hardware and software for electronic music 

Hardware

Soundplane A

Tiny Pianoforte

The Soundplane A is a computer music controller with the sensitivity and feel of an acoustic instrument. It detects a wide range of touches on its walnut playing surface, from a light tickle to a very firm press. Unlike a MIDI keyboard, which typically sends out just one velocity value at the start of a note, the Soundplane communicates three dimensions of information, x, y and pressure, over the entire duration of every touch. As a synthesist, this lets you replace a triggered envelope with an intimate connection and breathe life into each note.

True force sensing
The Soundplane is a true force sensor. When you press on the articulated walnut playing surface, it bends slightly to your touch, and the small change in position is measured very accurately. This offers a playing experience with real physical feedback, and the feel of an instrument worth learning and spending time with.

Very high speed
The Soundplane is incredibly fast. It measures the pressure at each of 512 points on its surface almost 1000 times per second, enough to capture every nuance of a musical gesture. The touch screens in tablet computers typically capture data at 30 to 60 frames per second.

Tiny Pianoforte

Custom design
The playing surface, the high speed pressure sensor underneath it, and the high bandwidth DSP computer that analyzes the data are the end results of a three-year design process. There are no off-the-shelf sensor parts used—the sensing hardware was entirely developed in-house. As a result, nothing else feels like it.

Easy to use
Our own experiences performing live have given us an obsession for simplicity. The Soundplane has no wall-wart adapter, no adapter at all, in fact. It's entirely powered by one USB cable. Plug that cable in, and you're done setting up. Forget the cable? It happens. That’s why we used the most common USB A->B cable that everyone seems to have extras of in a drawer somewhere.

Made in USA
The Soundplane is made entirely in the USA. Its body is milled out of alder, a sustainably harvested Northwest hardwood, and made rigid with a black-anodized aluminum back. We assemble, tune and test the instruments by hand here in Seattle. All of the subassemblies and circuit boards are also made in the Seattle area. Local manufacturing throughout the process allows us to keep quality high and our transportation footprint low.

Tiny Pianoforte

Compatibility

The Soundplane requires a computer running Mac OS, for now. Linux and Windows versions of the software are planned.

With the Soundplane comes the Soundplane client application, which reads the raw pressure data over USB and converts it into customizable MIDI and OSC touch data. The surface can be configured as either a 150-note keyboard with position and pressure sensing on each key, or divided into an arbitrary number of zones. Other settings are available that provide fine control over the touch tracking and pressure response.

Also included with the Soundplane is Aalto, our patchable modular software synthesizer. Aalto works with most controllers and software via MIDI, but when a Soundplane is connected it communicates directly over OSC, providing an easy-to-use, high-bandwidth connection from gesture to sound.

We have worked with Symbolic Sound to make the Soundplane plug-and-play compatible with the Kyma system. For controlling analog synthesizers, we recommend Silent Way from Expert Sleepers, which has a built-in Soundplane module. And for everything that other software can’t do, we recommend Max/MSP/Jitter by Cycling ’74.

See this onesheet PDF for current specifications: [3 Mb PDF]

Demonstration

Thanks to Jordan Rudess for sharing his wizard skills!

Ordering

We sell the Soundplane A for $1,895. The second run of instruments is sold out as of February 2013. A third run is planned for this Summer. Please stay tuned for details.

Aalto is included with the Soundplane. If you order a Soundplane and already have purchased Aalto, you can email support at madronalabs.com for a refund of Aalto’s purchase price.

Order / return policy

Payment in full reserves your instrument. When a complete run is reserved, we will remove the order option here. If we sell out a run too quickly to respond, we will refund your entire payment.

If circumstances force you to cancel your order once placed, we will return your payment minus a cancellation fee of $50. If something goes wrong on our end, and we are unable to ship you a Soundplane 12 weeks after the close of preordering, we will refund your entire amount on request.

We will collect payment for shipping when we are ready to ship your instrument. Shipping within the US is be approximately $30, To Canada or Mexico approximately $75, to Europe or Asia approximately $250. We ship only by UPS, and insure the instruments for their full value.

Do not ask us to declare a Soundplane for less than its actual value for overseas shipment. Not only is this illegal, it contradicts the statements we need to make for insurance.

Orders from addresses in Washington State, USA pay 9.50% sales tax.

If you are unsatisfied with your Soundplane, you may return it to us in new condition in its original packaging within seven days of receiving it for a full refund.

If something goes wrong with your Soundplane due to a manufacturing defect, we will cover any postage, parts and labor needed to fix the instrument and get it back to you. This warranty extends for three years after the original purchase, for the original purchaser or any subsequent owners. Problems due to wear and tear or accidents, we will look at on a case by case basis.

Soundplane A FAQ

Why?
"Musical ideas are prisoners, more than one might believe, of musical devices."
- Pierre Schaeffer

Will it have MIDI / OSC outputs?
The Soundplane A sends its data to the host computer via USB. Initially you will need a Macintosh computer to run our translator program, which generates MIDI and OSC data from the raw USB stream. You can send these messages out via a MIDI interface or, in the case of OSC, via Ethernet and other kinds of connections as well.

We definitely understand the appeal of connecting the Soundplane directly to MIDI and CV/Gate devices without a computer in between, so a product that would allow that is definitely something we are thinking about. But, first things first. In the meantime, we recommend the use of a computer with CV generating software such as Silent Way from Expert Sleepers.

Can I use my favorite OS?
The Soundplane requires a computer running Mac OS, for now. We have written the Soundplane software with the help of JUCE, a cross-platform framework that supports Mac OS, Windows and Linux. This will make porting much of the software simple. However, the custom driver development that supports the Soundplane USB protocol is only ready for Mac OS at this point. We look forward to working on Windows and Linux versions soon.

Is the translator app open source?
We will make the source to the client software public once it reaches a stable 1.0 version.

How many simultaneous touches are possible?
The software supports 16 touches. However the biggest limit to polyphony is how close together independent touches can be recognized, rather than how many touches there can be. Currently all simultaneous touches have to be more than approximately one inch apart from one another. This allows all ten fingers to play at once if they are spread out widely.

How big is a Soundplane?
About 1" by 8" by 28" (3 by 20 by 71 cm).

How much does it weigh?
8 pounds (4kg).

Did you patent it?
Yes. The Soundplane's continuous force sensing technology is protected by US patent #8266971. This is protection for us against some other company cloning our designs. For the individual instrument builder, it can be a useful resource, because it explains the Soundplane's workings in enough detail to make your own. The Soundplane is also described in Randy Jones' NIME paper from 2009 [pdf]. We encourage and support related DIY experiments via our forum.