millioniser.com

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