Every year, NAMM is the place where the music industry goes to discover new products, demo instruments, learn about production, connect, network and reunite with old friends. There is so much to discover here that it’s impossible (and down right overwhelming) to take in everything in a few days, but the team at Ask.Audio certainly tries! Many people eagerly await the new gadget announcements or software updates from the big, established companies. But the show is also about up-and-coming developers of new audio technology and instrument design. This year, I picked five products that are pushing the envelope in terms of interactivity. My picks include innovative controllers, a piano learning system, a new twist on the Hapi Drum and a new drum machine that is so much more.
Zoom is well known for their outstanding field recorders. They are taking a brand new turn into the world of drum machines and interactive controllers with the release of the Zoom Arc. The Arc comes loaded with hundreds of drums sounds and synth patches that can be played and recorded around the ring of touch sensitive, colorfully lit buttons. The best part is detaching this colorful ring, which utilizes Bluetooth MIDI, and turning it into an instrument or effects controller by waving it around or hitting it against your hand to play a tambourine, for example.
The Dualo Du-Touch is one of the more interesting looking all-in-one controller/synthesizer/looper/sequencers I’ve seen. It’s in the shape of an accordion and played in a similar way, very ergonomically designed. The scale, tuning and sounds can be set from the top of the instrument. You can also record loops on the fly, up to 28 total! One of the best things about the Du-Touch is its portability. The unit is battery powered and can be used wherever you feel inspired to make music.
Graham Doe has established himself as one of the top makers of Hapi Drums. His circular metal drums come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have soothing, bell-like tones that are great for meditation use and for sound healing practitioners. The great thing about these instruments is anyone can play them, either with mallets or with the hands. His newest release, the Omni, was inspired by the shape and function of the Handpan. It includes the tongue notes around the surface in addition to the new deep center note found in Handpans. It looks like a tiny flyer saucer!
I’m always on the lookout for innovations in piano education and I always seem to find one or two at NAMM. This year, I found the acclaimed Smart Piano system called ‘The One.’ Essentially, you buy the keyboard, available in a variety of sizes, from Smart Piano and plug it into your iPad. The iPad App is free to download and comes stocked with sheet music, piano games and video tutorials. The keys light up as you play through the various song levels, guiding you through the process.
The Touché is a wonderfully expressive touch controller that can be used with any synthesizer or drum machine. The entire wooden surface is available for shaping sounds, velocity sweeps, rhythmic tapping effects, filtering and anything else you can think of programming onto the X/Y axis. I can imagine this handy little item becoming part of many electronic music performers’ set-ups in the future.