Developer Andrew McPherson has announced that TouchKeys – a musical instrument mod that transforms piano-style keyboards into an expressive multi-touch control surface – are now available to order, via a new site.
TouchKeys, originally introduced via a Kickstarter project, are touch sensors that can be added to the surface of any standard keyboard. They measure the location of your fingers, while retaining the familiar keyboard action. TouchKeys let you add vibrato, pitch bends, timbre changes and other expressive effects to your playing, by moving the position of your fingers on the key surfaces.
“There’s been a lot of really interesting work in polyphonic expressive controllers over the past few years,” McPherson told us. “One of the distinctive features of TouchKeys is that it gives the player note-by-note multidimensional control while retaining the familiar action and feel of the keyboard.”
- High Resolution – The sensors measure over 1500 points of resolution on the long axis of each key and 256 points on the narrow axis. That’s sub-millimetre accuracy!
- Low Latency – The sensors are measured every 5 milliseconds for a natural, low-latency interaction.
- Intuitive Mappings – Mappings between touch and sound are designed to be there when you need them and stay out of your way when you don’t. Mappings are fully customisable.
- Standard Keyboard – The sensors fit any keyboard with full-sized keys, from a 2-octave portable keyboard to a 97-key Boesendorfer Imperial Grand piano. Choose from Classic or Inverted colouring.
- XY Position – Every key, white or black, senses the horizontal and vertical position of the finger. (The narrow part of the white keys senses on the long axis only.).
- Multi-Touch – Each key measures up to 3 touches, enabling new multi-finger techniques on the keyboard.
- Contact Area – Contact area measurement distinguishes between the tip and the pad of the finger, which can be used as an additional control dimension.
- Connected and Compatible- TouchKeys works with any MIDI synth or instrument, software or hardware. Connect TouchKeys to your computer (Mac, Windows, Linux) or choose the optional standalone hardware kit. TouchKeys connects to your computer by USB. The included software transforms the data from the touch sensors and your keyboard into control messages for any synth. The mappings are fully customisable, and can be different for different parts of the keyboard.
Here are some of the things you can do with TouchKeys:
- Vibrato – Rock the finger back and forth on the key to add a vibrato. The speed and width of the vibrato follows the motion of your finger, just like it would on a violin. But unlike a violin, the pitch always stays centred around the note you’re playing, so it never goes out of tune. You can adjust the sensitivity of the mapping, to make it engage on the slightest motion or to require a bigger movement before the vibrato begins.
- Pitch Bends – Slide the finger up and down a key to bend the pitch. The amount of pitch bend is adjustable, and no matter where you strike the key, the note begins at its normal pitch, so it’s there when you want it and stays out of the way the rest of the time. With a compatible synth setup, every note can have its own pitch bend, letting you retune melody and harmonies on the fly.
- Filter / Timbre Effects – In addition to pitch bend, sliding the finger up and down the key can control any MIDI parameter on your synth. For example, it could be used to control a filter cutoff, where sliding the finger upwards makes the note get brighter. The mappings are completely flexible: use horizontal or vertical position, absolute location or relative motion, or finger-key contact area, all with adjustable ranges.
- Rapid Retriggering – Add or remove a second finger from a single key to retrigger the note. Normally on the keyboard, striking the same key repeatedly is hard to do quickly, but this way you can rapidly retrigger notes. You can use it for tremolo effects like on a violin, or you can also use it to trigger custom key switches for your synth.
- Special Instrumental Effects – Many software instruments have key switches that create special effects. For example, on a software emulation of a brass instrument, you might add falls or buzzes to the end of a note. With TouchKeys, you can intuitively trigger these effects by pulling the finger along the key just as you release the note.
- Microtonal Playing – Divide the key into 2 or 3 sections with a different tuning on each section. By pressing the key in different places, it is like having 24 or 36 keys in every octave! The tunings are adjustable, and you can combine it with vibrato and pitch bend mappings to further adjust the pitch after the note begins.
Here are additional performance demos of TouchKeys:
This video shows the TouchKeys controlling the Embertone Friedlander Violin in classical and folk styles.
Polyphonic aftertouch is a rare feature on modern keyboards, but the TouchKeys can map any sensor dimension (X or Y position, contact area) to polyphonic aftertouch. This makes the TouchKeys great for controlling classic synth sounds like the CS-80 (emulated the above example by Arturia). But the possibilities also go beyond the capabilities of the original CS-80 to include full polyphonic control of the pitch and timbre of each note.
Pricing and Availability
There are currently a limited number of kits available to ship in December, with more kits and prebuilt instruments expected to be available in January. Pricing for kits starts at £190.00, and for ready-to-use controllers at £599.00.