The Starr Labs MicroZone U648 Large Array Hex Keyboard

This video demos the Starr Labs Microzone U-648 Generalized Keyboard – a large Array Matrix Hex keyboard MIDI controller.

Offering an array of 288 keys, the U-648 is designed so that  musicians can create any variety of tonal systems, fingering systems, and divisions of the octave within the world of MIDI.

This works well with microtonal music where a large array is needed for each octave. The MicroZone allows the user to define multiple arrangements of notes, fingerings, tonal layouts, and tunings for whatever musical application needed.

Details are available at the Starr Labs site.

6 thoughts on “The Starr Labs MicroZone U648 Large Array Hex Keyboard

  1. Does anyone functionally use keyboards like this one? All the demos I see show simple 2 and 3 note chords (root, third, fifth) with a major or minor by twisting. And that's fine, but it gets boring really fast. Seems to me it would be just as "hard" to play a more interesting chord (like a minor 7th) on this style keyboard as it is on a traditional. In fact, it may be harder on this style because of the honeycomb grid not giving a very good sense of what note is where. Making the keys regularly spaced doesn't remove the need for the player to know which chords should be major/minor, or knowing how to add other notes to the chord for flavor.

    Anyone with knowledge of music theory have real experience with this? Am I just missing something obvious, because so far I don't see any compelling reason to not just play my traditional keyboard.

  2. You can map a standard PC keyboard to say horizontal fifths, left-vertical minor and right-vertical majors. (For ex, Left-vertical: V,F,R; right: V,G,Y keys on mine, your layout will vary)

    This works fine musically, but all my keyboards have had some sorry lagtime and jitter, so it doesn't really work out for any actual music 🙁

    The point of it is that you can transpose chords and change key without changing "fingering". Works good for tacky (or less tacky) ostinatos. It's also very easy to add notes to the chord, you just need to work out and remember a single shape per chord.

  3. Umm, $3995 is a little steep though.
    And that's their "May sale".

    Plus $120 shipping, nope that just a dealbreaker for me…

  4. So it sounds like it's functionally the same as playing everything in C and transposing to the key you want. Is a hex keyboard good for chord inversions, or does the fingering "ease" break down for stuff like that?

  5. Playing/programing microtonal or 'non-western' scales on a typical 12 note octave keyboard can be quite difficult and time consuming… and you still usually end up playing very western augmented chords anyways. Robert Moog was quite aware of this and was notoriously disappointed that synthesizers inevitably ended up with a basic 'piano' note/octave layouts. Hex layouts like the MicroZone (which isn't just a bunch of hex keys. it does have proprietary internal software and hardware in its guts.), or other alternate controller/keyboard layouts can take virtually any synthesis 'engine' and easily layout unlimited tunings, scales, microtones, etc… plus you can create multiple layers, zones, in multiple shapes. I think these demos simply show the very basics of what you can do. I've seen composer Stephen Taylor utilize a MicroZone in an extremely creative microtonal way.

  6. It's hard to argue about what a reasonable price would be for instruments like this. Where are the comparable competitors etc…? I know Starr Labs designs and builds all of their instruments in-house, akin to a custom boutique shop. The MicroZones could be seen as one of a kind. Its a very tough call for an American innovator such as Starr Labs or Roger Linn /RogerLinnDesigns, to simply throw their products/instruments to China or India for mass manufacturing. There are several moral questions that could be asked when considering a production move like that. Of course we want prices lower so we can all afford one. It'd be grand to see an influx of array controllers used in composition and performance. We all know R. Moog would love that too!

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