A saw a prototype of this a couple of years ago and promptly forgot all about it. Then last week I was watching the new Dream Theater live DVD Score, where their world-class keyboard player Jordan Rudess was rocking one of these. A very cool instrument that’s somewhere between a theremin and a lap steel guitar, called the Haken Continuum.
What’s unique about it is that you play in X, Y, and Z space (left to right, top to bottom, and up to down – ie. pressure) just by moving your finger(s) over the surface. Each of these movements can be mapped to any paramenter such as pitch, velocity, sustain, etc. for maximum expression possibilities including natural-sounding vibrato, swells, and morphing, with plenty of resolution for continuous slides. This is all registered as MIDI data, which can control any virtual instrument patch, from a Roland Sound Canvas to a Kyma to your stage synthesizer. It sounds like whatever you plug it into. All of these controls can be done simultaneously with one hand, freeing up your other for another keyboard, Chapman Stick, or throwing up the metal horns.
Here are a few samples of it in action:
Jordan Rudess (very Floydian slide guitar)
Ah yes, this is a super-cool instrument in the hands of someone like Jordan Rudess, and it sounds phenomenal when played well with a preset voice that takes advantage of it’s capabilities. Sadly though, in the hands of most, it’s just so much hype. Like a 7-string bass, very cool, but you better know what the hell you’re doing!
There is literally nothing this instrument can do that can’t be done via programming or the use of alternate controllers. I think it’s interesting to watch Jordan’s left hand as he plays, he grips the side of the unit like he doesn’t know what to do with it!
(On the Rudess video): Of course there’s a mondo delay on the tone, which has nothing to do with the controller. That feedback sound that you hear when he pushes forward is the equivalent of the feedback sound I get on my 17-year old Yamaha SY-22 using the “Vector Synthesis” controller (MIDI Controllers # 16 & 17 for X & Y respectively).
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the controller, it’s use, or the demonstration, necessarily, I’m just saying the perception might not be the reality. In fact, NOTHING about the fundamentals of synthesis has really changed much since the early 1990s. So then, this isn’t really new technology in regard to synthesis, only in regard to live performance. And in that arena, it kicks veritable ass!!
So what’s my point? I guess I just wanted to throw a microscope view at this instrument to underscore just how powerful, relevant and (albeit) invisible MIDI still is in 2006. It had it’s heyday in the 80s, and as DAWs began to pervade the music scene in the 90s, MIDI kinda started to take a back seat to the point that nowadays, if you ask a college music student about MIDI, they’ll talk about “some technological thing from the ’80s).