Steinway Model D. Photo courtesy Steinway & Sons.

These piano breakthroughs changed music forever

Yesterday was Piano Day – a day recently christened by composer/pianist Nils Frahm in order to celebrate that ubiquitous keyboard instrument. (It’s held on the eighty-eighth day of the year.) There are concerts, marathons, project, releases – and unlike Record Store Day, this event won’t clog the ability to produce piano music. With that day as inspiration, I thought it was a good moment to look at some of the technology of and around the piano, to understand what has made this instrument special. That includes both strictly acoustic innovations as well as design features and breakthroughs that either inspired …

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Sneak peek of HYVE, a 60-note touch synthesizer

Touchplates are so in this year. Yes, it’s a testament to the legacy of synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla: electronic musicians evidently long for something new. And the latest is a glimpse of something found in our news tip inbox. It’s called “HYVE” and it’s a hybrid synthesizer, combining a number of ideas about pitch arrangement into a single touch-plate layout. There’s a keyboard. There’s a hexagonal pitch array. And there’s a heck of a lot of polyphony. And… well, it’s best to just watch the video:

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5 years on, still the best way to control Ableton from iOS

touchAble remains the deepest touch controller for Ableton Live – or anything else – on iOS. And now it’s on a bargain sale, withs some new features, too.

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Akai MPC Touch is an MPC with a multi-touch screen

MPC lovers, you finally get a piece of hardware with everything in one place: touch, color displays, pads, buttons for workflow access. There’s just one catch: you will still need the computer. Ever looked at those beautiful color waveforms on Native Instruments’ Traktor and Maschine controller and wished you could touch the screen? Imagined pinching to zoom waveforms and navigate samples, the way you can on an iPad? Well, Akai are the first to do groove-making hardware that combines physical pads and a touchscreen in one unit – no iPads (or Microsoft Surfaces) in sight.

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Bitwig Studio is a real touch DAW you can use today

We’ve seen apps made exclusively for touch devices like the iPad. And we’ve seen very basic touch support in desktop apps. But Bitwig Studio 1.3 is both. So, on the same day we find out about a proper touch laptop, we also get a DAW that’s ready, today, to take advantage of it. (See also FL Studio below, though Bitwig brings specific support for Microsoft’s new displays, and some new ideas.) Also, is Bitwig actually trolling Mac fans, or Apple? Because Bitwig is touting the fact that OS X will at least get its new “E-Cowbell device.” (I’m not making …

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Let’s make sense of Apple’s new iPad lineup – with charts!

The iPad isn’t just a gadget any more. There’s now enough of an app ecosystem that investing in an iPad is investing in a creative platform that turns into lots of other things. That is, it really is like another computer. For music, that means a lot. An iPad is a drum machine, or a vocal processor. It’s a practice aid, a simulated guitar amp. It’s an extension of your desktop music software, too, whether controlling instruments and transport in Logic or live sets in Ableton. It’s a DJ tool. Of course, the same is true of a computer. And …

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A new ROLI instrument wants to make expressive control mainstream

We are all slaves to the piano. Two or three centuries after the instrument rose to dominance, and well over a half century after it became intertwined with the synthesizer (hello Minimoog!), it’s still something of a challenge to work out some alternative. And I love the piano. One of my great frustrations with some advocates of expressive new interfaces is their disregard for my favorite instrument. But let’s look at it this way: we’ve got beef. Beef is fantastic. We still really ought to have some chicken, some duck, and some vegan options. The formula for solving this in …

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The Best App for Exploring Sound Just Got Better: Borderlands 2.0

It looks like a spaceship control panel, and has the futuristic sound to match. Borderlands Granular already set a high water mark for how touch could open up new possibilities in sound creation. With a new version adding live input and more control, though, its latest release may be even more significant than its first. Granular synthesis, which treats recorded sound as a fluid construction of tiny grains, needs an interface to realize its power. It’s not something that can be understood by turning a single knob. It’s defined by the sounds you put into it, by the way you …

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Angry Bees! Swarms and Flocks of Sound in a New iPad Synth

Now, your iPad can go from sweet-sounding pads to hordes of angry bees and back again, all by modeling physical behaviors of flocking. It’s called the Photophore, and it’s a “flock synthesis” instrument. You may have seen synths that produce lush sounds by combining oscillators – the eight-oscillator Swarmatron springs to mind. Well, this synth puts the “swarm” in “Swarmatron.” With up to one hundred oscillators per patch, it uses physical modeling to transform sound by simulating flocking behaviors. I’ve seen experiments that have done things like this with flocking algorithms and particle systems, but this must be the first …

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touchAble 3 Controls Ableton Via Wire, Mimics Live Devices on iPad [Gallery]

Let’s get straight to it: there are two big problems with controlling Ableton Live from an iPad. One, relying on WiFi means risking disaster if a connection is unstable for some reason (OS updates, wireless interference, gremlins and demonic possession, whatever causes that). Two, you invariably wind up with remote controls for some things you need, but not others. It’s like having a remote control for a TV with half the buttons missing. You wind up going back to the mouse just because you can’t work out any way to turn such-and-such knob. touchAble 3 fixes both problems. There’s loads …

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