By Jane Ross
The spotlight was on creative music technology and trends at the National Association of Music Merchants' (NAMM) annual trade show in Anaheim, California.
Showcasing its newest product was Israel-based Tribal Tools. The Kadabra is a futuristic-looking MIDI controller that allows a musician to play up to 16 instruments simultaneously and manipulate sounds generated by an external sound source, via wireless or USB.
It is 47 inches long and ergonomically curved to fit the player's body, so that it can be held like an electric guitar or a saxophone. All the instrument's functions can be manipulated by motion, allowing the player to change sounds by turning with the Kadabra, moving sharply or laying it down flat.
Tribal Tools' musical advisor Moshe Yoffe said the company's founder Tal Ben Ari wanted to create a more organic experience for musicians.
"The idea with our founder and CEO was to really change the game a little bit. Instead of controlling sound with turning a knob or a fader, really to move with it and give the audience something they can see and feel," he said.
Also hoping to make musicians' relationship with their instruments more intuitive is start-up Expressive E, who showed off their Touche keyboard controller.
The keyboard player puts his or her hand on the wooden surface of the controller and can manipulate it, tap it, move it back and forward or side-to-side, with each movement changing the sound in a unique way. The idea is to be able to play the synthesizer more expressively.
"When you play with, like, an acoustic guitar, you have this tactile thing. With Touche, you bring that back to synthesizers. It has four points of control, right? And it's all done with pressure. It is a very complex mechanism. So it's not just a new kind of technologic device. It really is all about acoustic experience," said marketing manager Arthur Boufley.
Touche operates with any digital or analog synthesizer, and controls pitch, tone, vibrato and other variables.
One of the biggest trends of the NAMM show, in fact, was a return to the analog synthesizer.
Moog is not a new company. It has been producing analog synthesizers since 1953, with artists from the Monkees to The Who and Elton John using them on their recordings. The company continues to create products for a new generation of musicians, performers and DJs.
At NAMM, Moog showed off its Mother-32 tabletop synthesizer, an instrument that produces and manipulates sounds using analog circuits and controls, with no computer electronics. Enthusiasts say analog synthesizers are more tactile and allow more flexibility and creativity than their digital counterparts, which focus on pressing a button and getting the same sound every time.
The Moog synthesizer molds sounds using cables and knobs rather than microprocessors and computer chips.
The enthusiasm for analog technology and recording has taken Ulrich Sourisseau by surprise. Fifteen years after he designed the Vinyl Recorder, to cut vinyl records in real time, from any kind of audio source, he has had his busiest year yet.
The Vinyl Recorder is a custom made and hand built machine, allowing small record labels to cut a limited run of vinyl to test the waters for a new release, before ordering a larger run from a record pressing plant. It retails for $4000.
According to NAMM, this year's gathering was the largest in the show's 115-year history, with a record 1,726 companies represented.