v8media's Recent Posts
Can't believe I missed it! I'm down for the future.
I've only tried the Soundplane for a short while a couple different times when Randy was giving demos. My impression from that usage was that it's definitely an instrument. Out of the box, not even an instrument that would take a long time to understand. Mastering it would take much longer, but you can definitely make music with it pretty quickly. You can also use it in all sorts of non-default ways that would not be easier, and that could take as long as you've got to learn and modify your software/interactions. Fit and finish is great, it feels like an instrument.
I bought an Akai EWI USB on a whim when I saw a cheap auction. I thought I'd get some quick and easy control out of it since I play saxophone, but it's turned out to both take a bit longer to get used to, as well as doing things in kind of a strange way. I'm having trouble just playing a scale correctly, and must dive in more to figure out if I find the thing to be useful or not. I've heard some interesting tracks played with this thing, so I'll give it more effort. It may just be that this controller will take longer to learn. Somehow it feels both cheesy AND well made. Maybe because it seems solidly built, while choosing plastic-y materials? I can't say from my use if I consider this one to be an instrument yet. You didn't ask about it, but I figure I should throw it into the mix.
I similarly found myself staring at a cheap auction for an Eigenlabs Pico, and decided what the heck. I figured that this could also use some of my saxophone brain. So far, I haven't figured out a way to map things to a way that makes more sense to me. The default mappings are variations on 8 notes per scale, and I really need to figure out a way to play notes out of scale to make it the most useful. However, even in this basic mode, I consider this thing to be an instrument. I found it quite interesting and time consuming (in a good way) to hook this up to Aalto and play away. I also need to figure out more what the possibilities are for the wind sensor, because I have specific things in mind and was having trouble getting things like "more wind = open filter more". The software is extremely complicated, doesn't have much in the way of instruction, and some of the instructions and forum help is from previous versions that had different options. At semi-default settings, I found it really hard not to bend notes crazily, so I had to really finesse things in order to not be playing gibberish. The software needs some time to learn, but I think that once you figure out how to tweak the settings to your desires, you'd have a really amazing instrument, even with just the Pico. I really can't ever see wanting to get one of the larger units (beyond maybe a unit with double the keys of the Pico), or doing sequencing with it. The build quality of the Pico is great. Very solid, the keys feel nice and the wind controller is nicely done and removable.
Out of the box, I'd say the Soundplane is more instantly playable than the other two. It's understandable by looking at it, and easy to do things like map y position to things like filter, for example, but it also adds more variation and nuance than a keyboard controller. Both the Eigenharp or Soundplane have somewhat infinite variation in how you interact with them. You see in some of the Eigenlabs demos people doing things like changing to sequencer mode and changing between instruments and things of the sort, this works pretty well because each button has an embedded light for feedback. You can do similar stuff with the Soundplane if you use Max MSP as a bridge between whatever you want to control (except for the light part). You could do something like have the top row/fret be sample or sequence triggers, though I don't think I've seen anybody do that yet.
Other options might be the QuNeo stuff, Roger Linn's Linnstrument (which may or may not be out soon) or possibly iPad apps. I've so far found touch screen control to be a horrible way to play music, though Moog's Animoog app has some great control options and can actually send out midi of that controller data. I think once you choose a setup on any of these configurable controllers, you can start learning how to play them musically. I do think that the Akai EWI USB has a large potential for muscle memory, but that may be because I already have saxophone muscle memory. Anything where the buttons or surface can change functions means you're potentially doubling how much you have to learn, muscle-memory wise for each "page" of options. Anything can be learned in time though, as violin and theremin players can attest to.
Hope that helps some. I'm not a virtuoso on any of these, so I can't give you a demo comparison yet. I'm definitely going to try getting a Soundplane eventually. Now I'll get back to what I should have been doing tonight, which is playing some music.