Photo courtesy Eigenlabs.

Novel instruments come and go; futuristic ideas appear in demos, wow crowds, and then vanish just as quickly. In order to really become part of musical practice, they require practice. And with something as unusual as the Eigenharp – a digital music controller that looks like the love child of a bassoon and a fretboard and connects to a computer – they even necessitate new techniques and strategies.

Enter musician Geert Bevin. As the creator of the fan site Eigenzone, he’s been a tireless champion of the instrument. He’s been compiling videos revealing player techniques and ideas for putting together a practical performance setup. And even Geert concedes that making music takes time.

“Six to nine months seems to be the time required to become confident enough to play the Eigenharp Alpha in front of an audience,” says Geert with a smile.

Here, Geert explains in great detail how he played the instrument in a recent video – one that should make Galactica fans happy. (You may have seen the video making the rounds, but we have some additional technical specifics.) And he shows us some of what other players are doing. They’d better be practicing, because the instrument shown, the flagship Alpha variation of the Eigenharp, costs £3995 and up. (Fortunately, if that’s out of your price range in this tough economy, there’s a cute, more portable version with many of the same features at £449. The Pico actually winds up being a pretty good deal for this kind of unusual product.)

Inventing the technology is only half the equation: it’ll take players, and time, for that creation to come into its own. Guitars and drums and flutes have had millennia. Here’s what a few months have done for the Eigenharp.

Detailed breakdown of a performance setup

Geert shares the technical details for one video and musical performance. Some of what makes the instrument special may not be immediately apparent. He’s making use of the broad pitch area, the access afforded to a range of pitches by the key layout, and features like per-key pitch bending, per-key vibrato, and expressive details in playing the notes. Those are then connected to a range of soft synths intelligent enough to respond to those messages, and sonically detailed enough to make some useful sounds in reply.

Here’s Geert with all the gory details.

As a follow-up on the Eigenharp Alpha post on CDM a few months ago, I thought I’d let you know that I finally recorded a video that I feel comfortable about pushing into the wild.

It’s a rearrangement of Battestar Galactica ‘Kara remembers’ theme song for the Eigenharp Alpha. The main melody of this theme is heard by the Final Five Cylons when they’re ‘switched on’. Kara Thrace (Starbuck) tries to remember this song in the series while sitting at an old piano in a bar. When she recalls how’s being played, it explodes into a full-blown arrangement.

My personal rendition of the song also starts off hesitant, inspired by Kara trying to remember the chords, the melody and the tempo. I’m using Tonehammer’s Emotional Piano for the piano in the first Eigenharp Audio Unit slot. [All the instruments] are tuned to A major; this allows me to play standard chord patterns and have them sound correct within the song’s scale. By doing that, none of the keys on the keyboard are playing any key outside of the selected scale. [In the Eigenharp's software, you can configure that setting] on a per-instrument basis as opposed to globally, you can create your own scales, and you can also play fully chromatically.

The beginning of the song is played on the third Alpha keyboard split, which provides a small rectangular area at the bottom and a single area of playing keys on the majority of the keyboard. I set up the bottom area to control the Eigenharp drum loops section, so that I can quickly change them later while playing the piano at the same time.

Eigenharp Alpha - Main Keyboard Closeup

Eigenharp, up close. Image courtesy Eigenlabs.

Once I ‘remembered’ the chords and the melody, I start the Eigenharp’s metronome, which also starts the two drum loops I’ve activated by default. This gives me a sense for the rhythm of the song and I can start playing the piano part in tempo. After a few bars, it’s clear that also the rhythmical part of the song has ‘come back to me’ and I can dive into the meat of it.

I do this by activating four new drum loops on the control area while playing the piano chords an octave lower with my left hand. After two measures, I press the record trigger for the active instrument on the keyboard split and play the piano chords together with the main melody for two measures. The looping automatically starts immediately after the recording.

Having the accompaniment section built up, I can now switch to a first solo instrument, which is the native model of a cello. I used an Audio Unit effect [insert] on it to reduce the dynamics and to make it louder. The Softube CL-1B compressor is great for that as it also adds a touch of warmth. The cello on the Eigenharp can be bowed in a variety of ways. My preference is to use the left strip controller since it’s the closest to the real physical action of bowing on the actual instrument. While playing the cello, each course of keys acts as a string, playing only the highest note. You can thus play with a polyphony of five tones when pressing down keys on all courses. This also allows you to play smooth legato on the same course since you can leave existing fingers pressed down while adding next ones. Just as with regular strings, you can individually add vibrato to each note. At the end of the cello solo section, I use the second strip controller together with the first one to modulate the global pitch while bowing at the same time.

The next section is a more atmospheric intermezzo that builds up tension before exploding into the final part. I play this on the fourth keyboard split that evenly divides the playing surface into two sections. The upper one uses the same Emotional Piano as before, together with a sweeping synth sound that comes from FabFilter Twin2 in the second Audio Unit slot of the Eigenharp [software]. The lower section only plays the piano. This allows me the play chords with sweeps using my left hand and have just a piano sound for the melody with my right hand. Note that this demonstrates that splits on the Eigenharp are merely different ways of accessing the same instruments and functionalities. All the capabilities of the Eigenharp are always active; they’re just accessed differently at different times, depending on what’s most comfortable for you while you’re playing. At the beginning of this section, I switch off the metronome and turn it on again at the end; this also switches the drums loops and recorded accompaniment off and on.

When I move on to the next section, the first two measures of the drum loops don’t play the recording since I actually started playing slightly ahead of the first beat when creating it. The Eigenharp therefore only starts playing the notes at the end of the first round. This is a matter of practice and since I’m not always at the correct time while recording, I take a precaution and continue playing the chords on the keyboard while waiting for the recording to start up again. When that happens, I switch to the fifth keyboard split, which gives you access to four independent areas.

The final section of the song uses Orange Tree Samples Evolution Electric Guitar Strawberry (EEG) as an instrument in the third Audio Unit slot. I play this with my right hand in the third area of the split. This is then fed into the insert Studio Devil AMP Audio Unit to provide the amplifier and effects simulation. Playing EEG with the Eigenharp feels very responsive and natural due to the precision and expression of the keys — hammer-ons and pull-offs feel just right. I’m also using per-key pitch bending, which is understood by EEG and allows you to naturally bend one note while keeping others steady (as I like doing on my regular electric guitar).

I join the electrical guitar part with the cello again, played with my left hand in the second area of the keyboard split. Since my right hand is playing already, I can’t use the strip controller to bow, so I use the breath controller instead. This allows you to move the virtual bow back and forth by exhaling and inhaling. Using tonguing technique makes it possible to do create rapid bow movements, which is exactly what I’m doing when I’m playing chords on both the guitar and the cello.

The end of the song plays the lead melody in unison on the guitar and the cello, I set the first split area up to have both instruments active so that I have my right hand free to turn the metronome off at the right moment. The outro simply has me using the breathpipe to wrap up the song with some soft cello notes.

More Demos, More Players

Geert points to more examples that explain the instrument. First up, a look at the whole product range:

Since it’s not easy for people to imagine how an Eigenharp is actually used in practice, Eigenlabs posted a new video that demos the three models: Pico, Tau and Alpha in very different styles of music. Afterward they briefly highlight how the instruments are used:

And other players demonstrate live performance.

Geert in particular notes this video by David Jameson, who talks more about his setup:

In this video, I am running Apple MainStage inside of which several instances of Omnisphere are running to produce string and choir sounds. Kontakt 4 is responsible for the Uillean Pipes solo. The background chords are being triggered one at a time by Max (a real-time programming language) in response to key presses by my right hand on the Eigenharp. The chord data produced by Max is sent to Apple MainStage. My left hand is playing the solo, going directly to MainStage.

The music notation is being displayed on the Apple iPad using Scorecerer, the product we developed for managing and publishing sheet music to tablet devices. (see www.deskew.com)

Lament (Caoineadh Cu Chulainn) is a beautifully haunting instrumental from Riverdance, written by Bill Whelan.

I imagine not everyone here is quite ready to jump down this particular rabbit hole, but then, that’s not entirely the point. To me, it’s always fascinating to see the different ways in which people develop performance practice and set up their rig, and the extraordinary range that covers. Even if I don’t immediately resonate with what people are doing, I find there’s something to learn or take as inspiration. Let us know what you think.

  • http://proppe.org Gunnar

    The "Cylon" theme is a variation on All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan (but clearly inspired by the Jimi Hendrix version). So Geert Bevin is covering a Bear McCreary variation of a Jimi Hendrix cover of a Bob Dylan tune. Great song choice, BTW — the LEDs are reminiscent of the sweeping red "eye" lights on the original Cylons.

    The instrument looks cool, and it's nice to see the breath controller still having some life, but for the expense (in time and money) I can't help but wonder if I'd rather just learn how to play a real bassoon or string instrument. But I'm certainly not going to knock someone for being into it. Beats putting all that time into mastering Guitar Hero.

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    Well, I've already got over 20 years of guitar playing and singing behind me. I've tried feeling comfortable with regular keyboards for a long time, took some courses, but it never felt natural to me. The Eigenharp felt like the perfect fit ever since I started with the Pico. You really have to feel the keys on your fingertips to understand how expressive and sensual they are. IMHO it's well worth the time investment to learn. I'm currently working on the arrangements of my band's album and the Eigenharp really helps with it. After playing the Alpha for six months, I can already record heart-felt music with it, that is quite amazing for a new instrument.

  • Andrew Zero

    I would love to have an alpha. I'm still waiting to find 6 grand in the couch cushions though.

  • http://proppe.org Gunnar

    @Geert Bevin Thanks for taking the time to respond. You're right, I was commenting from the point of view of a keyboard player (who plays some guitar, but never found it as natural as the keyboard), and you're also right that I need to play the thing before making a judgement on it. You made some really expressive music with it, which speaks for itself.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Gunnar Now that you mention it, it does seem though that a lot of non keyboard players are attracted to the Eigenharp, judging from the other users I know of (guitarist, wind players, strings, …). This might be a nice movement since electronic music has been mostly geared towards keyboard players. There have been some attempts with MIDI guitar that seemed somewhat workable, but never really felt responsive enough to me. The Eigenharp might maybe be a good fit for us musicians that want to enter the digital age, but without playing statically on stage with both hands in a horizontal position, using a percussive key model.

  • RIP_KING

    this… is… awesome, great post thank you!

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Andrew As Peter says, the Pico is already a great instrument, I've player it for several months before moving on to the Alpha. It's surprisingly easy to pick up since your hands can stay in the same fixed position to reach all the keys. It only took me a few days to start composing on it. It is also a lot cheaper. Note though, that once you see an Alpha for real, you'll see why it has its price-tag. It's really geared towards the high-level pro or semi-pro musician. Even the integrated headphone amp, microphone pre-amp, convertors, … are of extremely high quality, while those are really accessories to the core of the instrument. As a reference, they sound better to me than my Apogee Duet (though I still prefer my Metric Halo devices).

  • Martyn

    Geert, how much does learning the pico help if you eventually win the lottery and progress to the alpha? I recently got a Pico and am just learning it now thanks to your tutorials (love to see more pico ones :) ) When I watch you with the Alpha though… it looks 'simpler' for some things like chords but so much harder with all the extra keys. How did you find the transition?

  • Damon

    Wow! I think I can I think I can I think I can…

  • Polite

    There is a third 'middle' option now too. The Tau is about 2k pounds as opposed to 4k, and from memory has everything minus the on board mic pre-amp and the control box which lets you attach pedals and whatnot to it.

  • Polite

    I'm still hoping, personally for a middle between the pico and the tau, maybe for about a thousand pounds, which is basically a half sized tau, maybe minus the breath controller. The pico just seems a little too small.

    I'm also yet to see anyone playing an eigenharp and making it look cool. I guess the performance comes after the skills have been mastered.

    For example though, the neologic performance, while I love psytrance, just seemed a little flat. Because he was just standing there, and really only playing very simple riffs that could have been done on keys with more expression. I would have expected him to come in with a blistering, squelchy acid lead and really abuse the modulation and pitch bend possibilities of the keys.

    Or instead, i would have expected him to be layering up various riffs together, or something. Oh well.

    So far the best performance i've seen is that official range demo above. Some very cool uses of the abilities. I like the idea of the pico as a lap instrument as well.

  • Billy K

    it seems like although this is an awesome piece of kit… the maker would benefit from a look at the history of the synthesizer.. as in how MOOG's legacy won out over Buchla by eventually utilizing the keyboard.

    although im sure its not the point..Geert Bevin could make a guitar oriented instrument using the same technology and have a lot more commercial success.

  • leakeg

    Anybody know what the note layout is on these things? I searched far and wide a while back but never did find out.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Martyn, everything you learn on the Pico will transition perfectly to the Alpha, the key sensitivity is the same. They keys are laid out with just one course shifted, so instead of positioning your hands below each-other, you simply shift your right hand one course up. All the instrument features are also present on the Alpha, so you don't mentally have to learn all of that, you just need to adapt to how the controls are arranged on the Alpha, which are actually visually more comprehensible since there's more space.

    Fully exploiting the Alpha though is a lot more work, you basically have to deal with two stumbling blocks: the physicality of the instrument and the fact that your hands shift around. You can't simply hold it in your hand anymore, so you have to figure out which position works best for you … and that can change based on what your playing (using the strip controller for bowing for instance isn't comfortable while wearing the Alpha on its shoulder strap). Moving your hands around means that you need to develop a whole different set of muscle memory, which takes a long time to sink in. If you want to be able to play with both hands at once, I think you should plan for at least 6 months of daily practice.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Polite, I totally agree, and it comes with time. I still remember how dorky I felt with the guitar when I was first playing it on stage. Regular practice, confidence, rehearsals with others all will gradually make people feel more confident with the instrument and feel it as an extension of their body. I can feel it sometimes happening already when I'm playing with the shoulder strap. Dave K (which does the Eigenlabs demo) is very comfortable with its physicality, he's been playing for three years I think.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @leakeg, there's no fixed no layout, you can change scales and tonics on the fly and per section of the keyboard. This allows you to use the same finger patterns throughout and basically use the meaning of the notes to play (I play the root, the fifth, …) instead of learning a position on a keyboard (there's an accidental here, etc.). The Eigenharp is also an isomorphic keyboard in many of the standard scales, meaning that any pattern you learn on one position, works anywhere else with change. For chords, you basically just learn three patterns and you're set. For scales … just move you fingers up and down across the keys by picking the next and previous ones, without having to think about which ones to skip.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Billy K, I think you'll need to give it some time, but I'm convinced that the Eigenharp will explode once high profile artists are using it on stage. There are a few of them training now for their next live shows. Once people see how dynamic, expressive and visual they can be with an Eigenharp on stage, I think it will really take off. These are still very early days, it's not even one year old.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    … but it has been developed for over 8 years before release though, thought it might be worth adding that. There's been *a lot* of research behind it by a team of very talented people (I know them now quite well). This is not just an experiment of one man, it's a real product with a lot of research done by people that have a long history both in music, audio, electronics, woodworking, software, …

  • http://quiethorn.com Jeff

    Sorry, but I don't get the interest in the Eigenharp. People talk about how expressive it is, but so far, everything I hear sounds like the demo button on a Casio keyboard (the above videos included). If someone can prove me wrong, I'm all ears.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Jeff, maybe you're listening to other things or find different things important then me, but in my video the lead pieces of where I play the cello and later the guitar are quite expressive imho, ie. every thing that modulates about the sound is expressed by what I'm playing, it's not automated in the software instrument. I've never been able to do things like that on a regular keyboard.

  • Paul Norheim

    Geert Bevin, I notice a Haken Continuum in the video. How would you compare the Eigenharp to the Continuum fingerboard in terms of expressivity?

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Paul Norheim, both instruments are incredibly expressive and they're both very different. They complement each-other well though, the Continuum excels at portamento leads and the continuous manipulating of longer sounds. Playing it polyphonically is very difficult and I've never found the time to train that well enough. In terms of versatility, I personally prefer the Eigenharp. The keys give structure, the strip controllers, breath pipe and percussion keys allow you to change the way you express yourself depending on the situation… and you can easily walk around with it on stage. Also, the Continuum comes with some very expressive built-in sounds, but that's it. You always have to go over a physical MIDI connection to drive any other sound, even when you use Kyma it's MIDI over OSC (it's not even MIDI over USB, you're back to the old MIDI connections). The Eigenharp has less expressive native sounds, but it has a built-in soundfont player that responds to all the nuances of the instrument. This makes even the most basic soundfonts very expressive. The soundfont format is sufficient here as you don't need advanced Kontakt scripting, etc … to simulate expressiveness, you put it in directly yourself when you're playing. Also, by using the AudioUnit host automation parameters and tying those directly to any of the data streams of the Eigenharp, you can still modulate a lot of parameters in a very expressive and detailed manner. These can for example also be applying on AudioUnits that process the sound of the soundfont player, giving you a lot of possibilities.

  • Steve Elbows

    The software and some of the operating/configuration paradigms absolutely suck, weakest link by a long way. The moment this changes I'll be singing the praises of these instruments, until then I mostly lurk, sadly pining for the useability & configurability that we have come to take as the norm in this day and age. But oh no, eigenlabs didnt spend enough of their '8 years in development' making software that was much beyond the prototype stage, and they had some frankly stupid notions about how people would want to program the device. So now we all have to wait a tedious amount of time for them to deliver something decent on this front.

  • http://quitehorn.com Jeff

    @Geert I appreciate that you're able to modulate a few different parameters at once in real time, but still, it doesn't sound that terribly different from what could be done on a keyboard with mod and pitch wheels. Don't get me wrong; I'd love to see someone really do some amazing stuff on an Eigenharp. It's just that so far, everything I've seen seems gimmicky. I think someone needs to find out what the Eigenharp does that no other instrument can do and do THAT. I don't know what that is, but I'm pretty sure it's not playing sampled piano, cello and guitar over 80s beats.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Jeff, it's not as much how many parameters you can module but how you can modulate them, how realistic it feels when you're playing and how inspiring the feedback loop is between the movements that you're making and the sounds that you hear. For example, I hardly find playing a chord on a keyboard and using pitch wheel to bend one of the notes intuitive, it's not a natural movement, you'd want to slide that key or vibrate it, or something. On the Eigenharp this happens constantly and continuously, on all axis of the keys.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Steve, I think that we all expected more than what Eigenlabs promised and that they indeed underestimated the expectations of people regarding UI and configurability. The current testing release is already much better and what is going to be released with the next unstable releases will blow your mind, I can assure you that. While the UI of the software is basically inexistent, the rest though has been under development for a long time. Much of what you don't see under the hood is extremely complex, dealing with such a large amount of realtime data while still designing every component for full customizability is very challenging. The UI really is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Steve Elbows

    @Jeff thats a good part of why I rant about the softwares limitations. Some of this isnt their fault, after all soft instruments that may in theory work well with it dont tend to know about the possibility that the controller can have several unique modulation for each key independently besides velocity. Sure the built in stuff is fine and it has some midi out capabilities, but midi isnt well suited to the task and they failed to go the OSC route either. This, coupled with some other flaws in the way they have implemted some stuff in software, prevents me from experimenting with this device in the ways Id hoped to. I can pretty much harness the full capabilities of the breath controller and the sensitivity of the keys to velocity, and they are rather nice indeed. But I havent been able to do what Id like with the other directions the keys can move in.

    Until I can rally harness this stuff, I cant answer the question of whether the main feature that might allow glorious expression, the keys, actually offer all that much. For all I know the human mind may struggle to make effective use of all these different motions on multiple keys at once, how many simultaneous modulations can we manage and bend to our will in realtime? I am a million miles away from being a skilled player of instruments, so Ive struggled so far. Ive been trying a slightly different approach, which is to be extremely energetic and harsh with the instrument (ive just got the cheap pico), slapping it around and plucking or stabbing at swathes of keys at a time, which are rigged up all-to-primitvely via midi to various software instruments. There are signs that there could be potential in this area, but it will take someone else with talent or a lot of drive to get somewhere decent with it.

  • Steve Elbows

    Oops when I said 'ive just got the pico' I meant Ive only got the small instrument, not that I only just got it, Ive had it since almost the first day they were released, which is part of the reason for my moaning about the software, it feels like an eternity of waiting but its not been that long really in the grand scheme of things.

  • Steve Elbows

    It can be a bit of a hard sell because I dont think its very easy to describe how wonderful the keys can feel, people do have to try it for themselves. Even forgetting the other directional motions, the velocity/pressure sensitivity is nice to the point where it does almost feel like you are playing something thats more attentive to detail than digital instruments often feel.

    Im all ears and excited to think of future software features and improvements, it cant come soon enough. Dont get me started on what the software is like under the bonnet because Ive got nothing kind to say in that area, and many of the mountains they've had to climb are due to poor choices likely made long ago, and that will take a while to move away from. Ive worked for enough small companies to know what the realities can end up being, and the pitfalls that can all too easily occur, especially when resource-constrained engineering efforts meet with incorrect assumptions about how the users of the product will think. Some at Eigenlabs were not short of explanations, excuses and promises when all of these software issues including belcanto and workbench first got discussed, and Ive no wish to hear the same justifications all over again from a different source. Improvement is all that really matters. Ive not been keeping up with their forum as much as I should, but I think I got the idea at some point that the penny had dropped that they got a UI/programming paradigm wrong and have changed the course of software development somewhat in order to deliver something that a wider range of humans may be able to harness. Please tell me this is so!

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Steve, it is so! And I can tell you that from reading your previous comments on earlier threads here that you will indeed be very pleasantly surprised by what's coming in the next unstable release and even more so in the one after that (release schedules are going to speed up pretty dramatically). Let's just say that I don't know of any criticism that I've read about the current software that won't have been addressed, that's also the main reason that it took some time, it's not just a layer of eye candy.

  • vinayk

    The eigenharp range video looks amazing! I think the performer there is better at it as he's been playing it a lot longer as Geert eludes to. The first few promo videos for the eigneharp just weren't as good!

    I wish I had waited and bought one! (instead of a diff midi controller which i've never fully been happy with).

    Has anyone used the Tau? If so i'd be interested to know if you think it's limited in terms of number of keys?

  • Martyn

    Geert, thanks for the reply about the transition from pico to alpha.

    Have you any 'news' on when we can expect the next unstable releases? Im still running with the stable pico release and will hold off trying the current unstable if its nearing 'release'?

  • http://quitehorn.com Jeff

    @Steve I think you hit the nail on the head as to why I've been unimpressed with what I've heard so far. It looks like such a capable device, but the sounds that come out of it tend to be mediocre, so I guess it's more a limitation of the MIDI and software so far.

  • http://quitehorn.com Jeff

    @Geert If it helps you feel like you're expressing yourself more accurately because of the touch of the keys and naturalness of the movements, etc., that's great. I'm glad you could find an instrument to feel comfortable on.

  • Sam_K

    After hearing how much they've struggled with the software side of things, I suppose that a PC version is out of the question?

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Martin, jump onto the current testing release it's in many aspects more stable and capable as the current stable release

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Sam_K, on the contrary, there's already an unstable Windows release for registered users, there will soon we joint releases and both OSs will be fully supported

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @jeff, right, but also how all that actually translates to the modulation of the sound

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Paul Norheim, I have to amend my sayings about the Continuum, I forgot that it also has a CV/Gate interface that it can connect to, while I've never tried it, this supposedly allows you to be very expressive with analog synths that understand it

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Jeff, just to satisfy my personal curiosity, can you please provide some links to digital sounds you find top-notch in a live performance that aren't pre-programmed or sequenced? The reason why I'm asking is because I don't see what you're saying, I consider myself a sucker for good sounding audio and I think that it can totally be produced with the Eigenharp and already has. I'm wondering if you're not more thinking of 'new and original sounds' than 'good quality sounds'.

  • leakeg

    Thanks Geert for the reply.

    I need one of these.

    That being said I'm not so fond of the look. IMO it would be a design better suited to being played horizontally as a keyboard, rather than strapping it over the shoulder like a guitar.

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    I have some musings about the EigenD software for those that are interested in reading them:

    I think there's some confusion regarding what it does. So, EigenD is basically designed to run on standard computers to provide all the operating logic of the Eigenharp. It basically externalizes what is built into any other digital instrument or controller that I've seen. The physical Eigenharp instruments connect to EigenD through a custom-designed high-speed protocol that outputs all the signals of all the control element in all their axis as distinct continuous streams of data at 2000 samples/second/stream. It actually simulates CV streams in digital. The EigenD software is there to make sense of it.

    The most fundamental part of EigenD is obviously to aggregate this data and allow you to create music, to switch modes on the instrument and to use the native capabilities that were designed by Eigenlabs in factory setups. All this has been designed to be done from the instrument, you don't need to touch the computer unless you're configuring a third-party plugin or so.

    To create sound you have the following possibilities:

    * use virtual MIDI outputs and use MIDI channels for polyphony of notes and pitch-bends (as MIDI guitars and the Continuum have done before), there are standard mappings that idiomatically translate all the aspects of the Eigenharp into MIDI CC messages

    * use the natively modeled instruments that have been written by Eigenlabs (cello, clarinet, basic synth)

    * use the built-in soundfont player that has pre-determined controls tied to certain functionalities, based on which instrument slot you use

    * host AudioUnit or VST instruments and directly send MIDI to them instead of going over a virtual MIDI interface, this also allows you to use a visual matrix where you can set up mappings from each controller to an automation parameter of the plugin

    * use inlined or send AudioUnit or VST effects that can be used with any of the above (except the virtual MIDI output of course), the automation parameters can be controlled through a matrix again

    All this works fine and has been the focus of Eigenlabs for these first software releases. It has been stabilized and fine-tuned with the user input of the last year. This is also what you would had if it the hardware would have been built into the instruments to run EigenD, but you'd miss the ability to use any AU or VST and you'd be limited over time by the capabilities of that hardware (you can independently upgrade your computer).

    Now, here's where people have been frustrated. EigenD is constructed in a way that allows you (the user) to replumb all internal connections between the components of the system and to save that out as your own version of what you think the instrument should be. There's currently no visual way to do that. It is possible by learning the computer language they've designed for this (called Belcanto) and that computer language is somewhat documented, but not sufficiently. Eigenlabs has been very open about these capabilities and of course this got almost everyone extremely excited, wanting to start customizing their setups only to feel left out since without a lot of study and dedication, it's not possible. The Eigenlabs support team is extremely helpful though to help you figure out which Belcanto commands are needed for particular purposes, but in the meantime a lot of users felt that a better way was needed.

    This more intuitive and visual way of replumbing any of the internals of EigenD is what has been the focus of development for many months now, as has been an enhanced interaction with the instrument for live use. There has also been a particular focus on making it easier to integrate the fine-grained data with other software.

    I hope that this paints a clearer picture for those that have heard people complain about 'the software'.

    Now for full disclosure, I'm not sure that people here know this, but I did post it on EigenZone. I've actually joined the Eigenlabs software development team last month. So I know quite a large deal of what will be released in the future, but I can't disclose the details just yet.

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @leakeg, there's actually nothing that prevents you from lying them flat on a surface and playing them horizontally, I've seen people do it with the Pico. This should be possible with the Tau also, and while it would require quite some horizontal space, the Alpha makes this possible also since its back surface is totally flat.

  • Steve Elbows

    Oh great I went to have a play with the Pico last night and the software does not work on my machine anymore, it just says 'stopped' instead of loading everything, I'll have to fiddle about to see if I can get it working again, and will post on their forums if Im stuck.

    The existing software is fine for some scenarios, sure, and I can quite understand why they needed to place much of their first year efforts in making a windows version.

    Perhaps I should not have given up at pressing them to help me tweak my setup, I gave up a while ago because they were quite defensive and I think saw my complaints as a negative PR problem, even making their forums private at one point. I will go back to their forum and ask again if any of my requests can actually be delivered. Was it too much to ask that all of the Picos keys be available as playing keys, or that bending a key to the right should actually send some midi? I can appreciate why workbench was delayed but the failure to deliver alternative factory setups that would do any of this stuff left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Steve Elbows

    Wahey, I got the software working again. The issue was just something silly that meant my machine was trying to load an older version of the software instead of the latest one Id installed.

    Ahh, thats better, please understand that the only reason I rant with such passion about the software shortcomings is because of how wonderful I find the hardware, set my Pico free!

  • Paul Norheim

    Geert Bevin, I actually own the Haken Continuum, and the CV/Gate interface as well. I use it with a rackmount edition of the Minimoog Voyager, and it's a great combination, and very expressive for leads.

    You could say that I take the path Moog didn't take when they chose a keyboard to control their instruments back in the 60s. It gives me a somewhat different approach to the synthesizer, and as you can imagine, it's very exiting to explore this path. I regard the continuum first and foremost as a fantastic (monophonic) solo instrument for leads and effect based stuff. Of course you can also use it as a super precise ribbon controller in addition to a keyboard.

    I bought it in 2008 (before Haken built internal sounds into the instrument), and my version connects to KYMA (which I don't have) via Firewire.

    I believe that you can do much "more" with an Eigenharp than a Haken (like rhythmical patterns, piano sounds, bass etc, in addition to solo instruments and drones); but together with a keyboard (MIDI or synth), the Haken Continuum is a fabulous instrument. Thanks for your comments and comparisons!

    Given my experience with the Continuum, I have no problem realizing that also the Eigenharp must be an extremely expressive instrument in a different way. The direct and immediate way to be expressive with those two instruments is really exiting, and I may order a Pico one day to get a feel for it and see what it is all about.

  • Paul Norheim

    A P.S. to my post above: Of course Richard Lainhardt, who sometimes post here, uses the Continuum in very fascinating ways as a polyphonic instrument, together with a Buchla.

  • http://www.eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Paul, cool! I'm impressed by Richard's music, it's extremely expressive and creative. I'm hoping to soon find the time to do more with my Continuum for leads, time is always so scarce :-)

  • http://quitehorn.com Jeff

    @Geert No, it's okay. Honestly, I retract what I said earlier. It's not the sounds themselves that sound bad. It's just that no one I've seen playing it so far seems to have a level of musicianship able to make the Eigenharp really do anything amazing. That's all.

  • http://eigenzone.org Geert Bevin

    @Jeff, right, I totally agree with that, the musician that will make the Eigenharp surpass the established roads might not even have heard about it yet, there aren't that many in the lifetime of any given instrument.

  • http://www.deskew.com David Jameson

    Thanks for including my video in this article. I just put up another one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_s_9jR3jpnU) where I'm starting to get better using the keys expressively. It's really remarkable how effective they are for emulating the "playability" of some traditional solo instruments (sax, whistle, horns, bagpipes, etc)

    I'm not convinced I could do this as well with the Continuum — that controller seems more suited towards synth leads and effects.

  • Paul Norheim

    Great video, David!

    Actually, I do think you could achieve something similar with the Continuum – given the right sound source.

  • Steve Elbows

    The feedback I got from Eigenlabs on their forum recently regarding the software sounds quite promising, with OSC being mentioned.