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Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

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Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:16 am

Okay - depends on the plot I guess... if its to make as much money as possible - they're probably doing alright.

However my post is rather about the futhering of the 'instrument' as a true 'realtime-skill-required' bonafide instrument. There have been attempts on occassion to address the aspect through the addition of levers, knobs, pads, beams etc, but for all the investment in technology we're no better-off with a controller and well-specd laptop?

Lets take the ubiquitous guitar sound patches - present on all pcm based synths since ..forever.. Yet the ability for the player to actually coax a 'realistic' performance is more an excercise in clever sequencer programming than actual performance (yes I've tried - and I actually play real guitar as well)

This is not news too many, but after 3 decades of technology, is more flash memory and touch screens all we have to get excited about?
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Studio Support Gnome » Sat Jul 16, 2011 12:01 pm

in fairness, the guitar example, specifically.... it's entirely to do with the physical action required to replicate the way a guitarist plays their instrument.... chords, for example, if a player is using a pick, then chords are almost never hit all at once, but are more like very very fast sustained arpeggios, as the pick strokes across the strings.... (finger style guitarists on the other hand, CAN play chords "all at once" so, it's not impossible, but a matter of playing style technique)



some of this can be replicated by developing similar playing techniques on the keyboard, but it aint easy... and requires dedication.... it might be simpler just to play the part on a guitar?? or at least a Midi equipped Guitar.....
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Dave B » Sat Jul 16, 2011 1:13 pm

C.LYDE wrote:This is not news too many, but after 3 decades of technology, is more flash memory and touch screens all we have to get excited about?


Sadly, yes....

But the manufacturers aren't the only ones to blame. They pander to our tastes and we, it seems, are demanding more colour touch screens and sample ram. What the hell we need it for I'll never know ...

Korg did give us the 'Karma' approach to performance and do stick it all over their machines. Wonder how many people use that?

They also gave us the Z1 and Prophecy ... both of which were commercial failures. But both had scope to be more expressive. How many people actually performed with them like that??

Ditto Yamaha with the VL series...

Roland stick the d-beam on a variety of kit and I've seen it used once ever.

Personally, I'm less upset as a) I use Kurzweils which have the best synthesis system out there and b) I play with guitarists and sax players which is much more fun anyway!

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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Wonks » Sat Jul 16, 2011 1:55 pm

Any keyboard that sell in profitable quantities (for the big manufacturers) has to meet a price point that is far too low to put anything but basic control interfaces on it. Every single switch and rotary encoder is costed and scrutinised, which is why you still have level upon level of software menus. Can they sell it for $299 (which means can they make it for $50). If not, the idea gets binned.

Software synths give you so much more for your money that very few people are prepared to pay the extra for hardware. And unless people can make a profit selling hardware, it either isn't going to be made or else the maker goes out of business.

One or two companies, like Kurzweil, have found a market with live performance synths, but they do have a price tag that your average Joe Punter is not prepared to pay. Especially when they can do similar stuff at home with a master keyboard and software synths.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Mon Jul 18, 2011 11:58 am

Max!
I agree completely that it is down to physical action - I was hoping that more effort and resources could be spent find 'better' ways to interact with the patches, rather than just increase the no of patches 100 fold...
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Mon Jul 18, 2011 12:16 pm

Wonks wrote:Any keyboard that sell in profitable quantities (for the big manufacturers) has to meet a price point that is far too low to put anything but basic control interfaces on it. Every single switch and rotary encoder is costed and scrutinised, which is why you still have level upon level of software menus. Can they sell it for Any keyboard that sell in profitable quantities (for the big manufacturers) has to meet a price point that is far too low to put anything but basic control interfaces on it. Every single switch and rotary encoder is costed and scrutinised, which is why you still have level upon level of software menus. Can they sell it for 99 (which means can they make it for 0). If not, the idea gets binned....

One or two companies, like Kurzweil, have found a market with live performance synths, but they do have a price tag that your average Joe Punter is not prepared to pay. Especially when they can do similar stuff at home with a master keyboard and software synths. 99 (which means can they make it for 0). If not, the idea gets binned....

One or two companies, like Kurzweil, have found a market with live performance synths, but they do have a price tag that your average Joe Punter is not prepared to pay. Especially when they can do similar stuff at home with a master keyboard and software synths.

But looking at the 'top end' synths - what has really changed? Example a Roland JV90 from the way back had more controllers than some later more expensive Roland offerings.

If hardware is to distinguish itself from software, it should be at the obvious - the physical. Why focus on technology already being done with greater success by others?

Maybe I'm missing the boat, but is the allure of the PCM based synth,not the ability to play an instrument otherwise requiring years of study... violin anyone?
Simply put, if the objective was a few (10 max), quality instruments per synth, possibly some money would be left over to develop suitable interaction.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Mon Jul 18, 2011 12:28 pm

Dave B wrote:

Korg did give us the 'Karma' approach to performance and do stick it all over their machines. Wonder how many people use that?

They also gave us the Z1 and Prophecy ... both of which were commercial failures. But both had scope to be more expressive. How many people actually performed with them like that??

Ditto Yamaha with the VL series...

Roland stick the d-beam on a variety of kit and I've seen it used once ever.

Personally, I'm less upset as a) I use Kurzweils which have the best synthesis system out there and b) I play with guitarists and sax players which is much more fun anyway!


I agree - we're very much to blame for not supporting these initiatives;
- so for example raving about Kurzweil is great until one asks you do take a sax solo, as your horn player caught the flu... and then it's all back to the ranch...
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Mon Jul 18, 2011 3:51 pm

C.LYDE wrote:- I was hoping that more effort and resources could be spent find 'better' ways to interact with the patches,


better how??? ultimately, the issue is the physical concept of the keyboard...


and that you expect to be able to use ten fingers to play it...


take the guitar..... and indeed, ANY strung instrument of that type... Violin, thru to double bass and all stops between.....


each note has a mass of parameter possibilities.... which are completely impossible to replicate on the keyboard as it stands... especially if the player wants to be able to use more than one hand....

first of there's the sequential and linear fashion of note selection on a keyboard , whereas some notes on the guitar can be played in 6 different places, just naturally, without even starting in on the harmonics options..

and each of those places sounds fundamentally slightly different....


then there's the vibrato/bend expression, left hand muting, right hand muting,. pick angle, pick depth, pick position along the string, pick velocity, pick material (think richard thompson's technique, use of both plectrum and fingers ) , not to mention tremolo arm abuse ,

and i'm not even halfway thru the list.... (and you can read Bow for Pick equally interchangeably)

the implication of your "better" way to interact seems to be a way for synth players to replicate all those bits of expressive technique that make the instrument in question so unique....


there is already a way to do this.



learn to play that instrument, and it's midi generating equivalent...




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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Wonks » Mon Jul 18, 2011 4:28 pm

The current top-end synths are still comparatively cheap when compared to the ground breaking synths of yesteryear. No one these days is going to pay the cost of a house for a synth as they did when they bought a Fairlight. Even a Minimoog in 1972 cost the equivalent of £7300 today.

I don't think anyone would try to develop a synth that had a selling price of anywhere near £7k these days. It would be bound to make a loss. £3k seems to be the current limit - and £500 of that price is because it uses an 88 key weighted keyboard.

One of the limitations of the synth is the piano style keyboard. It's fine for emulating some instruments but not others. You'll never get a good guitar emulation from one because you can't bend individual notes by varying amounts as you can on the guitar. You'd probably have far more success emulating a guitar using an Eigenharp Alpha controller, but it requires learning a whole new set of techniques and it's very expensive. You could buy a Les Paul or a Strat plus a boutique amp and still have change to pay for a few guitar lessons for the cost of that controller alone.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Mon Jul 18, 2011 4:54 pm

actually, thinking about it for a second, isn't the Eigenharp and example of exactly what the OP was asking for?
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Wonks » Mon Jul 18, 2011 4:58 pm

It could well be. But it's not the sort of kit you are going to get in your local music shop to try out. And you wouldn't want to spend £4k via mail order on spec!
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Mon Jul 18, 2011 5:15 pm

well, I might WANT to be able to spend 4K for the hell of it, "on spec" but i sure as hell can't afford to.....
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Wonks » Mon Jul 18, 2011 6:28 pm

Small 'k' for kilo Max. Big 'K' is kelvin. [/pedant]
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Dave B » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:10 pm

Well, you have a choice :

a) you can sit here and moan and whine - very fashionable and hip these days

or

b) you can play to the instrument's strengths and do things that a guitar (for example) can't do

surely (b) was the whole point of the synthesizer ...
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby zenguitar » Tue Jul 19, 2011 12:18 am

The baby Eigenharp is a lot cheaper though, and has most of the functionality.

The demo at this years Analogue to Digital wasn't great, but it sounded great when he was setting up. If I had the spare cash, I would get one to try on the strength of that sound check alone.

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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Zukan » Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:17 am

zenguitar wrote:The baby Eigenharp is a lot cheaper though, and has most of the functionality.

The demo at this years Analogue to Digital wasn't great, but it sounded great when he was setting up. If I had the spare cash, I would get one to try on the strength of that sound check alone.

Andy

Yeah, I loved it too Andy. I love expressive instruments, acoustic or electronic or a hybrid.

As a sound designer I love a simple synth with a detailed mod matrix. As a paid sound designer, and I know HS would agree with me here, we fit a gazillion overly processed presets into a commercially attractive 'package'. Sadly, but damn true, manufacturers go by trends set by our desires and try to incorporate them in a cost efficient package. Whether it eventually sells or not comes down to a ton of factors, but the underlying pattern overt the last 20 odd years has been to package to taste as opposed to build to design much like synths made by electronics whizzos.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Wed Jul 20, 2011 11:20 am

Off duty BBQ lighter AKA Idris wrote:
C.LYDE wrote:- I was hoping that more effort and resources could be spent find 'better' ways to interact with the patches,


better how??? ultimately, the issue is the physical concept of the keyboard...


and that you expect to be able to use ten fingers to play it...


take the guitar..... and indeed, ANY strung instrument of that type... Violin, thru to double bass and all stops between.....


each note has a mass of parameter possibilities.... which are completely impossible to replicate on the keyboard as it stands... especially if the player wants to be able to use more than one hand....

...

the main statement being "as it stands" - but what I believe is possibly overlooked is that research efforts are steered in a particular direction. As an example, what stops one from futhering the development of a breath controller to allow more complex control over horn patches.

What about the 'strumming'a ction of a guitar - the requirement is 6 strings and a sensor circuit possibly 10cm in length - the mind boggles with possibility and I'm sure the clever boffins at various R&D departments would surprise us if company policy allowed it.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby hollowsun » Wed Jul 20, 2011 9:28 pm

Part of the reason we are where we are today is because of past failures and market complacency!

Manufacturers have tried breath controllers, ribbon controllers, footpedals, alternative keyboards and controllers, 'guitar strummers' for keyboards (anyone remember the Oberheim 'Strummer'?), wind controllers, etc....

And they failed! For an industry supposedly founded on innovation, musos can be a conservative lot.

You only have to look at some of the great synths that have failed to see how the vast majority of keys players want 'safe' - bread and butter piano, strings, basses, pads, organs, clavs, etc., not cutting edge, new sounds and ways of playing them and musical expression.

One of the most innovative technologies that has emerged, one that deviated completely from the subtractive, analogue paradigm was FM and one of the most successful synths of all time was the DX7. And what was it used for mostly? Bloody Rhodes, slap bass and tuned percussion! Why? Because that's what most people want(ed).

And hardly surprising... for all the talk of hi tech here and requests for new synthesis methods (or old analogue synthesis methods), etc., the vast majority of musos are playing covers in bands doing pubs, weddings, corporate events, parties, etc..

And it seems musos are a lazy lot as well and don't want to (won't) learn to play and acquire new techniques (many can't even be bothered to acquire basic technique!) so any instrument that requires a learning curve is likely destined for commercial failure.

Look at the Akai EWI. If you want an expressive instrument, look no further but it fell on its arse for the most part. Now, it was an ENORMOUS success in Japan - one of the first tracks featured on the then new Japanese MTV had a J band called 'T-Square', a jazz/rock instrumental fusion band with a Mr Ito as the font man playing EWI. The Japs went mad for it and something in their psyche had them sit down and learn to play it. Akai couldn't make enough of them. Schools opened up to teach it and sax teachers also started teaching EWI. I reckon at one point, you were probably never more than 10 yards from an accomplished EWI player in Tokyo!!

But Akai could barely give them away over here - it's like we've become so used to push button, instant satisfaction that sitting down for 6 months or more to learn an instrument is just not going to happen (and sax players for the most part are seemingly too traditional to adapt to it as well).

And manufacturers are well aware of all this - they're not going to throw pots of money into an innovative new technology if there's a risk it will flop as well it might if it veers too far away from 'the norm' ... so just give the punter more of everything in a safe package that will sell and keep the accountants happy (even if the superbly talented engineers in R+D are frustrated and hamstrung and screaming to create an interesting new product!).

But many of the decisions made in manufacturers' product planning departments are also largely influenced by their dealers, especially the large music store franchises in the US - if they don't/won't get behind a product and/or won't stock it, you're pretty much stuffed. These stores want to shift boxes which means safe products that won't tie up shop floor sales droids in lengthy sales pitches and demonstrations trying to explain new concepts. They want products that sell themselves basically!

But then there are trends so what do have? Loop machines for 'beatz' delivering four-on-the-floor dance and hip hop and ROMplers whose concepts haven't really evolved much since the M1 and D50, just more of the same effectively. They sell ... esoteric controllers don't. End of! Image
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Thu Jul 21, 2011 2:56 pm

hollowsun wrote:Part of the reason we are where we are today is because of past failures and market complacency!

..agree...

hollowsun wrote:
And they failed! For an industry supposedly founded on innovation, musos can be a conservative lot.

..agree to a certain extent...as I too consider myself a muso..and firmly a non-conservative

hollowsun wrote:
One of the most innovative technologies that has emerged, one that deviated completely from the subtractive, analogue paradigm was FM and one of the most successful synths of all time was the DX7. And what was it used for mostly? Bloody Rhodes, slap bass and tuned percussion! Why? Because that's what most people want(ed).

Not entirely so - the darn thing was complicated to program, and remember most home users had only just heard of Atari and Commodore - so programming one's instrument was a pretty foreign affair..

Which does bring me to an important point. The success of the instrument will lie in simplicity - the problem with many synths is/was that there is too much going on. Design should be in a manner that the user has access to e.g. a great electric piano and realistic brass, period. And then create another synth-like instrument for other uses. For one, a larger variety of instruments would be sold.

Different cultures express themselves differently musically, however skill is still universally admired regardless of the me-too-mtv-loop crowd thinking.

IMHO - an example of the 'right' direction - Korg's wave drum.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby MarkOne » Thu Jul 21, 2011 6:00 pm

Interestingly, products aimed at the solo performer/organist entertains, type market have been far more adventurous in providing performance enhancements than those marketed at band players.

Products like Ketron's range, the Yamaha Tyros, and the Roland Atelier organs have had mechanisms that make for quite good (sometime scarily good) emulations of brass, guitar, sax and so forth. Some of the Roland SuperNatural stuff is making its way into more 'mainstream' products - the new Jupiter 80 has the guitar strum mechanism that sorts out inversions, strum rates and fret noise all on the fly based on what you are playing.

But I think Steve has hit the nail on the head, what most keyboard players want is fairly traditional stuff.

How many Axis 64s have you ever seen on stage?
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby hollowsun » Thu Jul 21, 2011 8:56 pm

There's also the not inconsequential facet of sponsorship.

For example, those late night US chat shows. The David Letterman and Jay Leno, etc., shows have a house band which are heavily sponsored by 'The Big 3' and they make a bloody great noise. Nowt to do with the gear but the fact that these bands are ace musicians.

But what do punters see on their TVs every night - Roland, Korg and Yamaha, sometimes up close and personal with the logos very prominent...

"Aha! Must get one of those and I'll be a top muso too" and so another sale of a 'traditional' keyboard is made aided and abetted by the fact that when they walk into The Guitar Centre or Sweetwater, they're the keyboard the punters will almost be tripping over and they're the ones the sales droids will push .... because they're an easy sell.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Chaconne » Thu Jul 21, 2011 11:48 pm

On the other hand, I just watched the Halle on the Proms, and everyone seamed to manage without even any electricity. Andras Schiff didn't even have a mod wheel! I think Sibelius was confident that what ever he wrote someone would manage just fine without any help from elastic-trickery.

The keyboard is fine as it is. A button for each note. Press the ones you need. Need finer control? Then use sheep gut over a wooden box, you can then actually manipulate the vibrating body directly. Still not enough, then use a synth and any of the myriad of contollers - stick 'em on your feet or whatever.

I think it just shows that the traditional ways have served us well for hundreds of years, and have never really been seen as limitations. Any new electronic sonorities have been an interesting footnote to 20th centrury music, but not much else.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby Blott » Wed Jul 27, 2011 4:17 am

Dave B wrote:Well, you have a choice :

a) you can sit here and moan and whine - very fashionable and hip these days

or

b) you can play to the instrument's strengths and do things that a guitar (for example) can't do

surely (b) was the whole point of the synthesizer ...


Amen Brother!
The problem is synths have stopped being synths.
The mistake they make is aiming their keyboards at live players, instead of at studio players, of which there are far more!
Now keyboards try to be guitars, oboes, Sax, violins etc etc.
Fine in moderation, but now every synth has them - even the Roland Jupiter 80!!!
Personally, what I want is for manufacturers to concentrate on proper DAW integration.
MIDI is yesterday, I want my hardware synth to be an AU/VST when connected to my Mac/PC - the keyboard can be the dongle!:)
The Access Virus synths do a good job of this, so surely the others makes can too.
Roland's effort with the Fantom G was absolutely woeful!
The sooner they concentrate on offering proper DAW integration instead of light beam controllers and Piano sounds then they'll get back on track.
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Fri Aug 12, 2011 11:31 am

MarkOne wrote:

But I think Steve has hit the nail on the head, what most keyboard players want is fairly traditional stuff.


But why then invest in an instrument that promises much more - I actually am proposing that the very attraction of PCM synthesisers is their ability to create non traditional sounds.

For years I've played with bands that shelled out mega-bucks for all singing synths that ultimately were only used to for 3~5 patches ...
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Fri Aug 12, 2011 11:44 am

JazzyGB1 wrote:
Dave B wrote:Well, you have a choice :

a) you can sit here and moan and whine - very fashionable and hip these days

or

b) you can play to the instrument's strengths and do things that a guitar (for example) can't do

surely (b) was the whole point of the synthesizer ...

Amen Brother!
The problem is synths have stopped being synths.
The mistake they make is aiming their keyboards at live players, instead of at studio players, of which there are far more!
Now keyboards try to be guitars, oboes, Sax, violins etc etc.
Fine in moderation, but now every synth has them - even the Roland Jupiter 80!!!
Personally, what I want is for manufacturers to concentrate on proper DAW integration.
MIDI is yesterday, I want my hardware synth to be an AU/VST when connected to my Mac/PC - the keyboard can be the dongle!:)
The Access Virus synths do a good job of this, so surely the others makes can too.
Roland's effort with the Fantom G was absolutely woeful!
The sooner they concentrate on offering proper DAW integration instead of light beam controllers and Piano sounds then they'll get back on track.

On the contrary, I would rather that focus be shown on 'live' playing - the strength of a musical instrument IMHO is its "immediacy" - simple, responsive, intuitive...

The DAW integration is a different direction best served by a 'controller', no need for a synth .i.e. included sound engine - nothing built into a piece of hardware is going to be better or more flexible than what is already available in the combination of software and a PC/MAC
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby AndyJones » Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:29 pm

It's a sad reality in my view that Clavia ceased developing the Nord Modular range, which I remember being based on high development costs vs relatively low numbers sold.

What an innovation it would have been to have a Modular G3 with integrated sample flash RAM such as is found on the Wave. Unchartered territory for a hardware instrument to the best of my knowledge, which would surely have led to genuinely new approches to making music.

Integration with analogue gear would have been a great addition too...

Additionally, a Wavestation-type machine with sample flash RAM would be great, as long as it was made more accessible which I guess would tend to ramp up the cost :-(
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby C.LYDE » Thu Aug 18, 2011 11:53 am

AndyJones wrote:It's a sad reality in my view that Clavia ceased developing the Nord Modular range, which I remember being based on high development costs vs relatively low numbers sold.

My guess is that, as mentioned, more of the same type of sound is not really the appeal for the generalist - a pad, is a pad,..is a pad..?

AndyJones wrote:What an innovation it would have been to have a Modular G3 with integrated sample flash RAM such as is found on the Wave. Unchartered territory for a hardware instrument to the best of my knowledge, which would surely have led to genuinely new approches to making music.

Integration with analogue gear would have been a great addition too...

Additionally, a Wavestation-type machine with sample flash RAM would be great, as long as it was made more accessible which I guess would tend to ramp up the cost :-(

..more RAM, ROM..?
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby AndyJones » Sat Aug 20, 2011 8:55 pm

C.LYDE wrote:[
My guess is that, as mentioned, more of the same type of sound is not really the appeal for the generalist - a pad, is a pad,..is a pad..?

..more RAM, ROM..?


Not quite sure what point(s) you're trying to make here in relation to my post?

I think most people who have used a Nord Modular would be able to see the potential not only for genuinely new sounds but also new and interesting ways of creating music, if the Modular's architecture could accommodate samples alongside the VA stuff.

The sample mangling possible on a Nord Wave would just scratch the surface of what such a machine could be capable of. I'm not holding my breath though :-(
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby uphillbothways » Fri Aug 26, 2011 7:32 pm

There are loads of really exciting, interesting control options, but they just don't sell. Breath controllers are a simple, inexpensive and expressive keyboard addon with broad support, but nobody makes them anymore due to lack of demand.

I think it's entirely the fault of players. I'd kill for a keyboard with poly AT, but hardly anyone even uses channel AT.

My favourite bit of kit at the moment is the Keith McMillen Softstep - ten four-axis foot controls for £200. By rights they should be selling like hotcakes, but most synth players don't even own an expression pedal.

My big hope is things like the Omnisphere controller for iPad. Maybe, just maybe, a combination of clever programming, multitouch and inexpensive commodity hardware will provide capable real-time control that actually gets used.
uphillbothways
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Re: Have keyboard OEMs lost the plot?

Postby martin randle » Sun Sep 04, 2011 7:36 pm

I find that as a keyboard player in a cover band I need to replicate sounds that others have already made. As much as I love the VL section of my EX5 it mostly gets relegated to producing sax and trumpet sounds. An awful lot of keyboard players need stock sounds that fit into the popular 5 or 6 basics - piano Hammond (note not even Vox or Farfisa) organs - Rhodes, brass, strings etc.

I think a lot of keyboard players search for the best quality and most flexible of those above sounds first and foremost then look at what else is packed into the box. It is an endless repetative cycle but as someone said - musician's are a conservative lot. - Just look at the innovation in the electric guitar since the 1940s. Humbuckers (in the 50s) and strap locks!
martin randle
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