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10 Magnificently Modern Musical Instruments
November 18, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe


 
What, no hang?

These are all really cool. When I saw Little Boots live, she had her Tenori-On display her name as the band was setting up.
posted by griphus at 11:12 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want an Eigenharp so much.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:18 AM on November 18, 2009


That Hapi drum sounds like a Thomas Newman soundtrack.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 11:19 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was about to post the same link as griphus and had it in my clipboard already. Here, I can prove it.
posted by quoquo at 11:21 AM on November 18, 2009


this is cool. it reminds me of synthesizer patel.
posted by snofoam at 11:27 AM on November 18, 2009


No love for the midi sax? It is the cutting edge.
posted by Beardman at 11:31 AM on November 18, 2009


All I can ever think when I see this stuff is that the future sounds just like every crappy dance club today.

The future sucks more every day.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:32 AM on November 18, 2009


What, no hang ?

The HAPI drum is basically a hang, right? I just looked into this and apparently they stopped making the original hang drum. Nooooo
posted by yoHighness at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2009


Two thoughts:

I have an ad-blocker and that page was still so overloaded with webby, extraneaous gadgets and gizmos. What gives?

The electric violin seems like the odd-one-out - it's no more modern than an electric guitar.
posted by muddgirl at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2009


These seem to me more like new interfaces to existing synthesizers and the like, instead of altogether new instruments, but cool stuff all the same.

All I can ever think when I see this stuff is that the future sounds just like every crappy dance club today.

Solution: go to better dance clubs. Also, I ought to dig out my x0xb0x.
posted by exogenous at 11:57 AM on November 18, 2009


Many of these have made it on metafilter in one form or another, but I still like posts like this. I too dream of creating musical instruments some day.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2009


1. The Eigenharp looks looks like awesome fun, but it also looks hugely over-engineered. I'm guessing that the manual weighs as much as the 'harp itself. Plus it can only be played if it's hooked up to a computer. Awesome, but I'm looking for an instrument, not a new career.

2. The electric violin is the instrument of the future? We've had them since at least '80s and the addition of MIDI goes back almost as far.

3. The Tenori-On is easily the coolest damned toy ever, but the monome (which is curiously absent) kicks its ass five ways to sunday and is cheaper by half.

4. The Samchillian. (The full name is "The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee.") This one I want with a fiery intensity. There's little chance it will ever reach production though. *weeps*

...

10. Really, the iPhone should be counted as an instrument in it's own right by now. There are so many music apps available that it's only a matter of time before we see an all-iPhone band/orchestra.
posted by lekvar at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2009


No Thingamagoop?
posted by brand-gnu at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2009


These seem to me more like new interfaces to existing synthesizers and the like, instead of altogether new instruments, but cool stuff all the same.

Exactly. Really neat (I want me a tenori-on!), but with the exception of the hydraulaphone (and possibly the electroencephalophone - its tough to tell) these really are new interfaces for playing sampled sounds rather than new instruments per se. It reminds me a bit of the hype surrounding the guitar synthesizer, which many thought was an entirely new instrument that would radically change rock music, but which turned out to be an awkward sample-triggering device that never really caught on.
posted by googly at 12:11 PM on November 18, 2009


Given the drawdio's shape, the name is easily transposed into something similar sounding.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2009


Pro Tools and Melodyne are the most magnificent modern musical instruments of all. Why aren't they on the list?
posted by The World Famous at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


We've had them since at least '80s

Try 1950s, although MIDI, like with electric guitars, opens up a whole new space of sound.
posted by muddgirl at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2009


No Trimba?
posted by wcfields at 12:21 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Hapi is pretty close to the Hang, in sound and playing style, but the individually cut tongues are different. I suspect the Hapi's design results in notes that are a bit more "pure", whereas the Hang's notes are more interactive with each other resulting with more unique harmonics for each note. Tongue drums are fairly common decorative/folkie instruments made in the form of wooden boxes and sold at places like craft shows. The Hapi is the first time I've seen one out of metal, and seems to be tuned better a more serious take on the idea.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:27 PM on November 18, 2009


Egregious Omission! The Reactable!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:40 PM on November 18, 2009


Sure the ultimate futuristic instrument is the StringStation (previously). It's straight out of a 70s sci-fi movie.
posted by CaseyB at 1:23 PM on November 18, 2009


The steering wheel on my Yaris is about the best drum substitute ever.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:30 PM on November 18, 2009


Eigenharp, prev. It seems like too much, but seeing it played is impressive.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:31 PM on November 18, 2009


All I can ever think when I see this stuff is that the future sounds just like every crappy dance club today.

Yeah, man, these valves on brass instruments are just stupid--all it does is let them play up and down scales, and the strings already do that all the time!
posted by LooseFilter at 2:05 PM on November 18, 2009


I think this list is incomplete without at least a nod to the theremin, which is not new but remains quite modern as far as I'm concerned.

(your favorite modern musical instrument sucks!)
posted by usonian at 2:10 PM on November 18, 2009


Egregious Omission! The Reactable!

Oh man, the Reactable is amazing, me want....
posted by LooseFilter at 2:23 PM on November 18, 2009


Walter Kitundu should have had at least two or three mentions on this list.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:27 PM on November 18, 2009


Yeah, man, these valves on brass instruments are just stupid--all it does is let them play up and down scales, and the strings already do that all the time!

You totally miss my point. These are neat, but the result is absolutely pedestrian. It might be fun to control your synth in a new way, but you're still making the background music for the club scene in a shitty action film.

I thought the drum was kind of interesting because it's a new way to shape sounds in traditional drumming formats. I'm much more interested in getting my hands on a Hafez than any of this stuff. This stuff mostly seems like the inventions of technologists than musicians.

I don't think they should be banned or anything, it just seems like most of them are toys and not instruments.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:13 PM on November 18, 2009


You totally miss my point.

No, I think you miss mine. When composers started writing for instruments that were the result of technological innovation in the 19th century--like valves on brass instruments, or the saxophone--what they created at first was crap, and absolutely pedestrian, because they didn't know what to do with the new instruments, or even really understand what they could do very well. But they figured it out.

So I'm saying your judgment sounds snap and reactionary to me, and doesn't account for how technological innovation in music has unfolded previously.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:33 PM on November 18, 2009


The copy regarding the electric violin was stunningly ignorant.

What the pioneers of the electric guitar were trying to do for a large part was to make a guitar that was more like a violin in tone and behavior. And because we only really opened up to guitar as an instrument to be electrically manipulated, every electrified instrument is going to sound kind of like an electric guitar in some sense because that is what you get when you electrify something and add some overdrive etc. it is not really anything to do with guitars anymore hardly.

Musical instrumentation changes very slowly, especially in popular music, because nothing else really works as a prosthetic phallus as effectively as the big instrument of the day. And realistically most music fans are always going to be in it mostly for the prosthetic phallus and the sexy attitude and the coolness of the pose of being into a particular style of music. Music is for the most part a social cement, that some sounds go with it is incidental.

Hardly anything on that list stands up well in comparison to Gordon Mumma's cyberfrenchhorn from the '60s, by the way.
posted by idiopath at 4:58 PM on November 18, 2009


I'm just a listener, not a musician, but really enjoyed hearing what at least some of these instruments can do. Thanks.
posted by bearwife at 5:06 PM on November 18, 2009


From the eigenharp (what does "eigen" mean?) youtube link comments:

"A midi gadget capable of looking super neat while soullessly mocking real instruments for a mere 3950Quid. The lameness of this is that it will enable countless phony wannabe musicians to misrepresent themselves as legitimate onstage, making life that much more difficult for hard working artists. That said, someone no doubt WILL find a brilliant way to make something truly original, bizarre and beautiful with this pricey piece of junk. Hopefully they'll find THEIR eigenwhatsit at a yardsale :)"

Only because he put it better than I could.
posted by sneebler at 6:24 PM on November 18, 2009


10. Really, the iPhone should be counted as an instrument in it's own right by now. There are so many music apps available that it's only a matter of time before we see an all-iPhone band/orchestra.

Your wish is my command.

also... what Loosefilter said.
Metafilter: they didn't know what to do... or even really understand what they could do... But they figured it out.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:10 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


no korg kaossilator? - they seem kind of fun but a little limited, tone wise - i have the korg mini kp pad, which is a very interesting way to program fx and change them in real time

i'm very curious to see what the xy pad technology is going to turn into
posted by pyramid termite at 8:51 PM on November 18, 2009


oh, yeah, according to the november 2009 sound on sound, the eigenhorn has a much cheaper mini version called the pico - 349 pounds vs 3950 for the big one
posted by pyramid termite at 9:05 PM on November 18, 2009


Loosefilter, I totally respect your position, and I may be wrong, but I disagree.

These are all (excepting the drum) in essence controllers for midi synths. There have been plenty of people who set up robots who play guitars, or horns, or whatever. It's cool, but it doesn't make it a new instrument or change the nature of the sounds coming from it.

I admit there may be an element of get-offa-my-lawn to this.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:22 PM on November 18, 2009


lumpenprole: "It's cool, but it doesn't make it a new instrument or change the nature of the sounds coming from it. "

Yeah audio wise, the interesting stuff is likely going to happen in software synth design. The main issue is going to be how to make a musician look attractive to an audience while controlling a software synth.

This is the main benefit of something like the eigenharp - people hate watching someone using a computer or PDA or whatever on stage (except maybe for Kraftwerk fans), so having the display built into the instrument and the sequencer interface etc. is a huge win in terms of performance quality.
posted by idiopath at 9:31 PM on November 18, 2009


no mention of the EWI, or electric wind instrument on the list either. One of the possible ways of removing the (bad) perfection of many electronic instruments may be wind tone control. I think a valid criticism of midi is the diffictulty in providing expression... the subtle bend of a note when a musician plays, vs. the UberPrecision of midi notes.
For Leonard Cohen fans, you may remember him pointing out Dino Soldo on sax, harmonica and clarinet like synth-type wind instrument which Cohen appropriately called an ‘The Instrument of Wind’ on his live in london dvd.)

I would love to see a really Full list of these types of endeavours... I imagine some big research college creating some pretty amazing input controls stemming out of something like a 10" tablet with precise and fast multi-touch and a bit of software research... we've had keys and buttons for years, and the "backend" of those buttons (sound making mechanism) has changed before..

Depressing a key on the keyboard causes the instrument to produce sounds, either by mechanically striking a string or tine (piano, electric piano, clavichord); plucking a string (harpsichord); causing air to flow through a pipe (organ); or strike a bell (carillon). On electric and electronic keyboards, depressing a key connects a circuit (Hammond organ, digital piano, synthesizer). Since the most commonly encountered keyboard instrument is the piano, the keyboard layout is often referred to as the "piano keyboard."
-but for those seeking undiscovered lands in the musical realm.. never give up till you've built this one.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:27 PM on November 18, 2009


well, hello eigenharp, #1 on the list, yes, it DOES seem like you have some kind of wind tone control.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:30 PM on November 18, 2009


These are all (excepting the drum) in essence controllers for midi synths.

That's sort of like saying that all wind instruments are controllers for vibrating columns of air--it's true as far as it goes, but the controller matters a great deal, depending on what it allows an artist to do with sound. There definitely is a new level added to these instruments, in that the whole instrument is actually interface + software & data, but that doesn't mean that the interface/controllers are merely cosmetic variations on a basic trigger mechanism, either.

An interface that allows an artist to manipulate as many variables of the sound as intuitively as possible is its own kind of instrument, even if it isn't just like the older kinds of instruments, and no matter if the sound source is a vibrating column of air, a vibrating string, or ones and zeroes.

I admit there may be an element of get-offa-my-lawn to this.

I hear you, I'm old enough now that I'm starting to struggle with this regularly : )
posted by LooseFilter at 11:33 PM on November 18, 2009


and no matter if the sound source is a vibrating column of air, a vibrating string, or ones and zeroes

I would argue that it does at least seem to matter since there's a depressing sameness about all the music produced with this stuff. Maybe it's just the gestalt of the musical world that I'm objecting to, because all this stuff sounds like it's pre-empting it's own club mix.

I keep waiting to hear the human on the other end of it communicating to me, and I'm not.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:10 AM on November 19, 2009


The Samchillian. (The full name is "The Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee.")

I thought the STTTC was the scooped out ergonomic computer keyboard with the Mad Max paintjob.

The basic idea of relative vs absolute pitch control has some interesting possibilities. If you are so inclined, there is a free computer keyboard software implementation you can experiment with.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 7:15 AM on November 19, 2009


I keep waiting to hear the human on the other end of it communicating to me, and I'm not.

I agree that most of what's being done with these instruments so far mostly isn't very interesting, but that's true for anything new, is my point. It takes time for musicians to figure out what new things can do, and how they add new dimensions to creative expression. There is good stuff out there, but it's not going to speak to you in a warm, lyrical way (as I infer you're desiring), because these aren't instruments like violins or saxophones, and do different kinds of things better and worse than those do.

Of course, you're hearing the human(s) on the other end communicate to you no matter what, because all this was conceived, derived, built, etc. by human beings. What I'm trying to point out is that what you want to hear is a specific kind of expression that is actually one among many, and that you shouldn't mistake your aesthetic needs or preferences for an objective judgment on the goodness or badness of digital instruments.

For musicians incorporating digital tools in a symphonic environment in expressive ways, I recommend starting with either Mason Bates or Steve Bryant, who are composers first.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2009


I thought the STTTC was the scooped out ergonomic computer keyboard with the Mad Max paintjob.

Same creator. The Mad Max Keyboard is the prototype for the glossy iPod/steering wheel version on the website. I'm fairly certain that the "Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee" applies to both, but I could be wrong.

Sadly, the keyboard version, while fun, doesn't incorporate the motion sensor or the pitch-bend of the shiny, shiny goodness.
posted by lekvar at 11:18 AM on November 19, 2009


Reminds me that I haven't broken out the Kaossilator and laptop in a while. Time to lose track of time for a day or so.
posted by Splunge at 1:05 PM on November 19, 2009


LooseFilter, I was actually thinking fire and blood more than warm lyricism, but I promise to stop shaking my cane angrily enough to check out what you recommended.

Thanks for your civilized tone in this debate.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:55 PM on November 19, 2009


lumpenprole, I think you might like those two, they're terrific composers.

Thank your for your tone as well, I must say I enjoyed our exchange.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:48 PM on November 19, 2009


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