Expressive controllers *not* made of rubber?

I’m curious to know of people’s experience with expressive controllers that aren’t the usual goopy rubber seaboard/continuum vibe.

With these products I find it hard to tell what they actually do / where their strengths lie, due to all the advertising money that tends to go into promos with attractive people making aesthetic music.

so I’m asking for your real experience!


One that comes to mind is the Soundplane. I’ve seen some pretty compelling performances on it but it’s brutally expensive (relatively) and I’ve heard it’s a little hard to play after a while.

Another option is a touch controller like the 218 - that’s quite appealing to me, but obviously it doesn’t have nearly as detailed control as something like an MPE box.

There’s the Touche, that looks good to me as a sort of “hand-based expression pedal” but that can’t make notes.

Any others? I’m especially interested in isomorphic guitar-esque controllers, as that’s my background.

would love to hear your thoughts?

1 Like

I’ve always been curious about the Snyderphonics Manta, but I haven’t heard much talk about it in quite a while.

3 Likes

I’ve recently been pining over one of these as well:

3 Likes

I think the MicroFreak keyboard does MPE. Not isomorphic, of course, but not rubber, and you get a very capable synth to boot.

1 Like

Touché + Grid make a great combo if you don’t mind using an “instrument” made up of 3+ separate devices (including the host).

A fun thing about the Touché that didn’t really occur to me until I got one is that because the different axes of control are all physically coupled together, every gesture affects every parameter you’re controlling ( / every MIDI stream / every CV signal) to some extent. I guess that might be frustrating in some contexts, but it also makes for very “playable” patches.

Has anyone used a Joyst JV-1? Control used to have a used one listed on their site, and I had never heard of it before I saw it there. Certainly an interesting idea, not sure I’d actually like playing it though.

P.S. if you haven’t played a Continuum, it is springy & squishy for sure, but the surface isn’t rubbery – it feels like a wetsuit.

3 Likes

As much as I love my rubber laden linnstrument, the best possible guitar-like expressive controller, is probably an actual guitar. You can physically model strings in a synth, but actual strings can also be had! Nice thing about physical strings is their physicality. Enables so much expression that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

As rubber surfaces go, linnstrument’s is quite thin, not really squishy at all. It definitely appears to have been designed with guitarists in mind, although I suppose it has more in common with a touch guitar or really a harpeggi, because you are using 2 hands to play notes, unlike typical guitar technique.

Although the linnstrument is quite expressive, I use mine along with a Touché sometimes for additional expression dimensions.

But lately I play a 6 string bass more often.

5 Likes

Really enjoy pairing the Touché with Touchscaper or TC Data on the iPad.

1 Like

I haven’t tried these myself, but they both seem like they could be really neat for specific use cases:

http://phonicbloom.com/drum/

2 Likes

I had never seen this before - looks very fun!

1 Like

Are you looking for something ready-made? I’ve always wanted to see a reincarnation of David Vorhaus’s Kaleidophon. Sometimes you see similar things pop up.

1 Like

re the Touche, actually the horizontal axis can be used uncoupled… the vertical does always at least slightly modulate when moved but it responds to tapping without changing the horizontal. The Touche is much deeper than a hand expression pedal. It is more like playing with a bow—IF you spend the time to adapt the instrument that you are playing with it to work with it… which I think is a really fun challenge, but you might not. I wish there was a foot pedal that was more like it, to be honest-- I really love the Touche but I would like to be able to play with both hands.

Anyway. I’ve had a linnstrument and have a ROLI 49, a Touche and a breath controller, as well as four expression pedals. Expression and nuance, and spending the time to learn how expression interacts with the presets that I make are the center of my practice.

In my experience, when practiced and learned, the ROLI is hard to beat for polyphonic modulation. The linnstrument is also very good, but it had some limitations vs the ROLI, specifically that the z-axis modulation always starts at the same place, while on the ROLI you can choose where on the key you press.

That said, in practice I find the Touche + breath controller + motorized faderbox + a hammer action weighted controller to be more expressive in most cases, even thought it isn’t polyphonic. Mapping amplitude to breath and a 1/2 step of pitch to the horizontal axis of the touche creates a lot of possibility in the pedal steel guitar area, which, being a Daniel Llanois and Eno fan for a long time gives you quite a wonderful start for recordings.

Also, the touche vertical axis mapped to amplitude is very interesting if you do it right… tapping and striking the paddle can give you very interesting percussive, staccato-strings type results.

Lastly: the Hydrasynth has poly-aftertouch, the Launchpad Pro does too… if you’re looking for alternatives I might consider poly-aftertouch + a Touche vs something like a Seaboard. But no matter what you do you will need an enviroment to build and tune your instrument – lots of asym lag processing, expression curves, etc. Then build instruments and spend the time to learn how to play them and get them tuned up just right. That’s the main thing.

6 Likes

Hard agree on this. To me comparing the Touche to an expression pedal would be like comparing an acoustic piano key to a guitar pedal footswitch.

There is a whole world of expression and gestural activity available within the Touche that is being anything I’ve ever experience in a controller. I don’t like to think of mine in terms of “monophonic vs polyphonic,” per say, as I generally tend to use it as a control source within my modular rig to influence multiple parts of the patch. It really just adds an organic gestural quality to patches that I’m not able to find elsewhere.

4 Likes

Has anyone had success using conductive thread to make capacitive touch instruments? I’m beginning some experiments with it right now hooked up to a CircuitExpress board and I’m having a hard time figuring out how to balance getting useful/precise signal in a way that feels playable.

5 Likes

The two best examples both seem to be from Expressive E: Touche as has already been mentioned and the Osmose, though that’s more of a keyboard rather than isomorphic/guitar-vibes.

iPads are non-rubber, open-ended, and quite expressive, at least as far as 2 dimensions go.

Joysticks can do wonders and there are some great ones (Planar 2) in eurorack - i think even a 3 dimensional one.

I have no experience with them but some of the woodwind shaped MIDI controllers seem intriguing and if not already in existence I’m sure they are soon to be more feature rich and precise with MPE and MIDI 2 bubbling to the surface.

For distortion specifically Schlappi Engineering’s 100 Grit feels about as expressive as a dirt circuit could be as besides the knobs and CV jacks there are 8 brass balls on the front panel which expose some curated parts of the signal path to your grimey resistive/capacitive/conductive fingertips.

Finally there’s something to be said about the expressiveness of simply having a lot of potentiometers laid out in front of you, even if each pot in isolation is a mere 1 dimensional parameter.

3 Likes

There are so many great things to look into hear, thank you all so much!! I can’t wait to dig in. Keep it coming

100 grit seems awesome. I’ve been pining after one for a bit.

This setup intrigues me.

Can you share your experience with breath controllers? The main one I see turn up in my searching is the Swedish, “TEC” Breath Controller. Is this THE one? Are there better alternatives?

Thank you for any further insight.

1 Like

He’s agreeing with you : )

Yes I have the basic TEC model. I used to have one for my DX7, in the 80s. :wink: I used to be a semi-pro sax player, so breath control comes very naturally for me… your mileage may vary.

Used to be that breath control, just like aftertouch was almost impossible to use expressively… you had to rely on an instrument or plugin to have a mature and flexible implementation (see above re: lag processors and curves) and basically none of them did. So it was clunkly and poorly calibrated unless, say, you were using the Yamaha BC controller with a Yamaha synth… but even then you were so limited in what you could do.

Now it is a LOT different. I use Bitwig and with the Grid and their modulation system elsewhere, and most specifically regarding 3rd party synths with the abilities of the Note Grid to pre-process control signals before it hits Kontakt or whatever you can REALLY calibrate things well. The most expressive way to play a woodwind is done by finding the depths of very, very small changes in your ambrochure and breath control. I am so pleased to see, after a great number of years, that this kind of subtlety is becoming more availabe in this space, too.

2 Likes

I had a Touche SE for a while, but it wasn’t ideal for my needs. And it nakes using MIDI Learn for any other controller inpossible because it is always sending something. I might have gotten along better with the CV version.

I’ve been having success with the combination of 0-Ctrl, Planar 2, Softwire Press, Tesseract Sweet 16, a Launchpad Pro mk3, bass guitar (with Jam Origin MIDI Bass) and a Line6 FBV Express.

If you’re into DIY, and can put a little money into a project, you might look into force sensors.

Years ago, I heard about some that are extremely sensitive. To my memory, the person who told me about them was designing with them in a military context. He described them as cubes of metal that generated electrical output based on very slight pressure. The sensors didn’t feel like they were deflecting, yet followed how hard you pressed on them with a great degree of accuracy.

I always wondered why no one ever put these things in a controller. Although, back then, they were kinda expensive.

EDIT: Dang! Did a quick Mouser search, and they range in price from $6 to $1,500+!!

1 Like