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Breath/Wind Controller

Since Roland Lamb was inspired to a significant extent by horn players, breath control could make a lot of sense in the ROLI lineup.

In my wildest dreams, this would take the form of a full-featured wind controller (like the Aodyo Sylphyo, the Eigenlabs Eigenharp series, the Akai EWI series, the Roland Aerophone, or the now-defunct Yamaha WX series). Sure, none of the existing devices has taken the world by storm. But there’s a strong connection between the “five dimensions of touch” and breath control.

One way to put it is that expressiveness happens both “within the note” (while the note is being played) and “between the notes” (as phrasing). In fact, ROLI’s “Slide” (MIDI CC74) and breath control (MIDI CC02) are often tied to the same synth parameters. However, by very definition, breath control applies to all voices at the same time (so, the opposite of MPE as “single channel mode”).

The Eigenharp line does combine breath control (two-way!) with full MPE support. In addition, the Eigenharp Pico form factor makes it very convenient to play while standing, which isn’t the case with most other MPE controllers. (The Linnstrument can be played while standing, but it doesn’t sound like it was really designed for that.)

To me, as a saxophone player, the Eigenharp Pico was literally a dream come true.

But dreams are low on details. There are several things which make the Eigenlabs controllers less than ideal, for me. The main one is that they require a desktop class computer to convert its controls into MIDI/MPE. There’s no way to connect one to an iOS device without going through a computer running macOS, Windows, or Linux. Did realize that before purchasing my Pico, but it became more obvious to me how much of a difference this makes, in practice. Only brought the Pico outside my home a couple of times, and the setup required was much less than ideal.

So, in a way, my new dream is for a ROLI treatment of the Eigenharp idea. It’d connect directly to iOS devices through Bluetooth MIDI. It’d be pre-configured to send aftertouch, CC74, and pitchbend on every note. And it might implement the “keywave” idea instead of the Eigenharp keys, although those keys do work well for polyphonic expression. What this would add to the ROLI lineup relates to the notion of a “band instrument”. Most controllers are played on a table or stand, and ROLI’s devices are no exception. Sure, there are ways to use your lap instead, but it’s far from optimal. An instrument you can play in front of you, while standing, moving around… You could even use it while walking! Can you imagine an electronic marching band? ;-)

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