Once again, Soma bring us an instrument like no other...
Following the tradition of Soma Laboratory's Lyra‑8 synth, the Pipe was developed to give Soma's head honcho, Vlad Kreimer, a more satisfying way to perform with his — admittedly imperfect — voice. This personal drive is a key part of Soma instruments' character and may explain the attraction to musicians seeking a very particular level of expressiveness and individuality.
The Pipe is a combination of a specially developed vocal contact microphone and a dozen unique DSP algorithms. Set in chunky metal and available in either black or white, it's as solidly made as the Lyra‑8; the knobs feel great and the contacts aren't going to wear out like buttons, pressure pads or regular on/off controls. The Pipe is supplied with a breakout box, contact microphone, lead and power adapter — everything you need to begin tooting!
My kitchen scales inform me the Pipe weighs 866g, which doesn't sound like a whole lot until you've been holding it in one hand for a while. All the tweakable controls are down the right-hand side, so in order to access them while you play, this requires a left-handed grip.
I found the handling to be fairly awkward at first because of the need to take the weight by placing your thumb and ring finger beneath two metal cylinders; this leaves two fingers free for the circular contacts that are used to play the Pipe. Your little finger can either stick up in the air in the classic 'sipping tea' pose, or you might try resting it against the panel.
As I've spent many years pressing lightweight plastic keys and becoming extraordinarily puny, I quickly developed a two-handed grip, whereby my right hand provided extra support beneath the Pipe's illuminated grill. In that way I'm able to turn the dials easily enough and the overall effect looks a bit like playing a stunted electronic saxophone. Fortunately it doesn't sound like it.
The Pipe also has standard M4 screw holes, so it should be possible to add a stand or neck strap to free up your aching arms. I should reassure you that, after a few weeks, even an ageing hippy who exists on a diet of hemp products and muesli was able to hold the Pipe single-handedly for up to 20 minutes at a stretch without fainting.
Soma have adopted the same contact method as their two Lyra synths, so in order to hear any sound, you must make a circuit with the cylindrical finger rests and the round touch sensors. You can wiggle your finger pretty fast on this sensor to stutter your vocal input and when you put the Pipe down, there's no fear of unpleasant feedback or other noises. This is important for the live performer who wishes to grab the Pipe spontaneously. Four rubber feet are fitted to make the process even friendlier. The second contact, which I'll refer to henceforth as simply 'the sensor', triggers a specific behaviour...