Roger Linn’s Amazing New Musical Instrument Prototype – The LinnStrument

The bad news is that the LinnDrum II probably won’t see the light of day for a while.

The good news is that electronic instrument pioneer Roger Linn (the LinnDrum) is up to something even more interesting.

Roger Linn posted this sneak preview of an amazing new musical instrument prototype – the LinnStrument – that features a multi-touch pressure sensitive control surface:

My particular interest is in a new instrument that while capable of entirely new sounds and playing techniques, is also able to reproduce the sounds, virtuosic performance capabilities and subtleties that we’ve come to know and love from traditional musical instruments, but without all their problems and limitations.

I’ve come up with a prototype of an instrument design that I like.

The prototype consists of a multi-touch, pressure-sensitive, high-resolution USB touch surface from a company called TouchCo (details below), plus a Max/MSP patch written by me and my wife Ingrid, and an OSC/TUIO driver written by a friend and fellow music/art/technology enthusiast named Tim Thompson.

This looks amazing – but it’s also likely to be vaporware unless Linn can generate some interest from investors.

Linn writes:

I came up with this design in 2006 and development has been slow because my small company has limited resources to develop such a complex product. (Any interested investors?)

Also, there aren’t many musicians who see anything wrong with current instruments, so not too many people would buy it anyway. A key expense is in developing a multi-touch, pressure-sensitive, high-resolution, fast-response, low cost touch surface technology.

Then in 2009, a new company called TouchCo introduced a technology for a multi-touch, pressure-sensitive, high-resolution input surface that’s also very low cost, quoting $10 per square foot in high volume. In fact, I’m using one of their technology evaluation units for the input surface in the video above. Unfortunately, Amazon bought them in January 2010 in order to add touchscreen technology to Kindle, then immediately shut them down and took their product off the market.

Alas, until someone else comes up with a similar touch technology or Amazon decides to make the TouchCo technology available, development of our product will be limited to refining our Max/MSP patch. One promising new technology we’ve evaluated is a touchscreen from Stantum (same company as JazzMutant, makers of the Lemur) that senses surface area of your fingers, which is not a bad alternative to sensing pressure because your finger surface area increases as you increase pressure. However, I found that their current resolution wasn’t high enough for what I’m trying to do, plus true pressure sensing is better for musical control.

So given this situation, I decided to call this a research project and publish what I’ve done so far in an effort to get more people interested in and thinking about new musical instruments. Maybe even Jeff Bezos will read this and see that in the grand war between Kindles, iPads and Android tablets, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to permit some sort of controlled usage of the TouchCo technology.

Note that the demo above is a prototype – see the image below for an idea of what a finished LinnStrument might look like:

The LinnStrument looks amazingly promising.

Let me know what you think about the LinnStrument.

Is this what keyboards are going to look like in the future?

Can the LinnStrument actually be built?

And do you have any ideas on how Linn can get this project jumpstarted?

13 thoughts on “Roger Linn’s Amazing New Musical Instrument Prototype – The LinnStrument

  1. This is great. I was interesting in C-Thru music's Axis 49, but this seems like it has the possibility to be so much better because of the pressure sensitivity, the control of timbre on the Y axis, and that super smooth pitch bending an the X. I'd say keep it simple, virtual, and affordable. Thanks for the video!

  2. It takes years to master a musical instrument to perfection. I don't see the point of introducing such an expressive functionality in an instrument that noone plays. Unless one just want to play simple melodies or fool around it's not likely to really catch on…. hmm.. The expressiveness reminds me a lot of the CS series from Yamaha (CS-80 etc.). Almost no keyboard have had such an expressive aftertouch as the CS-synhts. Would be better to spend time finding new ways of building expression-functionality into traditional keyboard keys, for example. Mayby the timbre/filter sweep could be applied to keys that where sensitive to the finger-placements (high/low on the key). The pithc-glide feature would be difficult to copy, though::)

  3. …just want to add that I really do enjoy these alternate types of controllers….just miss that developers spend time and energy developing the traditional keyboards expression-functionality to the level of a true, high quality musical instrument instead of the plastic stuff they throw at us time after time. The CS-synths is a good example of a great idea and direction that got lost in itme:)

  4. One more thing, now that Mr. Linn is interested in some feedback:)
    The expressiveness and flexibility of this instrument is very impressive. But I see a problem in really controlling the dynamics of the sound when using a pressure sensitive surface. Does this unit responds to velocity too? Or is the technology so that when you hit a square it reacts in a combination of traditional velocity/aftertouch?

  5. (continued)That is probaply what you mean by "true pressure sensitivity". Anyway, my point is control of the sound. You get the highest amount of musical and expressive control when there is some kind of resistance (like weighted keys/strings on a guitar etc.). When viewing this as a true, new musical intruments I would fear that there is nothing to "control"/work with. It would be difficult to actually play since the fingers "fly" in the air. Can it really be played with full, deliberate controll over each notes "attack level" (sorry for using synth terminology but it's all we've got:) and at the same time be played very fast and expressive? There might be a new musical intrument here – but you need to supply complete control over the notes for that to happen. But great job, Mr. Linn! Thx:)

Leave a Reply