A new design launching this week should appeal to keyboardists who want both more expressive touch control and a keyboard – without sacrificing one or the other.

Yes, yes, multi-touch on tablets does indeed give your fingers access to continuous control for added expression and pitch. But there’s a reason keyboards evolved keys: tangible feedback about where pitches are, and the ability to control dynamics with pressure (itself with additional mechanical tangible feedback) just isn’t matched by touchscreens.

We’ll be looking on an ongoing basis at how you can take the flexibility of those touchscreens and match them with more tangible controls. But here’s one example: the German-engineered Evo keyboard really is a conventional keyboard, with all the advantages therein, but combined with capacitive touch on every single key. In other words, it navigates around the very tradeoffs of which I was recently critical in iPad developments, namely, additional expression coming at the expense of tactile feel. (I got some pretty intense criticism for things I said in that article which remain, to me, fairly obvious: a tablet is not a device you can play with your eyes closed, and – in its present form – no matter how hard you hit it, you can’t control dynamics.)

Of course, this does require buying specialized hardware, and it’s a controller only – unlike that tablet, you’ll still need a sound source and (at least for some tasks) a display, both of which are integrated in the tablet. But it is a compelling alternative that introduces a different set of possibilities for playability.

In fact, it’s also not the first time designers have thought in this direction. All the way back to the Martenot, keyboard designers have looked for ways to bend keys or add additional continuous expression – polyphonic aftertouch being the most common (though still relatively rare) solution. But none of those inventions could build on the accessibility of touch on the keys. I’m curious to see what playing this feels like; fans of getting away from the piano keyboard and all its history entirely will likely (and fairly) scoff, but for those of us who want to merge our piano background, something like this merits consideration.

Here’s how the creator describes it; I hope to catch up with this invention soon in person.

Discover the evo. Worlds first keyboard with touch sensitive keys.

With the help of capacitive touch sensors the evo is able to read your fingers movement on top of a keys surface. Next to pitch and velocity there is now a third layer of polyphonic data input.

Think of polyphonic control of pitch and expression. Think of having a pitch or mod wheel integrated into every single key. Think of never ever leaving a key just to turn or push some knobs or buttons.

So, it’s a combination of classic keyboard key and modern touch technology. The best of both worlds combined in a single keyboard. But best of all! The characteristical function of a key remains unchanged. The evo still features traditional pressure-sensitive keys. But in addition there are now all the advantages from a touch-sensitive input device in every single key.

So. At first this might sound like the evo is an all new instrument. But it’s nothing more than a traditional master-keyboard… With capacitive touch inside every key.

http://www.endeavour.de/discover_the_evo/evo.html

  • http://seanny.net Renzu

    kinda cool… half-way to a Haken Audio Continuum. I didn't quite understand the part where he was talking about sending polyphonic controller data to the synthesizer.

    I think the way the Continuum does it is it sends each note on a different MIDI channel.

  • dinos

    Why is this better than polyphonic aftertouch? In fact, I find that varying the pressure on a surface is much more of a natural gesture than rubbing my fingers on one. Even more so in a musical context.

    Plus, it wasn't very nice of Mr. Kemper to skip polyphonic aftertouch when listing ways of inputting polyphonic data to one's synthesizer.

    But then again, I haven't tried it and truth is that I would be up for giving it a go. :)

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, to me, it seems it might be easier to articulate your fingers parallel to the key surface as the additional axis of expression than perpendicular, as with aftertouch. That's my problem with aftertouch in general – you have to make a movement in the same direction with which you're using velocity, which can be counterintuitive and hard to control. On the other hand, you have the resistance of the key, which is nice.

    I can forgive him skipping polyphonic aftertouch, though, because even those keyboards with aftertouch – which isn't even a majority – it's almost always channel aftertouch.

  • http://integerpoet.com/ integerpoet

    He had me before he started talking. My only questions are: When? How much?

  • Stij

    Oh man this is incredibly cool. As a keyboardist, I've always been interested in ways to increase expression, but I didn't want to give up the piano keyboard that I'm so used to. This looks like the perfect combination of both.

    I would like to know more about price and how the action feels, though.

  • Peter Freeman

    Yes, "when?" and "how much?" are good questions, especially since the release date shown on the site is just about one year ago.

  • Fletch

    Dude, I like your blog but you should really consider giving the iPad thing a rest for a spell.  I think we're all well aware by now of its strengths and weaknesses, and I for one would probably enjoy stories about new controllers more if you were to assess them on their own terms instead of drawing them into that polemic.  

  • danio

    I think that this keyboard with sensitive surface keys AND poliphonic aftertouch should be IDEAL….

    Velocity+poly aftertouch+touch surface=sluuurp!!!!

  • MegaTonne

    iPad stuff is journalistic filler.

    It's not so much he's concentrating too much on iPad, but rather he doesn't have much else to talk about. or he would.

  • GreaterThanZero

    There is nothing wrong with presenting new information in context, particularly when it ties into an ongoing discussion.  It's not filler; it's what separates journalism from a collection of press releases.

    Anyway….  My setup will always include a piano-style keyboard, and putting more power where my fingertips are puts more power at my fingertips.  I want this ten years ago.

  • nate

    Peter, glad you referenced the Martenot.  if you didn't i was going to.  everyone is griping about mentioning the iPad.  folks should look past that and check out the Martenot if they haven't already.  that thing dates back to the early days of the theremin and is still more flexible than the controllers we have today.  i know a new model was put out a few years back, but i really wish a more "modern" controller would incorporate the features of the Martenot, such as being able to shift the entire keyboard side to side with your finger, for a vibrato effect (among other control functions).

  • nate

    i just watched the vid.  first thought upon hearing it was Vangelis…Blade Runner.  

  • http://www.jhhl.net/iPhone jhhl

    Sequential's Prophet T-8 had polyphonic aftertouch – almost nothing else did!

    This kind of technology is analogous to bending strings on a fretted instrument  - you have some guides on where the modulation starts and ends. 

    If the world doesn't end next year, I'd be very surprised if a haptic feedback multitouch touchpad weren't available. In fact, Apple is probably working on it: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/10/06/24/app

     One of the Android tabs has can give a little kick to the tablet programmatically, and that's surprisingly useful.

  • MegaTonne

    And here was me thinking 'filler' was a nice way of saying 'lazy journalism' …. not nice enough obviously!

  • GreaterThanZero

    No worries.  I could care less about niceness – speak your mind so we know what we're replying to!  What I care about is accuracy.

    Lazy journalists don't compare products; they just print the specs as provided without any outside research.  Lazy journalism isn't concerned with context or perspective.  Peter is.

    Now, the big picture these days is largely dominated by touchscreens, and the touchscreen market is largely dominated by iPad.  So, this fact is reflected in a lot of articles.  And yes, people hate that.  At any given moment, they'll either accuse Peter of shilling for Apple, or beating a dead horse by complaining about them.  But what's the alternative?

    The alternative is lazy journalism, devoid of editorial content, devoid of risks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LouAshbyRecords Pete Marriott

    This is going to change the game in so many creative ways. I'd love to test one of these baby's out immediately. 

  • http://chrisgregory.com Chris Gregory

    I've got an old Yamaha YC-45D combo organ and a Yamaha E70, and they both have a cool key vibrato that you get from wiggling the keys sideways (pitch or filter wah). There's a strip under the keyboard and the keys have ltitle claws that press into the strip and provide the ability to wiggle it back and forth sideways. Why nobody else ever picked up on this idea amazes me.

  • http://casio-px-130.com Tony

    This is really interesting. I guess touch screen technology will change a lot of other musical instruments too! 

  • stellan0r

    I wonder if the guy presenting it is of the same family "Kemper" as is the maker of the Access Virus Synth. Would be awesome to have this build in a Virus TI 3 aka Virus Evo. :)

  • Brian

    Does this mean that you would need a minimum of independently controlled 10 voices (1 for each finger)?

  • Peter Kirn

    Also, someone correct me if they can think of another example, but the principle appearance of a *capacitive* sensor has been on the touchscreen of the iPad/iPhone (which then led the introduction of similar sensing mechanisms on competing products). Most of the other touch sensors we've seen use resistive sensors, not capacitive sensors. So there's that connection, as well.

  • leakeg

    as I guitarist, whenever I play a keyboard my intuition is vibrate my finger in the horizontal direction to create vibrato (alas it never works!) – this feature would compliment what they've created here nicely.

  • Peter Kirn

    Actually, I'm trying to remember some of the other mechanical examples of this. I recall keyboards with split keys, one that had keys you can wiggle… turns out I don't know all of this stuff off the top of my head after all. ;)

  • http://music.cornwarning.com Kent Williams

    There are some things that might not be so great about the Evo controller:

    1. The weirdly tall keys. I'd like to see a pianist try and play something on it.

    2. Again, for the real players (i.e. def. not me) it would be tricky to not have whatever parameter you have tied to the capacitive touch output gyrating wildly because you don't hit every key in the same place.

    3. The software. Does the touch data get fed as 88 continuous controllers? Is it using OSC or some alternate protocol, or are they using purpose-built sound generators?

    Thinking about how crazy it would be to effectively use the controller data coming off this in Reaktor. You'd have to sample the note value and use it to somehow look up the right control stream.

    Also I suspect the guy demoing the Eos isn't an experienced keyboard player, given the awkward fingering of a major triad he uses.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Kent: good points. I wonder if using a pedal to toggle expression would work. Other questions, I'll be sure to ask/try.

  • http://www.endeavour.de Simon Kemper

    Hi,

    first of all i want to say thank you for that amout of feedback. I know that there are a lot of questions left we were not able to answer with that short video.

    But, you all just have to wait 2 more days! The official start of the evo is on wednesday the 23rd of november. The date on our homepage was wrong. It was a short mistake i did not see. So, it should be 23.11.2011 and not 2010.

    So, in just 2 days we will answer all your questions. Also there will be some more videos and tutorials. We also offer a software to control and individualize the evo. It is called "COMM" and makes everything between MIDI and OSC possible. So mapping the evos touch sensors to poly-AT, and so on, is also no problem.

    We also took care of a lot more things. But everything will be explained … soon … in two days.

    Thank you all,

    Simon Kemper

  • MegaTonne

    Lazy is obviously a subjective term.

    I'm of the opinion that all the iPad entries could/should be condensed into a singular, weekly post. Or at least into a singular daily post, at a serious stretch.

    I stand by my assertion that the excessive focus on iPad news is filler journalism, possibly even lazy journalism to put it in a not-so-nice kind of way. Could be that there isn't much else to report on, could be that he's too (journalistically) lazy to find it, could be iPad articles are a safe hot-topic bet. Who knows.

    I work in media myself, and I can smell filler a mile away.

    :)

    and, since you want to be a pedant about it mr zero, given your intentions what you meant to say was ' I couldn't care less '

  • MegaTonne

    For example, he never made an entry on the legendary Synth1 VST making an appearance on the OSX platform.

    Yet he would happily, and quite gormlessly, shill for other developers pushing commercial products way less useful or exciting (that 'soda pop' oscillator-but-nothing-else synth)

    Not trying to hate, overall it's a solid publication, but there are fair criticisms to be made and I don't truck with mindless fanatics who refuse to acknowledge them.

    :)

  • DBM

    So now it just needs a hole for the iPad and Animoog by association . Too bad it will probably be uber expensive . 

    I would actually like to see Moog but out an MTS keyboard . Now if someone would just put out a Ribbon controller about the size of 37 keys with X-Y and pressure and after touch , say 8 pots with midi din and usb @ sub $200 .     

  • Peter Kirn

    Hang on, now I will take the bait: failing to mention a beta version of a different OS for a VA plug-in is a symptom of a serious failure of journalism or being in the pocket of some developers? 

    MegaTonne, if you work in media, you most also know a lot of times – whether this qualifies as laziness or not – writers depend on people tipping us off on stories. Did I ever claim to cover everything? I really do welcome this stuff as a news tip. It takes about the same amount of time as writing these comments.

  • vinayk

    looks interesting – I too wiggle my fingers horizontally on my piano keyboard – although i know it doesnt do anything – it makes me feel as though im adding "expression" – like i do on my guitar!

  • MegaTonne

    You couldn't possibly be inferring that you don't report on betas ? .. Nah, that's not what you're saying. Couldn't be.

    But my meaning was that it's a failure of journalism. Synth1 on OSX is huge news. I simply used the shilling of a less newsworthy commercial product as contrast to this failing. Certainly by saying it was *less* newsworthy is not to say it wasn't worth reporting on the soda-pop synth.

    I take your tip-off comment on board, but this is the second time I've mentioned it to you in the comments section of an article (I believe the soda-pop synth article was the first time?) – and the second time you've acknowledged it with a direct response, and if I recall correctly you also acknowledged it's newsworthiness the first time around.

    Well I didn't intend to 'get into it' with you on this topic, but as an avid reader and fan of your work I just feel like there's some filler journalism going on in the form of the many individual iPad posts that I personally feel would be better published in a collated form.

    Plus I am an arsehole, so feel free to completely disregard everything I just said.

    :)

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    @simon kemper: will the control software be x-platform enough to run on linux?

  • vger

    I don't understand some of the comments about 'failures in journalism' here. It's a blog. CDM doesn't state that it's the final word on all electronic music making and related technology. What gets talked about is what one person happens to find interesting and noteworthy and thinks others might find noteworthy. What's with this implication that Peter should cover everything or not have some editorial bias?

    I love some of the stories and really don't care about others. So be it. It's a blog.

  • vanceg

    It's interesting to see that I'm not the only guitarist who tends to try to play vibrato on keyboards by wiggling my finger left and right. Sometimes I really feel like it's making a difference. Of course it's not. But…. I suppose now it can.

  • http://www.gesslerproject.com gesslr

    A couple of things: 1) this would make working with Cubase's NoteExpression in VST 3.5 alot easier. 2) I definitely think this comment has some legs: "2. Again, for the real players (i.e. def. not me) it would be tricky to not have whatever parameter you have tied to the capacitive touch output gyrating wildly because you don’t hit every key in the same place."

  • dinos

    (late reply)

    I still find sliding my fingers vertically kinda awkward. As mentioned above by someone else, the Y position in which I hit the keys on my keyboard has nothing to do with what I want to sound like. It's just about convenience, and it does vary greatly depending on the chord and fingering; how many black keys I'm hitting (you'd tend to hit the white keys a bit higher in such cases), etc. My point is that I would have to unlearn something as fundamental as that to use these keys effectively. Sorry to be such a downer, but I'm not that excited about it.

    PS: There sure are reasons why poly-AT hasn't caught up. What I'm saying is that I can't see why this is better.

  • Dan

    Bob Moog did this a long time ago – capacitive sensing in both x&y on each key, even!  He just never produced or sold them.  See here:
    http://resenv.media.mit.edu/classes/MAS960/NewRea

  • http://andrewmcpherson.org/ Andrew McPherson

    I've been working on a similar idea for a while: capacitive multi-finger touch in each key (three touches per key), Y dimension on the black keys and XY for the white keys. I haven't produced a commercial controller yet, but I make them as sets of key tops that stick on top of your existing acoustic or electronic keyboard. Also patents pending. :-) Video and technical paper from this summer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tmpzuc4_qfM

    http://smcnetwork.org/system/files/smc2011_submis

  • http://www.timmb.com Tim Murray-Browne

    Hi Peter

    Andrew McPherson, a colleague of mine at the Centre for Digital Music has also developed something similar using capacative touch sensors. Check out his video:&nbsp ;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tmpzuc4_qfM . I think it picks up pressure as well as position based on the surface area of contact

    As for it's use in performance, well it's all down to the mapping – you can find ways to make it subtle as well as manageable (e.g. responding to the speed the finger is moving across the key rather than just its position).

    There's a Sound and Music Computing paper with details too:&nbsp ;http://smcnetwork.org/system/files/smc2011_submission_80.pdf

    Tim

  • Peter Kirn

    @Dan: Wow, nice article all around. And it's even called "Evolution." (Resistive sensing, but still.)

    Thanks for your effort, too, Andrew! Keep us posted.

  • Dan

    @Peter: No, it actually _is_ capacitive sensing that Moog used in his 'Multiply Sensitive Keyboard' design – you have to read the article in-depth to understand this.  Note also, that it senses the z-axis (in addition to x & y finger position)…

    @dinos (and all others worried about having to re-learn fingering techniques): this problem has an easy technical solution, which is to simply use the "point of first contact" for the finger on each key as the 'null offset point' for that note.  Then the next time that key is played, the new finger position will be considered as the null for that note, and so on…  It doesn't look like the "Evo" keyboard does this as yet, however.

  • kconnor9000

    Hugh Le Caine did a 'wiggle' keyboard, as did Martenot. It's something I do on piano, too — can't help myself.

    I've been very excited by the microsensors used in things like the Eigenlabs instruments, and the QuNeo. Most keyboards seem to have sufficient give that such a sensitive sensor at the key base should be able to give us wiggle sensing without requiring any significant amount of motion at the key ends, i.e. regular keyboard and spacing, just some wiggle sensitivity via a sensor at the top. If it's 3d, then one could also sense 'north' pressure too (pushing a key into the instrument, from the end). How about it Eigenlabs? More keyboard players out there than wind players…

    I think that's a world more intuitive as a control input stream than moving one's fingers north, up a capacitive strip. No reason no to do both, however.

    I should post this link in the QuNeo thread, but do check out LeCaine's left hand controller, midway down the page at http://hughlecaine.com/en/sackbut.html . There are lots of 2D, kaoss-pad type control surfaces now, but what I dig about this particular circular control is the idea of having a little physical 'thing' staying put on the 2D surface. Better than a hold function on a flat touchsurface — you can see and feel the 'thing'.

    A bit late for QuNeo input, but I'd love to see a smaller one, designed just for left hand control purposes, like the LeCaine one.

    Mucho encouragement to all who are pursuing this. Most people think of pioneers like Moog and LeCaine being interested in raw sound generation devices, but I'd say based on a lot of research into both, that they were both motivated primarily by the urge to add expression controls to electronic sound sources. Expression was the thing! I think they'd find the concept of playing on a hard glass surface to be a bit of a backwards step. Controlling an ipad generator, however, from some wacky hand/foot/nose controller — I think they'd find that avenue more interesting, imo.

  • kconnor9000

    Le Caine also used capacitive coupling, for vertical position sense, in his 'Touch Sensitive (ooh er) Organ'. Later renamed the Touch Sensitive Keyboard, naturally.

  • Jeffrey Alden Olson

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