For years, yes, years now, I have been searching for a controller worthy of really being called an instrument. In many ways I am a guitar player at heart but I started using keyboards more because they were a way to play the sounds in all of my soft synths. Nothing as of yet seems to even come close to the expressiveness of a simple string.
However, a few controllers have peaked my interest lately, those are the Eigenharp and the Haken Continuum. Both where expensive to say the least and really put them outside of the range that even in my most insane days would even consider buying.
Then they both came out with cheaper versions. The Continuum with a half width version (still very very expensive but within reach) and the Eigenharp coming out with the Pico and now Tau version of very expensive alpha. Why the alpha does not have 6 rows of strings do duplicate the guitar fingering is a mystery to me.
Now the Continuum really caught my ear and first and in many ways still does. But I thought that for the low cost of the Pico, I would at least try it out. At worst, I have a quirky little controller that I can use on some tracks, at best, I have an introduction to a promising new type of controller that I can use perhaps on many tracks.
My first investigation was to look at videos. OK, I know this is not a perfect way to test drive anything but the Pico is a British instrument and there are no resellers nearby me. I could probably find a live demo somewhere but I thought that if I sampled videos that I would find good and bad but the best of them would give me an idea of what this thing could do.
Now realize that I try not to be overly critical on this blog and frankly, my music will probably never win any awards or sell a lot of tracks but I hope that in time I improve but let me just say that these videos are some of the worst I have ever seen and I have to wonder why anyone would want to put themselves out there putting this kind of pure unadulterated..., well, I will refrain from saying any more. Some of them are really really bad. Eigenharp needs to get a handle on this or the vids of the customers are going to reduce sales not increase them.
A few exceptions that are worth noting:
These guys really impress me. Clearly they are making the most out of their alphas. OK, not Picos but very impressive.
This one is also very good especially for bond fans:
So yes, bottom line there are so decent vids out there although nothing seems to come close the expressiveness of the Continuum seen here:
Although granted, its not apples to apples, the other vidoes are not using a Buchla 200e but I would love to see a serious classical work played on the Eigenharp.
I still have my serious doubts about how expressive it is because most of the videos, even the ones I posted, while they show that the Eigenharp can be used to play some good music I don't see anything all that expressive. If someone wants to refute that and send me a link I would be happy to listen to it and reverse my statement. And yet, I do want to see what I can do with it.
The lack of documentation surprises me and while someone claimed to me that if Eigenharp put a manual out there I would not really understand it because of the nature of the instrument and that I would just have to play one to understand. Well, I understood the manual to my Moog Voyager just fine before I bought one and in many ways, I saw more depth to the instrument by reading the manual so I have to believe that the manual would perhaps make me not want to buy one. I even had some feeback from the buy that wrote the manual on the Moog board. So I'm just saying, this explanation for why there is no manual does not work for me. I am open to hearing better ones.
I was also told that Eigenharp is working on a CV interface. Great to hear but I have heard these kinds of promises before and seen nothing. Remmber how expandable the V-Synth was going to be. Years latter and nothing. I know that the Continuum has a CV interface (a really sophisticated one) and there are some great examples out there on the Continuum website. I can use this inerface directly with my Voyager which I find very useful and frankly, its a big selling point of the Continuum for me and vaporware, be it eigenware or not, does not impress me. Show me the CVs and I will be more impressed.
I also want to comment on the whole issue of the built it scales and the sequencing. OK, "cool" as the young ones say but not that "cool" because frankly, software can do all these things and much better right? And what is being done is not rocket science. Some softsynths have the ability to have multiple scales. Absynth for one comes to my mind. For sequencing, numerology seems pretty powerful. Or am I just not "cool" and missing something?
So this stuff, while "cool" seems to be more window dressing to me. Then again, I did not vote for Obama (sorry, just had to get that one in).
So why did I buy an instrument that I am not that impressed with it. Well, the sensitivity of the controller has got me interested for real and I dont' think its window dressing. It works apparently in two directions and based on pressure all independent for each key although how this is translated into synth parameters is not clear to me or into MIDI for that matter. I have been told that the real power of this instrument is in the built in synths. OK, but a manual would at least show me that to some extent.
I would also like to know if the X and Y motions control separate parameters and if there is velocity and after touch (based on key pressure). It appears so but I am much more interested in how to translate these into parameters.
So I guess the bottom line is that I am intrigued enough to make a sizable investment in a Pico and we will see where things go from there but I will post my evaluation here. Apparently my Pico went out in the mail today (I presume from England and hopefully free of Volcanic interference) and we shall see what happens from there. I will keep you posted.