Podcast: Sonic TALK Special - Roger Linn

The Linnstrument      13/08/14

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58:57 mins

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This weeks, pre-recorded show features an interview with music technology legend Roger Linn, who joins us from his West Coast offices where he's recently been working on development of the Linnstrument - a multi-dimensional controller that allows the player to perform with extreme expression.

Designed around the strung instrument paradigm, it offers velocity, pressure and X/Y positional control per note.

Please do come and join us LIVE each week as we stream our live recording at Sonicstate.com/Live

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9 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Mattsynth    Said...

Geo Synth from Jordon Rudess is kind of the same thing isn't it? Geo Synth uses an iPad and you can slide notes in the same way. I use Geo midi out as a controller for my synths. $9.99 in the Apple app store.

13-Aug-14 10:11 AM


Coz    Said...

Roger Linn is a legend, especially to MPC users like myself.

Hopefully the Linnstrument develops into other avenues like the drum pad version he mentioned.

13-Aug-14 06:55 PM


Kevin Nolan    Said...

Number of points:

- Agree with Mattsynth - Geosynth is very similar, costing pennys.

- This video is too long - recommend Nick keeping videos like this to about 30 minutes max.

- Roger Linn's history of such controllers is a tad biased / incomplete. He neglected to mention the Yamaha GX1 (and related instruments) which use side-to-side movement of keys for modulation - giving three independent controls - tactile downward movement of key, aftertouch and side movement.

- Furthermore, Linn's indication of the recent 4 possibilities seems to neglect the current best controller price/performance wise - the QuNexus. At £200, it is a high quality controller, offers most if not all of the feature Linninstrument seems to offer (including channel rotation for pseudo-polyphonic pitchbend)! And - it's in a keyboard format, with tactile buttons ( preferable for performance over a flat surface which gives no sense of perspective or response).

- Also, his description of the requirements of aftertouch is not complete or comprehensive - as in - there are alternative approaches to the Linninstrument that are arguably more musical and more immediate. For example, the CS80 uses polyphonic aftertouch, velocity (and provides of course key action too). But - you can assign different parameters such as filter brightness, amplitude and modulation to aftertouch, each with individual level settings to aftertouch –assignable instantly and in realtime. The level of control is staggering. While not as independent for each parameter as Linn is developing, it doesn't matter, from a musical performance point of view the sophistication of the CS80 'performance levers' just above the keyboard allowing for such polyphonic aftertouch are as vital as the aftertouch itself - providing for an unprecedented level of realtime control of aftertocuh which Linninstrument can never match (everything on it requiring lengthy pre-meditative MIDI / DAW configuration).

- Furthermore, Linninstrument is limited to MIDI. That creates various problems associated with actual MIDI limitations themselves such as a) the requirement for channel rotation for pseudo-polyphonic Pitchbend and b) the limited amount of control that the MIDI implementation provides compared to the proprietary control possibilities assignable within any given instrument (as exemplified by the CS80).

- Indeed the need for Linninstrument to commandeer 16 MIDI channels all at once is a fundamental problem within Logic Pro, not an asset (as Linn suggests when he mentioned Logic Pro). The issue – Logic Pro is ONLY capable of recording / accepting as input a MAXIMUM of 16 channels – it’s ‘sequencer input’ will NOT accept any more than 16 MIDI in’s. Hence, if playing the Linninstrument in channel-cycling mode for pseudo-polyphonic pitch bend, Logic Pro will be unable to record any other MIDI input streams simultaneously. A complex live MIDI performance with other MIDI devices will NOT be possible (in Logic Pro)

- Also, the Yamaha DX1, also with polyphonic aftertouch, further demonstrates the significant benefits to designing polyphonic aftertouch in tight sympathy with the synth-engine (as the CS80 also does). Here, in the DX1, polyphonic aftertouch can be assigned to individual operators within an FM algorithm, allowing the finger touch to affect the timbre of the sound with staggering tactile response, making FM feel more acoustic and more ‘performance alive’ than any other FM synthesizer implementation, including those in the SY77/99 or OASYS/Kronos MOD-7. It is the tight design between the instrument and its performance requirements that maximizes polyphonic aftertouch on the DX1 – but – in fundamentally different ways to, for example the CS80 or Prophet T8). Designing polyphonic aftertouch as a generic MIDI implementation is a pale shadow of that.

- I would also say that, as a keyboard player, I would never buy this instrument. It’s layout as a stringed instrument means it is totally alien to me, and I do not have the time to learn it (and if I was that way inclined, I’d learn the guitar or violin). This is why I do not use Geosynth. Furthemore, I am absolutely confident that stringed players will not buy this in large numbers. As a student of the UCLA filmscoring program run Dublin through the ‘noughties’ including many string player students and many live ensemble and orchestral sessions, the prejudice I encountered against synthesis and musical technology in general by both string and wind players was jaw-dropping. In a nutshell, it is not an exaggeration to say that perhaps more than 95% of all string and wind players look down on music technology with apathy. They see it as the enemy, wrecking music and taking their jobs. So I do not see a sizable market there. Also, the dimensions of Linninstrument suggest that stringed players will also have difficulty adapting. Finally, when you look at the two main markets for music technology – Dance music and Media composition, neither of these markets would look at this instrument as adding to their work flow requirements. Overall, I believe the choice of a stringed instrument as the format to adapt is hugely problematic if Linn expects this to sell.

- Finally, I feel that while there are many laudable aspects to this instrument, it looks to me that Linn i approaching it from a hugely purist, if not elitist, or perhaps academic standpoint. His approach to design has been based on his perspective on what he sees as THE indepented parameters to control and the shortest route to affect those parameters independently. But as I’ve pointed out, there are far more musical historical implementations offering staggering control, such as the CS80. Furthermore, his failure to acknowledge the QuNexus, but mentioning the other niche controllers such as the Contimuum, suggests to me that Linn has a skewed and as said, somewhat elitist approach to all of this. I do not hear Linn saying that he went out to determine what those working as musician want. I do not see him developing at a price point that is affordable, and I do not see the intention to affect in a mass way, as the MPC did, for example. For me, this is hugely problematic. It is further placing a precious control technique – polyphonic aftertouch – into an even more inaccessible place, making it even more aloof, and niche. As an owner of several CS80s, a DX1, Prophet T8 and a QuNexus, I am keenly aware of the power, simplicity, expressiveness and musicality of a beautiful polyphonic aftertocuh implementation – especially when tightly coupled to the synth engine. In my opinion, the ONLY reason why it has not been almost universally adopted is because it is more expensive to implement than not to, and in most market driven music tech companies these days they see it as an unnecessary luxury. Hence, the music population at large never get to use it and vote with their fingers. And so polyphonic aftertocuh has become this elitist feature, and I see this instrument as contributing to that. I would have been far more excited to see Linn develop a polyphonic aftertouch keyboard implementation tightly coupled to an exciting synth design such as the Pro12 (though I know Dave Smith is now dead set against poly aftertouch), rather than develop a controller that is too academic, too niche and likely not going to suit the performance style / capabilities of those of us embracing music technology in the first place.

14-Aug-14 03:10 AM


gjvti    Said...

@Mattsynth Have you tried 3-dimensional (pressure-Z-expression/X-expression/Y-expression) expressive playing with iPad? Were you satisfied with results? BTW current ipad models do not support pressure, despite that this might change in future.

14-Aug-14 05:19 AM


gjvti    Said...

I just can say I admire Roger for its enthusiasm developing new great tools while maintaining inexhaustible ability to provide support unaccountable number of users/curious by passers. I always got detailed answers to all my questions (some maybe stupid sometimes). How he manages all that - this is completely inscrutable to me. Good luck to you Roger!

14-Aug-14 05:27 AM


Twitchy    Said...

Good Luck Roger!!!

I think that this product IS SUPER FANTASTIC!! As a Double Bassist (Hon B.Mus, Uni. of Western Ontario & M. Orch Studies [Double Bass Performance], The Royal Conservatory of Music), I think that a sophisticated MIDI instrument sting adds to my tool kit of MIDI keyboard controllers… Which is most immediately a Virus TI, Casio CZ-101 & Korg Kontrol 49

In contrast to Kevin Nolan I think that there are A LOT of string players who would be interested in this! I recognize that I represent a type of musician that among other things is both 'highly trained, and younger (I completed my Masters in '05), so there was definitely embrace and integration of Music Technology/Computers, in our programme.

I think that the attitudes toward technology, including Music Technology change (especially over 10 - 15 tear periods), and are more fluid amongst highly trained or determined musicians. I think that there are a lot of people of that demographic that makes, sells and performs lots of music, in a variety of venues.

However, that's a hard claim to make as it's a sweeping generalization &;>

..I can only speak for my cohorts/peers, my schools and the resulting scenes… Toronto. GTA, Montreal..GMA, New York, Boston... Northeast USA..

Anyway, I hope Roger sells enough to build a community of users and continue...

14-Aug-14 11:56 AM


Coz    Said...

"This video is too long"

Just like your reply Kev! :)

I don't think it's fair to compare this to a CS80 in any rational sense, especially as there's a massive gulf in price.

As pleasant as it is to see Roger playing with it, you know once the open source community get hold of it this thing will show its full potential.

It will also outlive any iPad you care to mention and will have some kind of 'feel', so to some people it will be worth buying.

I just hope it gravitates to a point where he puts some sounds in it, so it can be switched on a jammed with straight out of the box.

14-Aug-14 09:50 PM


KingVidiot    Said...

Interesting interview, but you should have told him to turn up his instrument audio since the playing portions are plagued by low audio.

Polyphonic aftertouch was also common on the latter Ensoniq gear. It is a lot of fun. My TS-10 implements it well.

15-Aug-14 04:18 PM


Nick B    Said...

Agreed about the sound, its always tricky using a single autogain mic - not the ideal setup, turning up the Linnstrument meant turning up the speakers which feed back into the Skype mic, etc

19-Aug-14 06:25 AM


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