Music technology lovers may start to feel that itch for a a new-gear fix at the dawning of each new year, and the first big tech blowout of every January—the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—doesn’t often provide much relief. This year, if it didn’t involve robots, drones, autonomous vehicles or virtual reality goggles, it didn’t get a ton of buzz at CES 2017. However, I did spot a few interesting nuggets that have implications for the keyboardists of the present and the future. This will have to tide you over until the flood of pre-NAMM, NAMM, and post-NAMM announcements start to hit us very soon. And by the way, if NAMM wants to draw the attention of the Verges, Engadgets and CNets of the world, it should present a concert of autonomous drone robots in VR space… with Amazon’s Alexa on vocals.
You may also want to check out Electronic Musician's CES 2017 Headphone & Earbud Round-up.
Roland GO-61K Go:Keys and GO-61P Go:Piano
One of the few major MI companies to show up to CES 2017—which I’m sure their employees just loooooved—Roland showed off its new high-tech and consumer-friendly GO-61K Go:Keys ($299) and GO-61P Go:Piano ($329). Both are portable and battery powered, with 61 full-size keys, built-in speakers and Bluetooth for added connectivity and music-learning options. With onboard sounds from Roland’s professional synths and digital pianos, these new boards both offer assistive feature for people who are just learning to make music and play keyboard.
The Go:Keys has a special Loop Mix mode that lays out some of the 500+ piano, synth, string, brass, bass and other sounds across a range of keys. From there, a single touch generates a musical phrase with a x-y controller for tweaking sounds. A flat touch-panel and backlit LCD include a built-in song recorder with USB backup.
The Go:Piano includes a selection of high-quality piano, electric piano, organ and string sounds with 128-voice polyphony. It includes a onboard practice feature, as well as a metronome and transpose to support practicing. Both keyboards’ Bluetooth sends both audio and MIDI and connects to smartphones and tablets for jamming to music, recording and using music-education apps.
Tanvas TanvasTouch Screen Replicates the Feel of Textured Objects
Tablet devices—mainly the iPad so far—have made excellent virtual instruments available at super-low prices, yet you know that “playing” a keyboard on a touchscreen has really been a bummer so far. With the Tanvas TanvasTouch screen—a product of a decade of research at Northwestern University—the future could have something a lot more tactile in store, either for playing a traditional keyboard layout, a set of “guitar” strings, or some other Keith McMillen/Roli-style expressive keyboard from a flat touchscreen device.
The TanvasTouch technology won’t work on any touchscreen; it requires its own specialized screen, but it uses electromagnetic pulses to create sophisticated sensations that received very positive responses from CES 2017 attendees.
The Lofelt Basslet a watch-sized wearable for feeling the deep-bass subwoofer sensation of music playing on headphones or earphones. It’s currently on pre-order for $179, and while I don’t really see it as the hear-and-now for transforming the mixing/recording/playing-while-using-headphones experience, it does represent a shrinking down of the size and price from a similar concept we’ve seen in things like the Subpac [http://subpac.com/]. Give it a few more years, and this wearable subwoofer meme could morph into something much more practical and more affordable for enjoying the true heft of your modular gear and virtual instuments while using headphones.
The Populele Electric Ukulele for Beginners
As more and more new technology comes up with alternatives for people to make electronic music without having to play a keyboard, how are we going to make sure that the younger generations keep carrying the torch for our favorite instrument? Why, with new technology, of course!
PopuBand already has the Poputar “smart guitar” for app-assisted guitar learning and it showed the new Populele at CES 2017. With an illuminated fretboard and companion app, the Populele promises to turn complete newbies into Hawaiian-music maestros in just minutes. The word is that it really works, and hopefully a Popupiano is also in the pipeline. Becoming a competent piano player may never be easy, but if technology presents some shortcuts that keep people involved, sign me up.