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  • NAMM: Continuum Fingerboard MIDI Controller

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    MIDI Ports
    (Click for a close-up)
    FireWire Ports
    (Click for a close-up)

    On display at this year's Winter NAMM show was the Continuum Fingerboard, a new MIDI / Firewire performance controller that allows extensive realtime musical control.

    It resembles a traditional polyphonic MIDI keyboard in that it is approximately the same size and is played with ten fingers, and it also resembles a fretless string instrument in that it does not have discrete pitches. The Continuum is compatible with any MIDI synthesizer, sound module, or sequencer, and can acheive MIDI communication with Symbolic Sound Corporation's Kyma Workstation through IEEE 1394 Firewire. The Continuum comes in full-size (nearly 8 octaves) and half-size (nearly 4 octaves) versions.

    The Continuum Fingerboard tracks and updates MIDI values for the x, y, and z position of one to ten fingers every 4 milliseconds. These values appear at the MIDI Out as well as the Firewire port.

    The x (side-to-side) position of each finger provides continuous pitch control for a note. This value can vary from a subtle vibrato to dramatic pitch sweeps encompassing the entire length of the playing surface. One inch in the x direction corresponds to a pitch range of 184 cents (73 cents per cm); the total pitch range of the full-size Continuum Fingerboard (pictured above and to the left) is nearly 8 octaves. Each finger in contact with the playing surface also outputs a unique y (front-to-back) value as well as a z (pressure) value.

    To play the Continuum Fingerboard, the performer must place fingers accurately to play in tune and can slide or rock fingers for glissando and vibrato. A surface guide pattern assists the player in accurately playing a desired equal tempered pitch. In this guide pattern each "D" note has a circular mark for added visual reference. Any alternate tuning is at the performer's disposal by varying away from this equal tempered reference.

    The z (pressure) position of each finger provides dynamic control. The performer produces tremolo by changing the amount of finger pressure. An experienced performer may simultaneously play a crescendo and diminuendo on different notes.

    The y (front-to-back) position of each finger provides additional timbre control for each note in a chord. By sliding fingers in the y direction while notes are sounding, the performer can create timbre glides. Depending upon the capabilities of the synthesizer used with the Continuum Fingerboard, the y position can have a variety of effects. One possibility is to let the y position on the Continuum Fingerboard correspond to the bowing position on a string instrument, where bowing far from the bridge produces a mellower sound and bowing near the bridge produces a brighter sound. Another possibility is to let y morph between timbres of different acoustic instruments. In either case, the performer can bring out certain notes in a chord not only by playing them more loudly, as on a piano, but also by playing them with a different timbre quality.

    Performing on the Continuum Fingerboard is challenging. Like a fretless instrument, a performer must rely on audio feedback, finger memory and manual dexterity for accurate intonation and expression. Like the Theremin, or any acoustic instrument, the Continuum Fingerboard requires extensive practice.

    Price for the fullsize Continuum Fingerboard is $5290, and the half-size goes for $3390.

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