The Infinitone Is The iPad-Controlled Microtonal Saxophone Of The Future

This video, via Infinitonica, captures a performance by inventor Subhraag Singh with his Infinitone, an iPad-controlled microtonal ‘saxophone of the future’.

Singh’s invention won First Place in the 2017 Guthman New Musical Instrument Competition, an annual event designed to encourage innovation in the world of musical instruments.

The Infinitone differs from traditional saxophone designs by using computer-controlled sliding sections to control the pitch that is played. So, while the instrument’s tone is articulated as a traditional sax, its pitch is controlled via an iPad.

And, because the resonating volume of the instrument is computer-controlled, the Infinitone is not limited to a static 12-tone tuning, like traditional instruments. This makes it possible to play in traditional microtonal scales, non-standard equal tempered scales and to explore custom scales.

Here’s Singh’s introduction to the instrument:

You can find out more about the Infinitone – or go down the microtuning rabbit hole – at the Infinitonic site.

via Chick Sangria

14 thoughts on “The Infinitone Is The iPad-Controlled Microtonal Saxophone Of The Future

  1. Delegating the task of pitch control to an automated system– with the goal of achieving more ability to access alternate tunings is a fascinating idea.

    In his execution of it, there does seem to be a couple of “breaks” where the instrument has to shift to a different slider-register. In his live performance, it looked like he was tapping his iPad in the same place– perhaps advancing the notes like a powerpoint presentation of pitches.

    The concept goes beyond using a breath controller, as he is using his embouchure, mouthpiece and reed to get a truly acoustic sound & articulation.

    One could imagine a fretless guitar with fast servo-controlled finger-tips on each string, or a trombone with a motorized slide, or a similarly controlled flute.

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    1. And still, you would have to develop a technique that allows you to perform intuitively and play blind while reading music. Which is not the case with an iPad, I guess.

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  2. As a trombone player, he makes a good point about how difficult it would be to train and play in various microtonal scales. Actually, if the music was not to complicated or fast, it would be manageable.

    In terms of harmonic structure, it would be a fun project to develop a system of chords that was unlocked from equal temperament, but still refers to standard harmonic structures. The Hermode system kind of does this by tuning chords on the fly (in Logic Pro, for example). But this could be taken further with digital synthesis or at least digitally controlled synthesis. That’s another topic.

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  3. Why not replace the performing human also?

    I think controlling the “human part” (breath) shouldn’t be that difficult since although it is theoretically infinite in its complexity, the physical elements that control the performance are surely not (size of mouth, thorax, position of the tongue, force of the blow, etc. etc. ) so they can be modelled. Modelling these parts can let you either program the traditional ways to blow the instrument (simulating different humans in the process) or program more creative ones. Ones that are impossible to a human.

    Next step: the motorized infinitone blower.

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      1. The robo-sax vid seems to only be one volume vs modeling all the mouth-parts, vibrato, bending, etc. It’s interesting but not musical.

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    1. It could be done. And I would have no issues with someone pursuing an instrument that played itself and had an authentic sense of dynamics and phrasing because of a virtual breath engine or whatever. It’s a bit like AI of musical expression.

      For me, as a wind player and singer, my breath is the most immediate, satisfying and effective way I have of expressing dynamics and phrasing in my playing & singing. Like composition, it is the one of the things I really don’t want or need help with. It’s also why I love breath controllers, it gives me that feeling of immediate control over the sound that is lacking with a keyboard alone (and to a similar degree a guitar or bass guitar). I don’t have to plan it, think about it, or fuss in any way. It just happens and it is as natural to me as breathing. Even saying: “I can make my instrument respond to my expressive impulses.” — is too disconnected sounding. All the processes are just integrated.

      Did it take years and years of playing to get there? Yes.

      Is there room for technology to explore this area? Why not? But in this case it seems to be taking the most satisfying part of playing away from the player.

      “Our new robot will take your special someone out for a night of dancing. With its all new fun-modeling engine it will actually enjoy the night out for you. Now you finally can stay home and sulk the way you’ve always wanted to.”

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    1. Key noises might be reduced mechanically or by microphone positioning. But to a certain extent, they are a part of woodwind instruments and are modelled in virtual woodwind instruments.

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  4. Chick, thanks for the write up! What has been posted on my website, etc so far are seeds that are just beginning to sprout. I look forward to sharing the further growth of this project, there is a lot that is in development! Regarding some of the questions in the comments:

    – I can control the instrument by “stepping” through compositions, playing “keys” on an iPad, or playing a not-yet-developed physical key system that would allow me to read music more easily.

    -Regarding freeing oneself from equal temperament, but using more “common” harmonic structures…… I have developed technology how to do that. This will be released in the not-so-distant future. It will allow for any kind of harmonic structure from most simple to highly advanced and complex. Ben Johnston’s String Quartet #7 was an inspiration for this, and takes what he does, and makes even more possibilities available (easily!). Currently my “prototype” iPad app can control Kontakt very easily, thus making software instrument accompaniment for the Infinitone now possible (and of course my app can be used as a compositional/performance tool all on its own…. ).

    -Regarding replacing the breath…. well that would be possible…… but using the breath is why I chose the woodwind concept as a first step for this new technology. My goal is to extend the possibility for “human” expression, and the breath communicates so much expressive nuance.

    -Regarding key noise, measures are being taken to reduce that in the future. Mic placement must be improved for sure. I have also made some covers for the motors now which really help (they are in the competition video, but not the intro video). The further incarnations of the Infinitone will probably be even close to silent. This is just my first working prototype!!

    Thank you all for the interest!!

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