Giant Prototype Windows 8 Multi-Touch Instrument

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Veteran multi-touch synth developer Rob Fielding (Mugician, Cantor) has a new project, a multi-touch for Windows 8.

As you can see from the demo video, Windows 8 allows for large multi-touch controllers – which could lead to a new category of instruments and synths for electronic musicians.

At this point, Fielding’s app is an early prototype. He notes that the ‘latency is comical’. Even at this early stage, though, it highlights the potential of the new platform.

See Fielding’s site for technical details and also his views on the challenges of creating multi-touch microtonal controllers under MIDI and OSC.


24 thoughts on “Giant Prototype Windows 8 Multi-Touch Instrument

  1. Somebody is finally taking advantage of the potential of Windows 8!

    I love the iPad music, but being able to use them on a big screen like this would be even more awesome!

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  2. I like the idea of a having a bigger screen as another option for touch instruments, but that screen looks entirely too big to be very functional. Seems like it is roughly piano key sized spacing between notes, but given the curve of the hand and the much deeper plane of the touch surface this would pose some functional problems with reach. (and hunched backs!) Maybe if the notes were laid out more like a guitar it could work better. Then you could use the thumb and pinky to play notes in one row while the middle three fingers played complimentary notes on a second row above it. Tuning the base note of each row would let you put together some nice combinations.

    Also sliding one note around on a screen this large would require entire arm movements, which would get harder to be subtle with and limit the amount of playing time. I would personally probably like to see a large screen contain two different playing surfaces at the same time. My left hand would do chords on a guitar-style layout while my right hand had a more x/y pad with piano/keyboard layout for both pitch and modulations.

    I guess it would be great for microtonal, but like most people I don’t enjoy microtonal as a listening experience.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    • Xtopher

      Some good points! Give Rob credit for doing something, that even as a prototype, is pretty cool.

      It’s going to take a lot of experiments like this to figure out what works well for musicians. But, even though I hate to say it, Windows 8 opens up some interesting new possibilities!

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      • Ha! Yeah, sorry if I sounded like a total downer. I’m really glad to see this iteration happening. It’s going to lead to something great regardless of where it ends up. :)

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    • There’s still the problem that you don’t get physical feedback except through your ears.
      With most other instruments you can feel what’s up directly, which helps guide the fingers/lips/whatever to fine-tune performance. (Not all though, eg pipe organ.)

      Also generally, a flat surface is not good ergonomy, but on the other hand you can config the layout to fit playing style, hand size, the tune etc.

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      • There is no tactile feedback on fretless instruments either.

        To me this is the same as playing a fretless bass.

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        • At least you touch the string on a fretless bass (with both hands)… so that’s nothing to compare to a fretless bass.

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            • I do play bass, both fretless and with frets, and I have a hard time playing the fretless one without looking at my hand. Sure you do feel the string, but it has the same feel all over the neck, you don’t feel your fingers hitting the frets.

              Its very easy to sound drunk on a fretless instrument.

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              • cool. interesting to find other folks who seem to be doing both things.

                i don’t have that problem with fretless, but i’ve been playing it for about 40 years, do it’s pretty baked in now.

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        • Sorry I was unclear: Yes there’s quite a lot of feedback from a vibrating string, esp from wound strings, but nylons and guts also usually have some grain.
          I meant not just for intonation, for shaping the tone as well, etc. But yes, fretless is harder to play.

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    • Re microtonal:
      It’s a question of how the instrument is laid out. I like how in Mugician and many others, you get the default scale tone wherever you touch a key area, but then you can bend the tone away from that.
      It should of course be possible to config differently if you want to adjust intonation without gliding to the pitch.

      Don’t think you oughta say you like or don’t like microtonal in general – I think many people find it much more pleasing to hear a blue note scale with actual blue notes, rather than equal temperature. Chords are another thing.

      (Then I might happen to enjoy clusters of out-of-any-scale pitches as well, in the right context, but I know *that* is more of a special interest)

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      • >Don’t think you oughta say you like or don’t like microtonal in general

        To clarify, I don’t like wobbly “out of tune” stuff. Call it conditioning to existing instrument tunings or personal preference, it doesn’t matter to me. ;) But if we want to extend “microtonal” to the minor variations that something like a stringed instrument can give, then yeah, I love that stuff. My guitar has a limited pallet compared to a synth but I find it so much more expressive to play. Touch pad stuff falls right in the middle for me, which is why I really love it. But I do believe there will reach “too big” in very short order.

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  3. It’s kind of funny people balk at the idea of learning a real instrument like piano or guitar but will piss away the hours with some theoretical shit like this…but whatever floats your boat, not hating, i’d just rather invest my hours in something that’s been proven over a century or two.

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  4. you know what they say…The bigger the car ….the smaller the….ego…Personally I don’t think is the instrument is the Instrumentist the main character on every single music piece…..Long life to the Monotron!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  5. huh,

    i’ve been playing a real instrument for 40-odd years. i don’t think the touch-screen is in any way exclusive of that. (and by the way, imho, fretless bass *is* tactile*.)

    what i like about the touch-screen is that it is very *gestural*, much more than a keyboard or a mouse for me.

    using x-y coordinates an judicious programing, apps like ppt wavegenerator, samplr, tc-11, etc., can all give one gestural control over sound. to me it’s like fingerpainting with sound, which is prefect for what i do (free improv music).

    in any event, a larger touch-screen seems like a good thing to me—though i do really like the ipad2 size for doing the types of things i do (take basses *and* ipads to gigs . . . )

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. touch screens are perfectly suited as portable solutions.
    desktops will only give you backache. i work with a wacom intuos and cintiq and it suits me better than stretching to touch a screen.

    but what the hell – it´s all progress i guess. i just think the format is misunderstood by microsoft again.

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        • Yes I have other questions : Why do you believe Microsoft is only about the desktop? That future app from Rob will run on every hardware with Windows 8, including smaller tablets form factor.

          And also, why do you believe because something is collecting dust at your home it means its useless for everyone? Do you believe every large Cintiq Wacom sold is also collecting dust?

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          • you completely misunderstood my point and expected it to be again apple vs win. and that says a lot about you actually. i never mentioned windows.

            my point: whatever the platform i doubt the “larger the better” with touchscreens applies. infact i think larger size is to a detriment as someone already stated. fyi i use windows and mac and will continue as long as i work.

            as far as cintiq goes – i sometimes work 10+ hrs when deadlines are tight. slouched over a screen that long is a world of pain.

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            • I misunderstood your point? Its funny that you say I was turning this into an “apple vs win” debate, because I did not mention Apple and you were talking about Microsoft. The only comment in this whole thread with the word “Apple” is yours, that says a lot about you actually.

              The body position while playing on a desktop touchscreen is pretty similar to playing the piano, or drawing. Its normal to ache after being in the same position for hours, it has nothing to do with the form factor.

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  7. It’s good so see these experiments. Surface Pro could dethrone the iPad for music stuff. I would love that to happen. I really would. Still love my iPad though.

    I’m not a player of any instrument, I can play a piano just enough to be able to play by ear. But I do appreciate the importance of being connected to an instrument through touch.

    I a few years, good haptic touch panels should appear on the market and that will revolutionize our connection with touch screens.

    So far I’ve only seen some prototypes that have a fixed layout, but the future for this tech seems promising:
    http://www.theverge.com/2012/6/5/3064674/tactus-technology-prototype-touchscreen-appearing-disappearing-keys

    In the future we’ll be able to afford touch screens that have freely defined haptic interfaces. Playing an emulation of a physical instrument (like a piano or guitar) on these screens will beat playing them on a current touch screen.

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