Eigenharp – a revolutionary new instrument

Today we’re incredibly excited at a hugely innovative all-new electronic musical instrument we visited at its launch event today, the Eigenharp.

The Eigenharp is every instrument you’ve ever heard of, it looks like a futuristic stick, it has shiny lights, 160 amazingly sensitive keys, and can be played like a double bass, a guitar, a keyboard – even a saxophone.

alpha-bigIt’s something else…because it’s such a physical object, it frees electronic musicians from the thrall of standing behind a keyboard or MIDI mixer and lets them develop a physical relationship with an instrument they can move around with.

This is something electronica has always needed – there’s nothing more dull as an audience member than watching a couple of guys standing pretty much motionless behind a bank of keyboards. Hell, even the Chemical Brothers – good as their music is – only get to jump around behind their keys as they seek to excite their crowd.

In very simple terms, the way it works is as an interface with the music samples (Audio Units) you have on your computer, using the company’s proprietary software.

If you think £4k is a lot to pay for an instrument that’s powered by software that’s being maintained by a company that could go out of business, then stop – the company will next year release the code to the open source community, their best shot at making the software future-proof. And god knows what those inventive open source developers will make from it when Eigenlabs does this.

There’s a Mac story too – while the product ships in the next few weeks, the code presently only runs on a Mac., Why? Because of its Unix base, it’s excellence in audio and its provision of AudioUnits.

The developers explain: “We developed our software on a Mac, partly because the platform is so much better for music making and has AudioUnits support, and partly because, and let’s be honest here, in professional music creation today, everybody uses Macs.”

Windows users (those that exist in professional music production) needn’t worry, software for that platform is in development and ships next year.

A musical revolution?

Eigenlabs believes its Eigenharp to be “the most revolutionary new musical instrument of the last 60 years.” We think it’s deeply innovative, and we’ve barely begun explaining just what it’s able to do – so take a look at the videos to get a sense of this. Put simply, we think this is the most exciting electronic musical instrument we’ve ever seen…

More than this, it’s beautifully constructed, built for professional use, infinitely extendible, will work with whatever music software you want to use it with, and works like any instrument, with physical controls of numerous hues to give any musician a sense of real satisfaction.

We spoke to some of the musicians who were at the launch event to play the device. In every case, they confessed it to be “fun” to use, deeply satisfying, and while it took a few days to get their head around, all three confessed to spending much less time playing their normal instruments since they got their hands on the device.

eigenharp_picoConsumer version, too

And if you just want an exciting instument and don’t have thousands to throw at it, the company has also introduced the Pico, a £349 product for the mass market – that can do everything the big boy can do.

Both instruments feature keys, a breath pipe and a strip controller and come with their own native soundsets. Thanks to their USB 2.0 connections, they can also play SoundFonts and Audio Unit/MIDI instruments.

Big model, the Eigenharp Alpha, also carries a mic input/preamp and ships with a base station that can have a variety of pedals plugged into it (expression, sustain, volume, etc).

Both Eigenharps are amazingly sensitive to play – you get better sensitivity and that far more important element – expression – using these than any keyboard you’ve ever come across. Each key uses a unique sensor technology detecting movement in all directions to within a micron – the wavelength of light, the width of a living cell.

With the Eigenharp, the musician can play and improvise using a limitless range of sounds with virtuoso skill. The Eigenharp can play and record loops, change key, transpose, alter tempo, program beats, switch and layer sounds, all while the musician is performing live on stage.

Just look at the software features:

– Instantaneous scale and key switching as you play.
– Over 80 scales in the system.
– Instrument switching and multi-instrument layering.
– Complex live arrangements can be created with the step sequencer.
– Drum loop playback with time stretching in sync with live tempo changes.
– these things are Polyphonic – you can play chords, multiple notes & many loops all at the same time.
– Tap tempo to sync the Eigenharp’s tempo with other musicians.
– Live recording and loop playback of played phrases.

From the press releases:

“The Eigenharp Alpha is our ?agship instrument, designed with professional musicians in mind. It has 120 highly sensitive keys, 12 percussion keys, 2 strip controllers, a breath pipe and numerous pedal inputs. The comprehensive software system provides a wealth of musical performance features. The Eigenharp Alpha will retail from £3,950 inc. vat, available for pre-order online from October 5th 2009, shipping from 7th December.

The Eigenharp Pico is a smaller, more affordable version. It has 22 keys, a breath pipe and strip controller, sharing many of the performance features of the Alpha. It’s a great introduction to the Eigenharp and is suitable for all levels of player, from beginner to soloist. The Pico will retail for £349 inc. vat, also available for pre-order online from October 5th 2009, shipping from 9th November.

Conclusion

We truly believe this instrument will become essential kit to electronic musicians – we can imagine the likes of Banco De Gaia, The Bays, even Hot Chip, come to that, giving this instrument a trial, buying it and using it in their existing live shows.

Beyond that, some of these features have never before been so elegantly combined inside one device – this means it opens up whole new world’s of musical potential, and one day an Eigenharp genius, or several genii, will show us just what we can do with this all new music making machine.

Incidentally, the company is very interested in putting this instrument in the hands of music students, they know that while any musician can pick this up and learn how to use it now (and I’m no musician, and having spent some time with one today, I’m confident the basic learning curve is pretty even), the first music maker to get intimately familiar with Eigenharp may produce music of a kind we’ve never heard before.

In the interests of criticism, there’s only one, it’s such a shame it costs £4k. I do hope it ends up costing less as it becomes more popular.

For an in-depth look at what the system can do as offered by its creators, check back here in an hour or so, when a presentation they delivered at Air Studios to a small group of invitees earlier this week will be available here in video format to view. UPDATE : And it’s now available,

And here’s a video of the launch event today.

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