Unique Gear at Musikmesse, Part 1

March 27, 2010

Unique Gear at Musikmesse, Part 1

I have a confession. Despite years of reviewing gear and going to NAMM shows, I’d never made it across the pond to Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany. It easily claims the title of largest instrument trade show in the world—in terms of both number of exhibitors and sheer square footage. Make that square mileage, or maybe kilometerage since we’re in Europe.

“Messe” means “fair,” and refers to the convention center where the show is held as well as to the show itself, and it’s essentially a city within a city just to the west of downtown Frankfurt: nine huge halls interlinked by moving walkways. You could drop NAMM into this place and NAMM would get lost and cry for its mommy.   

You know you’re in Germany because everything happens on time, is precisely organized, and works really damned well. Any convention center or hotel employee in Frankfurt speaks better English than their counterparts in Los Angeles. Local light rail gets you anywhere, and your Musikmesse badge entitles you to ride free day and night while the show is ongoing.

Here are just three gear videos of the newest and most interesting products I saw and heard there. More to come in the coming days as I get videos rendered and uploaded from my laptop!

If you can’t see the video windows below, go to our video page – they’re all there as well, but I wanted to editorialize a bit here and offer you some descriptions.

Rhizome Feeltune: This is actually a PC that runs the Windows Embedded OS, plus the company’s own software that sequences, records, and hosts VST instruments. My first reaction: “Does the world need another music computer in instrument’s clothing? Open Labs and Muse Research are already doing this really well.” Then, I played this puppy, and discovered that the crazy Frenchmen at Rhizome have their own unique take on the computer-meets-groovebox. It’s quick, elegant, fun, and addicting—and I can’t wait to get my hands on one for review as soon as they’re ready.

Radikal Technologies Accelerator: Again, at first glance, you might think “Not another virtual analog synth.” But this 8-voice, 3-oscillator-per-voice monster sounds simply huge, and has a unique realtime performance controller: An iPhone-like accelerometer. You can assign any MIDI controller to the X-axis of tilt (tilting the keyboard end-to-end) and another to the Y-axis (tilting it front-to-back or vice versa). At first, this may seem gimmicky, but if you think about how a keyboard sits on an X-type stand, you could actually have some pretty expressive control here. Anyway, virtual though it may be, its sound quality gets my personal Blade Runner award for lush analog goodness. (If you have to ask … )

ReacTable: This senior thesis from a pair of university students from Barcelona burned up YouTube a couple of years ago, but has been considerably refined since then. It was my first chance to see one in person, and it blew my mind. Imagine a cross between the user interfaces in Minority Report, and those tables where you arranged lots of colored crystals in Land of the Lost. Long story short: the table is a multitouch screen, and the blocks and tiles you throw down on it represent different types of sound generators and processors. Their proximity to one another, as well as what you do with a finger-gesture vocabulary, determines what kind of noise the underlying virtual modular synth makes. Control panes materialize and disappear as needed, and the whole thing really does look and behave like something you’d see in the rec room of an intergalactic starship in a ’70s movie about the future. Too cool—and heading into commercial production this year. One can be yours for around $10,000 U.S., which is a lot cheaper than a starship.

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