Fingerboard design / construction ideas

Posted: 3/17/2014 9:18:19 AM

From: Switzerland

Joined: 2/18/2014

Hi there

I've designed the Chimaera above, Fred was so kind to invite me over here.

I dont really see a way 'round this.. other than an audio preview (which I am adopting for my ribbon) - As soon as one has tactile 'markers' one interrupts the movement 'flow' - when whizzing over a smooth slippery surface one can get the "flying" - any indentations or whatever will, I think, give a "trigger" as they are moved over - If they dont give a trigger signal, then IMO the surface probably isnt sensitive enough..

@Fred, this pretty much matches my initial design goals, I just went one step further and made my device touch-less from the beginning, just like the theremin.

I wanted to have some kind of polyphonic ribbon controller. Initially I've experimented with capacitive touch sensing, ultrasonic and IR proximity sensing and IR touch table technology, but it just did not feel right. Altough some haptic feedback is nice to tell your brain that your fingers have hit a surface, I've made the experience that it's not essential. In the contrary, when touch and pressure is involved, mechanical resistance and friction tend to slow down and lower expressiveness of my play (and expressiveness is what continuous controllers are all about).

What I ended up pretty much is a continuum fingerboard with just one row of hall-effect sensors and stripped off all its mechanical parts. The magnets instead are directly sticked on fingers and "flown" over the sensor array.

Im sure you could play a mono fingerboard or ribbon with your eyes closed - I doubt you could for a poly, even if there was tactile marking

Polyphonic play over a continuous surface is surely is hard, but you do not have to rely entirely on your ears only, a great part can be offloaded to muscle memory (needs its practice, though). I'm slowly mastering diphonic play and have a long-term goal of reaching quadrophonic play, eventually. Higher polyphony with my touch-less design is not practical, IMHO.

I suppose if one could have an overlay to place on a smooth fingerboard, which was engraved or whatever to give tactile feedback, you could get the best of both worlds...

For long jumps on a continuous surface I prefer visual cues and muscle memory, the fine adjustements then are done by hearing. It may be hard to capture all engravings during a fast transition.

Posted: 3/17/2014 4:35:07 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

Welcome to TW, Ventosus! ;-)

Thanks for your practical input here! - Its a whole different ball game when one gets feedback from people who have built physical instruments and prototypes - much of what I am doing is based on simulations and imagination .. ;-)

I really like the smoothness of your magnetic sensor ideas, it sort of gets the advantage of capacitive sensing without the problems asscociated with capacitance, but at the same time I love capacitive sensing because of the freedom it gives in terms of quick manipulation of the sensed value (with my mono ribbon one can  use multiple fingers and to quickly jump notes or play in a almost conventional keyboard manner).. I suppose I am hoping that your system can be adapted to capacitive sensing and become an option for anyone wanting to build a capacitance based fingerboard.

My thinking was that your available boards and firmware may be usable with some fingerboard we discuss / develop here, or at least may be used / modified to get things started.

But whatever - Having another engineer putting ideas into this pot is great! I really hope you stick arround and some great things come from this.

I also love the concept of freely sharing ideas - And this was my main reason for contacting you, because this is what you are doing, with everything available on your site - most of the software stuff being a teeny bit over my head!  ;-)


Posted: 3/17/2014 9:47:06 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

Welcome ventosus!  Nice instrument you have there in the Chimaera!  Very nice videos as well.  Thanks very much for sharing!

I'm curious as to what your ill-fated capacitance experiments were like?  I think you could do what you're doing pretty easily with capacitance.  Which would eliminate the magnets and, I could be wrong but, people might find playing with bare hands more interesting?

You are smart to quantify minimum response time, that is really important for an expressive instrument.

Have you tried little ruts instead of bumps for tactile feedback?  Having your hands able to touch a reference is a huge opportunity.

Any plans to go from 2D to 3D?

Have you thought of incorporating a piezo pickup?  Tapping on it could be really interesting.

Please don't take any of the above as criticism, just thinking out loud.  Thanks!

Posted: 3/17/2014 9:57:50 PM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005


You demonstrate a wonderful design. I enjoy digital design mixed with analog to create new approaches to making music. Currently I am working on my own approach to the infamous Electro-Theremin which got a bad rap because someone called it a theremin. Creating the original sound with a more fluid method of play is my interest today.


Posted: 3/18/2014 12:57:30 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

The person who gave the Electro-Theremin a bad rap was none other than its inventor, Paul Tanner. Why call the instrument an "Electro-Theremin" when the theremin everyone was familiar with was already totally electronic?


TANNERIN is a much better name for the instrument, although the device is simply an adaptation of Maurice Martenot's ribbon control. 


Many people have attempted to improve on Lev Termen's original theremin by making it easier to play. Unfortunately, they have all done this by removing the characteristic 'space control' aspect of the instrument, replacing it with some sort of hands-on, mechanical substitute. 


By doing this, some have succeeded in creating an instrument that is easier to play but they have also eliminated that ineffable, exquisitely delicate and eerily "human" quality associated with the theremin, replacing it with a sound that is colder and more robotic. 


With the theremin, every aspect of the sound is sculpted entirely by gestures of the human hand. Yes, this is an extremely difficult art, but if you replace some of the technical demands of the instrument with convenient electronic shortcuts, you lose the magic. This also applies to the violin and cello.


Interestingly, when I have pointed this out to some remarkably innovative and clever inventors who have unveiled their "improvements" with all the pride of the parents of a brand new baby, they have told me they haven't the slightest idea what I am talking about. 


It's like looking at a painting by an artist who is color blind. When you ask them why their canvas looks dull and grey-ish, they don't know what you mean. They will inevitably think there's something wrong with YOU!

Posted: 3/18/2014 3:10:59 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

"Interestingly, when I have pointed this out to some remarkably innovative and clever inventors who have unveiled their "improvements" with all the pride of the parents of a brand new baby, they have told me they haven't the slightest idea what I am talking about. " - Coalport

Yeah, I think its all there in the above statement "with all the pride of the parents of a brand new baby"..

As soon as innovators have this perspective, they are doomed to "blindness" - As soon as anyone believes that they have built the best theremin or whatever that the world has seen, (and particularly if they declare this, or if someone they respect declares it and they believe it) they are lost IMO.. And I think this would be true even if what they had built was the "best" {as it will be for the kind of developer or innovator who is besotted with their creation even if its crap for everyone else}) - Because IMO, the innovator should always be trying for "better" and listening to those who are critical, and trying to see why they are critical.

IMO, there is a place for new controllers and instruments - If one wants a theremin, and is able to master this, then for you the theremin is your instrument. If you want a theremin, but are not able to master playing in the space-field, a theremin with a ribbon controller may be your instrument - If one wants a Continuum, but cannot afford one, then the DIY stuff that MIGHT develop here could be the answer..

There is IMO no way of knowing that the colours I see give the same stimuli as you get when you look at the same "colours" - and the same is, I believe, true for sounds and the method of controlling those sounds.

I suspect that the "colour blindness" may operate even on those who are not innovators of the instruments - Someone who has mastered the theremin may not be as happy with the feel of a capacitive ribbon, but someone else may find this interface liberating and more like "flying" than a standard theremin.. Neither will be able to convince the other of the respective merits, and neither has any reason to change, because both are equally "right".

We have seen bitter argument over these subjective matters many times - It all seems, IMO, to people wanting to impose their paradigm on others - I remember argument in the "other place" about theremins with horizontal plates, where the proponent asserted these were best, but got no agreement from anyone else.. Simple truth was that he was "right" - But ONLY for himself ! (and perhaps a tiny minority who prefer this type of theremin) - His theremin was the best in the world, for HIM!


Posted: 3/18/2014 3:52:44 PM

From: Brooklyn

Joined: 8/15/2009


The Continuum is an instrument of almost instant romance and mystery as a player... It has magic. Like touching somebody you don't ever want to stop touching... Not that you don't have to practice it a lot to get good but it's a pleasure and it was instantly a pleasure from the very first moment.

The seaboard felt like work. It was like some evil music teacher was yelling at you to practice your scales... No romance. On the tech side it was way squidgy/sticky to the feel. On the Continuum you can go from anywhere to anywhere instantly without any problem... You definitely get prevented by doing such w. the Seaboard surface.

The Continuum is so light to play that it's just a step away from the theremin. (I'm a basher on the piano so it's not like I require instruments w. light or non-existent touch.) 

Here's a Continuum video of a guitar piece I used to play in high school... You can see how easy it looks and how close execution is to thought. (Once again, not that there isn't a lot of work to get it to where the performance level is... but it's just such a gas to play!)



Rob, I really like your rendition of "Because" on the Continuum:

The Continuum seems like a labor of love, and I'm all over labors of love.

So you've played the Seaboard?  If so, could you give any details on its good / bad points?

Posted: 3/18/2014 4:01:16 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

I have inserted the video here, because I think its brillaint! ;-)

Many thanks for that video, Rob !

This is the best demonstration I have seen - it clearly shows the amount of "give" the surface has..

I want a Continuum !



Posted: 3/18/2014 4:55:27 PM

From: Brooklyn

Joined: 8/15/2009

Thanks, Fred!

BTW for others if you watch just this video please remember that this instrument is fully polyphonic! I'm just playing it this way (single line) for this specific piece... (although there is a chord right at the end...)


Posted: 3/18/2014 6:30:10 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

Rob, thanks for that feedback!  Some of us have to live vicariously through the experiences of others.  The Continuum looks like lots of fun, I imagine the tightly bound internal synth has something to do with that?

What if there were a subtle groove cut down the middle of each note?  Do you think that would help or hinder playing the Continuum?

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