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Summer NAMM 2014: Artiphon Instrument 1 (Video)

Multi instrument/controller

After the NAMM show, we had a chance to interview Artiphon founder Mike Butera in a bit more depth about the Instrument 1. Here's what we found out.

What's your background? How heavily did your PhD research influence the development of the INSTRUMENT 1?

My Ph.D. is in Sound Studies, and my research focuses on the way we listen to the world through technology. Basically, I studied the ways we make the world sound the way we want it to: headphones, walls, noise regulations... At a theoretical level, it’s about giving people sonic agency. Music-making is one component of that, and my favorite.

Turns out, the vast majority of people want to make music but don’t (yet). My research inspired me to create technology that would make music easier and enjoyable to play.  Music-making is fun and inherently rewarding; it empowers people to feel the world in new ways. I founded Artiphon to enable anyone to experience that.

What did you set out to achieve when you were designing INSTRUMENT 1?

I really wanted to discover the pain points in music-making and why most people don’t play music. High learning curves for traditional instruments, not enough time, fear of playing a wrong note... music-making can be intimidating.

And yet we’re finding that people feel differently about apps. Hundreds of millions of people are making music with their iPhones and iPads, without worrying about whether they’re musicians or not. Mobile music is growing every day, but you can only do so much with a flat glass screen.

Artiphon is designing a multi-instrument interface that’s as flexible and adaptive as the apps it can play. I set out to make an instrument that anyone could start playing and that would grow in complexity as people explore their style. It’s not just a guitar, or a violin, a keyboard or drum machine; it’s one instrument that can be played with any of these techniques. It doesn’t replace anything else, but it lets people experiment with a lot of different playing techniques and sounds.

Who is the INSTRUMENT 1 designed for?

Our goal is to design the most universal instrument possible, and we’ve been beta testing with a lot of different types of people and skill levels. We’re finding a common theme: people simply want to have fun playing. It’s not about features or complex configurations; it’s about enjoying every note. We’re really designing the INSTRUMENT 1 for anyone who wants to play with sound, and we’re going to have multiple instruments at different price levels so that anyone can afford it.

How would you describe it?

Expressive: we’ve spent years fine tuning the interface, and it’s amazingly responsive to intuitive musical gestures like strumming, tapping, and sliding. It’s also capable of polyphonic aftertouch and fretless playability, which means you can finally get string-like nuance in a purely digital instrument.

Addicting: it’s really easy to get lost in it, especially with great new apps being released all the time. We have a hard time getting our prototypes back from our beta testers, which is a good sign.

Inspiring: It’s amazing to see people play music for the first time or in a new way. There’s sense of satisfaction and wonder on their faces. That’s the best part for me.

How do you feel about way it turned out?

We’re not done yet. It takes a long time to make complex hardware, and we’re intent on delivering the best possible instrument to consumers and for it to be affordable. Our prototype design has served us well to test the concept, and now we’re building a manufacturable version that takes into account everything we’ve learned.

For instance, one of our big questions is about the dock. We’re looking at other ways to connect any device (iPhones, tablets, laptops, keyboards) rather than tying it to just one. It really comes down to the essential components for a great musical experience, and it’s not just about the specs. It’s about how inviting the instrument is to pick up and keep playing. We’re working on this nonstop, and getting closer everyday.

What's next for you as a company? What's in the pipeline?

As we’re preparing the INSTRUMENT 1 for launch, expect some new announcements and prototype designs in the coming months. We’re creating an ecosystem of hardware, apps, content partnerships… but in the end it’s just about the simple experience of picking up an instrument and enjoying the sound. Stay tuned!

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