Roger Linn – LinnStrument & The Revolution In Multidimensional Music Controllers

At Moogfest 2014, Roger Linn gave a presentation on The LinnStrument & The Revolution In Multidimensional Music Controllers.

Linn has a long track record of innovative instrument designs. He helped define the modern drum machine with the LinnDrum. He created the Music Production Workstation MPC, giving musicians a new way to work with samples. And he collaborated with Dave Smith to create the Tempest analog drum synth.

The LinnStrument is a new instrument, designed to give musicians expressive control of synthesizers. The LinnStrument captures each finger’s subtle movements in three dimensions, allowing for simultaneous fine control of note expression, pitch and timbre.

The video recording is via Geert Bevin, who adds:

Roger Linn introduced his last version of the LinnStrument at Moogfest and talks about the importance of expressive controllers, this is the full recording of his lecture. I gave a short demo of the Eigenharp as one of the examples

I’ve started helping Roger out with programming the LinnStrument software, since I think that it’s a great solution from people coming from existing grid controllers.

28 thoughts on “Roger Linn – LinnStrument & The Revolution In Multidimensional Music Controllers

  1. When’s the last time a brand new kind of interface for interacting with an instrument gained critical mass?

    In order for this new device to do so, it has to be cheap enough to be put into the hands of as many people as possible. I doubt that’s going to happen.

    In the quest for expression, can anything really beat the human hand touching strings and keys, or the human breath creating vibrations? Probably not.

    1. “When’s the last time a brand new kind of interface for interacting with an instrument gained critical mass”

      What about the MPC pad layout? (also designed by Roger Linn)

      “can anything really beat the human hand touching strings and keys, or the human breath creating vibrations?”

      I have never heard of such kind of contest between musical instruments fighting to be the most expressive.

      Also Is there anything wrong to make better and more expressive electronic instruments? And do you enjoy electronic instruments or do you prefer strings and voices?

    2. I know hand made pianos used to get thrown out into the streets because they were so cheap

      yes in the quest for expression is touching something really going to be better than touching something?

  2. It’s weird. We’re trying to chase the expressiveness of human touch and interaction with more technology that was originally designed to replace the need for humans.

    It’s like designing a super ultra expressive, expensive drum machine, when, in fact, the most expressive drum machine ever isn’t a fraction as expressive as a skilled drummer sitting down beating away on pots, pans, buckets and bottles.

    1. Is there any reason synthesizer players shouldn’t have instruments that are just as expressive as guitarists or wind players?

      1. Evolution baby! I understand the irony that you are highlighting, but things evolve and things change. Your right in your comment about the pots and pans, but wouldn’t it be amazing to have that level of expression with realtime synthesis? Then you wouldn’t be limited to just the sounds of physical objects, you could control any sound and be just as expressive..

      2. Evolution baby! I understand the irony that you are highlighting, but things evolve and things change. Your right in your comment about the pots and pans, but wouldn’t it be amazing to have that level of expression with realtime synthesis? Then you wouldn’t be limited to just the sounds of physical objects, you could control any sound and be just as expressive.

      3. I’d argue they already are.

        That’s kind of the point. None of these new ways to interact with synths ever reach critical mass, and none of them ever really offer up anything better than what we already have.

        1. Instruments like the Eigenharp and the Continuum definitely open up new options for musicians to play musically.

          There are two main reasons why new electronic instruments haven’t replaced synths with traditional keyboards:

          Most people are really keyboard players, rather than synthesists, so they want to have a keyboard with lots of cool sounds. This group doesn’t care about advanced tools – they want the cool patches.

          The second group, people that are synthesists that really want to explore sound creatively and play it expressively, have been held back by the pricing and availability of expressive controllers. This is starting to change, though, as technology makes things cheaper. That’s why we’re seeing more people playing things like the QuNexus, the Continuum and the LinnStrument. They let you do things that most people have never been able to do with synths.

          1. Also, the more of these controllers come to market and the more they are supported, the more likely for one or a couple of them to reach “critical mass”.

            But they still have to be practical and affordable. The LinnStrument and the Continuum, and whatever Geert Bevin’s been pushing (the Eigenharp is it?), are all practical, but not quite affordable.

            The Motion controllers like the Leap and whatever IK multimedia released this year are affordable, but not really practical.

            Once someone develops a controller which is both, that’s the product which will reach critical mass. And that product will create another kind of instrumentalist

            1. Well, wanting something well-built, new, revolutionary and expressive … and wanting it cheap is very orthogonal. The existing keyboard and pad technology has been repeated so much over the years that it had become very cheap to make, new sensors will only become cheaper once they reach that critical mass, not before. It’s all about quantities.

              That being said, the Eigenharp Pico sells at £459 (with UK taxes) / $620 (taxes removed). I personally don’t think that’s outrageous giving the build quality, sensor technology, support and software package that comes with it.

              The real problem though is that as soon as you make an instrument sensitive and expressive, musicians have to spend time to master it, a lot of time, just like with any traditional instrument. Most people are not willing to do that, certainly not on unknown instruments that have no teaching methods, teacher nor written music available.

              1. Completely agree, Geert. I didn’t mean to take anything away from the Eigenharp, or the other controllers I mentioned. Personally I think they are very reasonably priced given all the factors you mentioned. However, it is *unlikely* that they will reach a mass audience because of their cost AND the very reasons you mentioned in the last paragraph.

                I would suggest making a less sensitive and expressive version of the same layout at a cheaper cost to get people used to the technique… but that doesn’t really work because technique is so very dependent upon the expressiveness of the instrument. Though it may help people become accustomed to finger and playing position, and the organization of notes and scales… but as with your instrument, that can all be customized, correct?

                Perhaps it’s not all that bad of an idea after all. Guitars are the most widely-adopted instruments, and yet typically people don’t buy the most expressive models until they’ve grown comfortable enough with the basics of technique that the added expressiveness of the more expensive models becomes much more relevant to their trajectory as an instrumentalist.

                I don’t know. Thoughts?

                1. A less sensitive version would either require a new sensor design or tune down the existing sensors. Both approaches would cost quite a lot of money to put in place and require new tooling and such to be setup for the fabrication. In practice I doubt it would be worth it. If you want something less precise and less sensitive, just use one of the cheap existing controllers with per-note expression like the QuNeo or QuNexus.

                  1. Fair enough, but they (the QuNeo and Nexus) are designed around much more familiar instruments, IE the piano and drumpad/grid. Your instrument is much more forward thinking in its design. I’m struggling to think of a widely-used instrument that is designed similarly to it…

  3. Synthesizers weren’t designed to replace human beings. They are their own instrument, as good or bad as the person using it. Heck, some of us even like how they sound. This instrument in particular is designed to play a synth, not a sampler.

    His demonstration was great and he has a real passion for this thing, and for synthesizers in general. He is planning on making different versions of this and I, for one, am really looking forward to it.

  4. Future!!! It looks like someone should have been playing this in the background In total Recall on mars or the streets of blade runner. Wicked

  5. I heard the next gen iPhone was getting bigger, but I didn’t think Apple would have gone THIS far! 🙂

  6. The human body has many sources of expressive “output”; breath, lips, fingers, feet, etc, etc. And any of them could be exploited to control sound. We’ve used hands, lips and vocal cords pretty extensively.

    The gig of trying to produce a meaningful way to convert human impulses into expressive output is a fun and worthwhile one. Having clever and experienced people working at it is a very good thing.

    I wonder if there won’t be some kind of “little bits” type of product that lets you snap together a custom controller with the elements you most like, pedals, BC, glove, pants, etc.

  7. I’ve been pretty excited over these kinds of MIDI machines for awhile, but they’re all far too expensive.

    Roger Linn mentioned that his “backpack” Linnstrument model will go roughly around $1000, while its steep I think the possibilities of that level of expressiveness + amount of grids would allow it to replace a lot of gear. $700-800 would be a more fitting price, but I am willing to drop down $1000 for it if I need to. Just gotta start saving now :p

  8. The Akai EWI is probably the most expressive MIDI controller on the market.
    It’s been out for yonks and it’s dirt cheap.
    It has a sound generator built in and it’s wireless.
    Yet nobody gives a rat’s arse.
    Now all of a sudden we need multidimensional controllers.

  9. he really needs to work with a major company and get these manufactured in larger numbers because if he can’t get that price down to around $500 or so TOPS then this will just remain a very niche tool & will never really catch on. there is no reason something like this couldn’t be mass produced & made cheaper. I think if the price was right this could be very popular.

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