TouchKeys Promises To Add Multi-Touch Expression To Your Existing Keyboard

touchkeys-multi-touch-musical-keyboard

UK reader Andrew McPherson has launched a Kickstarter campaign for TouchKeys – a project that promises to ‘add continuous expressive control to any keyboard’.

McPherson is Assistant Professor in Digital Media at the Centre for Digital Music, Queen Mary University of London. TouchKeys grows out of his work at the Centre.

What are the TouchKeys?

  • The TouchKeys are touch sensors that attach to your keyboard to measure where your fingers contact the keys.
  • You can use the TouchKeys with any synth to control vibrato, pitch bends, control changes and other new sounds while playing.
  • The TouchKeys will be available as a DIY add-on for your own keyboard or as part of a pre-built controller.

Here are details on TouchKeys:

TouchKeys

The TouchKeys are capacitive sensor overlays which attach securely to the surface of each key, on instruments with standard keyboards. When you play, the sensors measure the position and contact area of your fingers in real time. This information is sent back to your computer, where the TouchKeys software lets you control any instrument you like.

The TouchKeys sensors are shaped to fit any keyboard with standard-width keys. The overlays cover the entire playing surface of the key, sensing your finger position in two dimensions (XY). Sensing the touch contact area means the TouchKeys can also distinguish between the fingertip and the pad of the finger. The sensors are even multi-touch: up to three simultaneous touches can be sensed on a single key.

Here’s a video overview of TouchKeys:

“Synthtopia readers might like this,” notes McPherson, “Since it adds many new expressive techniques directly to the surface of any keyboard – and it works nicely with almost any synth.”

See the project site for details on TouchKeys.

Update: McPherson shared this new demo video with us,  The latest video shows the TouchKeys controlling classic analog synth sounds, using polyphonic aftertouch with the Arturia CS80V plugin. Not only can the keyboard emulate the capabilities of the classic CS-80 keyboard, but it can go beyond it, by putting both aftertouch and pitch control into every key. Check out the end of the video for an example:

29 thoughts on “TouchKeys Promises To Add Multi-Touch Expression To Your Existing Keyboard

    1. Buchla’s 100 system (1963) had a touch capacitive controller, yet the technology was only patented in the 70’s… by someone else. So that’s the earliest I could find or know of. Feel free to give me a historical spanking though, I’m interested

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  1. This looks interesting! It seems like there’s a lot of development and experimentation going on with keyboards, all of a sudden, which is fun to see.

    McPherson does a better job than most explaining how this works and I really liked that the demos were very musical.

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  2. Now if FATAR could license this and the NDVR optical poly AT to mass produce a more affordable 61 key keyboard ….wouldnt we and all concerned be happy ?

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    1. If both the NDVR Note and TouchKeys kickstarters are successful, it will be possible to get both in a single unit about $1500. I need to dig deeper to see how the TouchKeys will merge data with the keyboard. The data stream could get pretty thick.

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      1. Great idea. Full XYZ control!

        I’ll post a campaign update with some geeky details in the next few days. But basically, the TouchKeys software takes in a MIDI stream from the keyboard plus a data feed from the sensors, sorts the data by key, and sends it out through OSC and MIDI according to what mappings you use. Data rate is no problem unless you’re sending the output through a physical MIDI cable (31kbps) but even there it would be doable, e.g. reducing data by only sending new values when they’ve changed by a certain amount.

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        1. Would reducing the data rate for midi hardware be possible WITHIN the keyboard firmware ? It would be restrictive if a computer & software was needed just to play with hardware .

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          1. Yes, should work. Right now it’s a USB device, but there’s no technical reason it couldn’t have a hardware MIDI port instead (with data rate limiting), except for deciding how the mappings should work. I don’t want to overpromise with limited time between campaign and ship date, but for future reference, what kind of hardware synth applications do you have in mind?

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            1. Either into a hardware midi sequencer , or straight into a synth . Just wondering generally about midi buffers and data overflow ; ideally one could have onboard filtering options to find a balance of realtime expression whilst not overflowing the buffer .
              ( if of interest , NDVR have stated this data filter function will be in their polyAT firmware )

              I dont know how much of a problem no onboard mapping would be . Would the keyboard transmit the last configuration previously set (via the computer)?
              It’s a shame there coulnt be a few presets to store different mappings, but many synth mod matrices could be used to map fixed cc s for modulation per synth preset .

              I just think it would be restrictive of its use as a master keyboard if you had to have a computer with you to use it .
              Just generally interested I’m afraid…most likely cant afford within deadline ,but wish your project well.

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  3. Nice. That brings a lot of wish-fulfillment together in an attention-grabbing form and makes me quiver a bit, remembering the pleasure of playing a CS-80. The design is solid, so my 2 questions are: how hardy is the hardware and what happens when the controller software is two OS revisions old on a Mac/PC? Those have become the premiere questions when buying a lot of music tech. I hope it flies, because it adds to your keyboard without physically altering it, thus passing a vital litmus test.

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    1. Is that even worth worrying about with PCs? I’ve got tons of old software that I used on WinXP that runs fine on Windows 7

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  4. at first i thought this is really cool, then i saw the price. £650 for the 49-key kit, £850 for the 61-key kit. for real?

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    1. It’s a project for a new kind of product made by a small company who need a kickstarter campain to do it.
      What did you expect?

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        1. Not bad price, when you consider the cost of a controller with similar capabilities – and there aren’t many!

          I would love to see an add on to this that would let it be an all-hardware solution.

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          1. @Fungo, great points both. The hardware is quite durable, never had a key break or come off. It’s also survived exuberant groups of schoolkids playing on it (see my twitter feed)! Software will be open-source and cross-platform (based on Juce); I personally use Macs running from 10.6 to 10.8, plus Linux machines, so it’s something I can test. Mac and Linux at launch time; we’ll see about Windows if enough people want it– please shout if you do!

            Here’s the story on the price: it really is driven by my costs. Almost 30% of each pledge goes to value-added tax (20%) and Kickstarter/Amazon fees. Of what’s left, a bit more than half is the cost of raw materials (boards, chips, cables, adhesive backing), then there’s labour for assembly, testing and packaging/shipping. The final margin is very slim.

            Ultimately it’s not possible for a small operation making a couple hundred instruments to compete on price with mass-market products made by the tens of thousands. I know the price will be a deal-breaker for some people, but for those who want it, I think we’ve got a really compelling new instrument with capabilities you’re just not going to find elsewhere on the market right now! The Kickstarter campaign aims to get people playing these instruments; would love your support but only if it seems right to you for the price.

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            1. I am really sitting on the fence. Not because of the price. I understand these sort of things can’t come too cheap. I’d rather buy something that is made to last. But what makes me sit on the fence is that there’s no hardware only solution. If you add a MIDI out port I will sell my Poly Evolver Keyboard to afford it. : )

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    1. seriously? you are comparing your evo to this? with this everybody can use the keyboard he is used to, with weighted keys + graded hammer action. when i first touched your keys i felt like: oh my god? what`s that? the toy-piano of my son has a better feel to it!
      and that`s the same feeling i have since then everytime i try to play on the evo. it`s like a bad joke!
      ok, if you never played a piano before or you feel like you want to learn a new instrument then it might be ok but not if you just want to expand the possibilities of your keyboard.

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      1. Ok, you are right! Our evo is more of a Hybrid interface. With a very lightweight key response and small movements for making better touches.

        But let’s see how this will work mounted on our Note keyboards…

        Simon

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        1. “But let’s see how this will work mounted on our Note keyboards…”

          this will indeed be a killer keyboard

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  5. I automatically trust anyone with a complex equation on their shirt…is that bad?

    But seriously, this looks great. I’m happy to see manufacturers and techies working so hard to implement expressive features into these instruments.

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  6. Just posted a project update with new video about vibrato and pitch bends: http://kck.st/17WBeU3

    Some features that set the TouchKeys apart are XY sensing on every key (0.1mm precision) and sensing on the entire surface of every key. You won’t find these elsewhere on the market right now. The X axis is particularly handy for playing vibrato since you can just shake the wrist back and forth (a very natural motion).

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