Why Design New Music Keyboards? And Why Make iPad Music Apps?

Audanika’s Gabriel Gatzsche posted some interesting thoughts on his Tumblr blog today, addressing the questions “Why design new music keyboards?” and “Why make iPad music apps?”

Audanika creates musical instruments like SoundPrism, demonstrated above, which uses an alternate keyboard layout to express musical relationships in ways that are impossible with traditional keyboards.

Gatzsche believes that traditional music keyboards and notation offer one approach to encoding and decoding music, but that there are many other approaches worth exploring.

With that in mind, he sets out his goals for Audanika and the electronic music applications that they create:

  1. We want to create musical interfaces that reduce the coding process: We assume that the better a musical interface corresponds to the musical imagination the less coding is required. Less coding means a better musical progress, more time for musical ideas, less practicing, more making music. Our dream is that one day anyone will be able to express their own emotions musically.
  2. We want to create musical interfaces that stimulate the musical imagination: A certain musical imagination can be the origin of a musical idea. Vice versa playing a new musical instrument can extend existing musical imaginations or create new ones. Our instruments shall have interfaces you have never seen before. By using them you are going to encounter completely new musical ideas.
  3. We want to create musical interfaces that motivate to think about musical logic, to improvise and to compose: Active music creation stimulates the linkage of the left and right brain hemisphere. The reason for that is that music creation is both, an intuitive and creative activity on the one hand and a logic thinking process at the other. If a musical instrument‘s interface is logical, it will motivate to think about music. Instead of memorizing patterns you will understand relationships and make better musical decisions.

Gatzsche’s SoundPrism, like Rob Fielding’s Pythagoras, is more than just an alternative keyboard, it’s a tangible expression of music theory that encourages you to think about music in different ways.

This is not new. Don Buchla’s instruments similarly express a musical philosophy that encourages users to think outside of traditional scales and traditional approaches to interacting with sound.

But tablet computers are radically accelerating experimentation, by putting “experimental” music interfaces into the hands of thousands.

“The possibilities we have with instruments like SoundPrism are only the beginning,” adds Gatzsche.

17 thoughts on “Why Design New Music Keyboards? And Why Make iPad Music Apps?

  1. I love it when programmers attempt to reduce a beautiful chord and the playing of said chord into terms like 'code'. lol. It looks like a nice app, but again we have a severe case of over-intellectualizing what is essentially "Here is a way to get a chord with only one finger".


  2. uhhh… why is this guy messing with the most logical layout of any musical instrument out there? His couple seconds of actually using the app reminded me of navigating on a guitar, but I'd have to see more of this. What a joke.

  3. Wow, how in the world can anyone ever be arrogant enough to classify a piano, or guitar, or any 1 instrument, "the most logical layout of any musical instrument out there"? Can you say that without cramming all music into 20th-21th century, western centric funnel? Also the popularity of a note layout often is not relative to what music academics would consider logical.

    People have been making both beautiful and terrible music since the advent of man, the world over, with countless instruments, tunings, timings, and theory's. Yes music can be quantified as code also. Go do a google search of mathematicians and music, and look at the many, many advances in music theory they discovered, that are still recognized today. Music, like most things, can be better understood, decoded if you will, with math. It can be as intellectual or simplistic as you like. The theory behind SoundPrism is more complex than trying to play a chord with 1 finger.

    I applaud the dev's important idea's. The problem is people's obsession with virtuosity in music. If a tool makes it simpler to make great sounds, many musicians instantly become dismissive of it, often downright angry or insulting. The funny thing is, it's usually not the virtuoso's that have this attitude, it's the middling types that worship the virtuoso's, the type obsessed with virtuosity for the sake of mastery and not a musical end result. Sorry for the length of the comment, it's a subject I'm passionate about.

  4. I guarantee you that no amount of complicated math equations is going to 1. Make you a better composer, 2. Make you a better musician, 3. Make people say to themselves 'wow, that was sounding like crap but now that I know there's a complicated algorhythm behind it I really love it so much better!' 4. Get you laid.


    Complicated math equations will get you is a no-questions-asked membership in the Pocket Protectors Club. So that's something.


  5. While I don't agree that Audanika's suggestions achieve their stated goals in the video, nor do I like their interface, some of you need to seriously brush up on your music theory. Hate to break it to you, but music is intensely mathematical.

  6. Nobody is saying it's not mathematical.

    We're saying that Miles Davis didn't whip out his abacus when writing Sketches of Spain. lol.

  7. just because its intensely mathematical doesnt mean that you have to approach the situation as if you are calculating equations.. throwing a ball into a hoop is also intensely mathematical, but the math is handled instantly by your brain and not reasoned out on paper showing all your work step by step

    its the same with music, where usually the most impact is made by emotional evocation and communication of feeling.. "from the heart" as it were

    its an intuitive and silent process of generating mathematical ratios which correspond to harmony according to the biological structure of our instruments of perception, the auditory nerves and the brain and so forth

    now, if new interfaces allow you to get from point A (the heart) to point B (the music) in a much faster way, without as much prep work of practice and so forth – then its obviously awesome, the only issue will be that people who spent a lot of time working their ass off on a less efficient method will naturally be pissed and jealous about that, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not

    but even if you have something that translates your very thought patterns themselves into music, so that what you hear in your head is what comes out of the instrument – and you dont even have to touch it or anything – even then, if you dont have that internal musical ability or knowledge of how to express yourself musically, there is no external device that will make you be able to do it… it always comes from within

    so, if someone is able to imagine very beautiful music but for whatever reason hasnt learned how to play a traditional instrument, these new devices can be quite wonderful because they are short cuts in a sense

    also, the quickness of expression would allow its own form of music to emerge with experience, just as slide guitar players make slidy music

  8. You're probably trying to make a point there, but not very successfully.

    The musical interface of the trumpet is a reflection of acoustics and the limitations of century old technologies. Are you suggesting that people shouldn't create new instruments, with today's technologies, because Miles Davis played a trumpet?

    And, if you aren't interested in the connections between math and music theory and sound, what are you doing trolling around here? lol.

  9. On the contrary, I think I've made my point quite successfully. There's this rampant trend now whereby someone has created an interesting new controller or instrument (either hardware or for iOS) in which they then have to sit around and intellectualize it to friggin death. ffs. Enough already.

    The explanations and ruminations on the part of these developers bring absolutely NOTHING new to the equation (pun intended). They are merely regurgitating and explaining basic music/mathematical concepts that have been around forever. Just because they think they've stumbled on a new way of presenting these equations in a graphical format doesn't make it so. In fact, I can't think of anything more horrifying than creating a new instrument because it makes more mathematical sense than musical sense.

    "Hey, look! Let me reduce this beautiful instrument into a series of esoteric math exercises and then come up with something that works sooooo much better." lol.

    Oh, I do dearly loves me the latest craze of mathematicians and programmers who now fancy themselves musicians. I do dearly love it so.

  10. I quite enjoy SoundPrism. Hope Audanika and others keep pushing different ideas. Makes making music and exploring sound fun for everyone, experienced or not.

    There will always be people that gripe about stuff, whether legit or not. I say if it works for you and is exciting, go for it. Only time will tell with most ideas anyway.

  11. Whatever the instrument or interface- someone will do something brilliant with it and someone else will do something crap with it. It's the circle of life.

  12. I'm all for new musical instruments, but this guy totally thinks in the opposite way from me. Playing some triads on the piano is not that hard, so just spend the minimal time it takes to do it. Also, with his "round system", is it easy to invert chords? Flow melodies against them? Break up chords across two "fingers" to get just the right voicing? Add a seventh or ninth at varying rotations of the chords? Oh, and so much more! To accurately represent really interesting playing you still need a way in his software to do these things. But I guess if you are fine turning a couple weeks worth of piano lessons into a "software solution", programs like this will be all you need. Again, I'm glad to see stuff like this showing up, but it's not a replacement for a traditional keyboard by any means.

  13. There's been a million of these things and they never catch on. The only "new instrument" this generation are the Akai pads from MPC samplers. Those have became legitimate instruments and can be found in every studio and often are built into controllers on top of traditional keys. That's because the Akai pads do something new rather than just reinvent the keyboard.

  14. Its easy to see the pros and cons from both sides. Yes, for someone with minimal knowledge, this kind of application would seem a godsend for getting ideas down quickly. But are they really your ideas? The thought process behind someone who understands music theory versus someone who doesnt are completely different. I dont believe there is so much a dismissive attitude toward creating music in this way as there is the idea that anything worth doing should be treated with some form of respect.

    There is inherent value in things when you take the time to learn and understand them. The possibilities of really knowing what you're doing as a opposed to to simply touching a button to make them happen can and does reflect on the work. Maybe not to the person who makes it, but for those who treat and respect what they do as an art form, its very obvious.

    Since music an art are closely related, I'll use painting as an example to put this idea in perspective. Think of what it would be like if all it took to create the Mona Lisa was a single touch of a button. Or the Sistine Chapel for that case. Could you respect the artwork as a whole knowing that someone out there could create the exact same thing in a nearly effortless fashion? The point is we admire and stand in awe of these works because it was the sheer amount of effort and respect DaVinci and Michelangelo put into them. They were masters of their trade and created works that stand the test of time because of it. The same can be said for many musicians who put in the time to learn and understand their art form out of sheer love and respect for what they do.

    Im not against these type of programs. In fact, I encourage them because I feel they can supplement what some does or doesn't already know. This in turn can help stimulate creativity and push an artist or musician to new levels of creation. But it should never be at the expense of learning how to play an instrument properly or the process behind an art form.

  15. I am terribly saddened by this onslaught of new "instruments". One in particular I'd like to discuss is called a pianoforte, or 'piano' for short.

    For the REAL musicians, us harpsichord players, the only way to make our instrument louder is to play more notes at the same time. This requires creativity and ingenuity in our composition. For piano players, all they have to do it hit the keys harder! There is no talent required for that.

    It will be a sad day for music if instruments like the "piano" ever catch on.

  16. Yes, there seem to be yet another revolutionary interface introduced on a daily basis. Although I appreciate some of their technical creativity, I'm still waiting to hear interesting and revolutionary music made with them!

    Someone once argued with me that music controllers (music keyboards, mixers, percussion controllers) were pointless, because you could make the same music with just a PC keyboard and software. My tongue-in-cheek response was, in that case, PC keyboards were pointless for music, since punched cards could do the same. Seriously, the point isn't to minimalize the musical interface, but rather, to make a tool that can be musically expressive for the musician using it.

    Whether it actually works for that musician is another issue.

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