You know the type. The drummer who, even robbed of drum sticks, is tapping on the walls, the car door, the desk… and maybe you are that person. When rhythms and musical gestures are bouncing around your head, the whole world just feels like something you want to play. It seems as natural as breathing.

So, given your computer can make anything an input, why shouldn’t it let you play like that?

A new controller and software combo seeks to make that possible. The work of one enterprising musician and creator, Stephan Vankov, it includes an affordable accessory with a piezo microphone and companion software to map it your taps to MIDI messages, for use with your favorite software musical instruments. Plug in the mic sensor, and you can tap your desk or slap your laptop or play any other surface.

We’ve seen this idea in various iterations before – most recently, at the party we co-sponsored in Los Angeles last month, we witnessed an entire ensemble using the motion sensors in their laptops. (That tool is available as an open source download, if you fancy hitting your computer.) Until now, though, these piezo controller rigs been a DIY affair. Stephan’s solution includes what appears to be nicely-made hardware — so you can dump it in your carry-on without worry. And the software includes a wide array of settings to map more easily to percussion and melodic instruments. (The software is now available for Mac, but with Windows and Max for Live versions on the way.) I hope to get one to test soon.

Intro pricing begins at US$59.

Stephan writes:

I wanted to let you know about a product I’ve been developing – the Pulse Surface Controller. The idea behind Pulse Surface Controller is to liberate computer-based musicians from conventional input devices of predetermined form factor and layout, and allow the user to turn a surface of various size, orientation and material into an expressive, flexible, reconfigurable MIDI controller.

The system includes a wired piezo microphone that can be attached to a surface via the integrated suction cup (or the included velcro strips) and connected to any computer audio input, as well as a standalone software application that converts acoustical impulses from the microphone into velocity-sensitive MIDI data. With the Pulse Surface Controller System, controlling percussive instruments has a more visceral, immediate quality, and via a powerful Melodic Generator that can generate notes in various scales the user can easily extend into the melodic domain to tap into an inspiring world of happy accidents.

I am very excited to share this project with fellow musicians and hope that you find this idea to be worth sharing with the CDM community!

More description:

The idea behind Pulse Controller was born out of the belief that as computer-based musicians and performers we should not feel relegated to a grid of small 1×1″ pads or a keyboard to create our rhythms and provide pulse to our music. Controllers once intended to give us the immediacy of playing an instrument often end up feeling more disconnected and distracting. With the Pulse Surface Controller System, controlling percussive instruments has a more visceral, immediate quality, and via a powerful MIDI generator that generates notes in predefined musical scales the user can easily extend into the melodic domain to tap into an inspiring world of happy accidents. Power to the fingers!

System Features:

+ Piezo microphone and powerful software interface
+ Attaches to any surface via integrated suction cup
(velcro strips also provided)
+ Connects to external audio device or built-in audio inputs
(1/4″ and 1/8″)
+ Velocity-sensitive and highly responsive
+ Low-latency performance
+ Compatible with all software that accepts MIDI Note messages (Cubase, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, VST plug-ins, etc)
+ Generate fixed note or random notes in a selected scale,
with control of octave, octave width, root pitch and 21 Scales
+ Fixed note length and note choke modes
+ Store and recall presets
+ Keyboard shortcuts for quick access to presets and important controls
+ Mac OS 10.5, 10.6, 10.7 compatible (Windows / Ableton Live users, please contact us about M4L version)

Side note: interestingly enough, I got to know Stephan in person at a NAMM afterparty we threw in LA, at which Stephan was playing a Karate Kid AV mashup with friends Shane Hazleton and Momo The Monster. So, nice to see what Stephan has been working on!

  • Ivan

    I wonder if there is a way to play the kick drum and the snare drum at the same time…

  • Greg

    . . . or a contact mic and a couple days of experimenting with [fiddle~] in Pd.

  • bigassbooty

    Reminds me of Mogee:&nbsp ;

    Mac only ;( might still be buying it just for the contact mic tho – it looks sweet!

  • peterkirn

    Right, like I said, it's pretty clear that what you get here is:
    * a convenient housing
    * software that makes mapping to MIDI easier

    But, as such, it seems a nice little product packaging these techniques.

  • moger

    Reminds me of Mogee:&nbsp ;

    like peter writes, looks good enough to buy even without the software. durable contacts for surfaces rather than intruments arrent that easy to find in the first place.

  • Pat

    Seems great. Would be lovely if you couls use 2 or more of these and map to different midi channels and then create whole array of them!
    Would like to see how correct and fast is the mapping to MIDI.
    Anybody got more videos ?

  • Doc

    reminds me of Stretta's patch:   &nbsp ;

  • freesoul

    Looks cool but it's one of those things I'd want to see a few "rookies" get their hands on. I mean. The dev has lived with the quirks and setup routine since day one. I want to see a "blind" challenge so to say. Give this setup to a random computer musician and see if he can produce favorable results. Then I will buy. I see lots of cool devices/software that make simple things look complex or visa versa. When put into the hands of others so the dust wars begin. Hope to see if Pete can get his hands on a set and see what he can really tell us about the functionality of this set. 

  • ex-fanboy

    I was wondering how adjustable the sensitivity is on this.

    Would the bass in the club where i'm playing influence the controller…. I've played at clubs where the subwoofers caused my glass to move across the desk – I'm guessing in such a case the Pulse Surface would be triggering all over the place.
    Still, a really cool idea! Respect!

  • Anno Nym

    Hmmm… there is the KTDrumtrigger VST ( or Stillwell Audio’s drumtrigger JS-plugin for Reaper. That and a cheap Yamaha piezo trigger + clamp to attatch it to the table and I’m set… :-)

  • jordan314

    iGog for iPhone can do this, though it's not as complex. I posted this video 3 years ago:

  • Peter

    I still think it’s more fun to use a combination of the audio from contact mic, complete with its natural timbral nuances, together with bonk~ or similar type of analysis… I’ve mentioned it before in comments here, must try to track down footage of me doing something like that ten or so years ago (not that similarish things hadn’t been done before)

  • strunkdts

    id gladly hand over a 50 for the software and mic – alot easier than making my own piezo and messing about with some program that requires a phd in astrophysics

  • Peter Kirn

    Heh, it’s not going to take a PhD to figure out how to do this.

    But here’s the funny thing – I’m finding this is coming up a lot.

    People who do work a lot on their own software and hardware often appreciate more than anyone else the value of someone having put together something stable and reliable. 

    So, bizarrely, we have some of the DIYers here in comments defending the idea of buying this — because perhaps there’s an awareness of what went into it.

    Other DIYers may likewise appreciate the value of doing it their own way. 

    I think it’s worth having the choice, and honestly, you’re constantly making this decision between just how dirty you want to get your hands with a tool.

  • edison

    looks like too much fun…

  • Crafty

    That’s what… nevermind.

  • harry hopless

    US only????
    Phuk that shit. I wanted to buy it now!

    We all live on planet earth. Get it together guys!

  • regend

    seeing new triggers emerge whether DIY or factory made is always fun to incorporate into live performance and in education settings. i’m excited to use this with a hacked Kinect as a quick out of the box solution for live performance.

  • squorax

    can’t wait for windows version!

    • Aaron Levitz

      The Windows version is out, but might respond sluggishly — I guess both versions plug in as a microphone and convert transients to MIDI in software, but the Mac version can do so through a low-latency audio interface, where PC is currently limited to your built in sound card.