With the new version of the Senselmap application it is finally possible to release a first version of an imho very interesting overlay I have been working on in several iterations for quite a while now.
The Continuano can best be described as a combination of a piano and the Haken Continuum. It frees the player from the choice between enabling pitch rounding globally or not and allows both at the same time: Notes with initial rounding to the equal tempered twelve tone scale can be played e.g. for fast passages, chords and accompaniment like with a piano. And pure intonation of intervals, playing of scales outside of the twelve tone system or “fun with interferences” (between very close frequencies) is possible in a pitch rounding free sub-cent-resolution area like with a Continuum with pitch rounding off.
Other than a piano or a Continuum it is super compact - full size velocity senitive, poly aftertouch, 3d-touch keys with up to eight octaves foldable to the size of an iPad, easily fitting into any bag - that’s nice
And it is a MIDI class compliant, MPE compatible controller that can just be plugged into any compatible hardware or software synth.
Idea behind the concept
Essentially it is the continuation of the idea behind a piano. Some early key-based instruments were optimized for diatonic playing which works well for church modes etc. There we mainly play in the lower diatonic “row” of the piano that is comprised of seven (almost) equal-width keys per octave. The second piano “row” above the first diatonic one offers twelve keys of equal width and (nowadays) equal tuning offset of 1/12th octave between keys - these are the chromatic keys. Thus when purely playing on the chromatic row, each interval has the same width in all tonalities - with the aid of this second row pieces can transpose between tonalities at will.
But equal tuning also makes some compromises: Pure intervals get rounded up or down to the next multiple of 1/12th of an octave. Additionally the choice of playable notes is limited to the notes of the chromatic twelve tone scale.
The Continuano now introduces a third row above the chromatic row - which is continuous. So arbitrary pitches can be played, like on a fretless instrument - think violin - or Continuum. Which allows all the pureness and fun mentioned above.
The first two rows behave like on the piano - almost. When touching the surface the pitch always exactly corresponds to the corresponding equal tempered note. But from there on pitch can be bent up and down as desired.
Building your own Continuano
Such an instrument can (as far as I know) not be bought. (*) So here some instructions to build your own based on (optimally several) Sensel Morphs. Using the Morph has some aspects to consider: The panels have lower touch sensing capabilities at the borders. So after some experiments I came to the conclusion to just accept the gaps at the borders as an inherent property of the instrument and use slightly wider finger positioning when playing intervals that contain a gap. What you get with accepting the usage of smaller, individual Morphs is the folding option of course - 2-6 stacked Morphs in a bag is hard to beat transport-wise
Have decided to go with three octaves over two Morphs (or 18 semitones per Morph). The reason: This spacing is almost indistinguishable from the spacing of both a standard piano - and of a Continuum, so both pianists and Continuum-players should feel right at home. (**)
For playing around with the idea one Morph is sufficient. Imho the fun starts with two Morphs though, which offer three octaves and 36 semitones. Currently I personally use four Morphs for six octaves and 72 semitones. With five Morphs and 90 semitones you would already be above the range of usual 88 key pianos. And if you are so lucky to have six you could use one spare Morph for swapping overlays, e.g. for synth control etc.
This zip archive contains all the files you need to build your own Continuano:
Continuano_2019-05-13.zip (91.7 KB)
- The senselmap files for up to four Morphs (if you have more then adapting a fifth or sixths should be easy with the SenselApp). These maps were created on Windows. In case you cannot import them (e.g. on Mac), look at the bottom of this thread for a description how to convert them: Can't import maps to Windows
- Paper bags that can be used to create overlays from paper - for first experiments
- A larger overlay that can span several Morphs (here an example for four - can of course be adapted to more or less). This is best printed on neoprene (for four Morphs: 100cmx14cm). I have used the 1000 g/m^2 Neoprene “cut on line” option from Contrado which is about 40€ for the first and about 11€ for each additional overlay. (Not affiliated with them, chose what works for you ). It can easily be attached by gluing e.g. some woods or stacked cardboard material with the height of a morph to both sides and an additional cardboard material to the bottom (see picture).
The contained afdesign files can be edited with Affinity Designer).
Then transfer the maps to the Morphs (make sure to set pitch rounding in the global settings of each Morph to “none” - we get pitch rounding on initial touch for the diatonic and chromatic rows by setting X to relative for all related areas and “Absolute X” for the rounding free area.
Now get yourself a USB hub with at least as many ports as you have Morphs. Optimally one that can also be powered, so you can charge your Morphs faster (for playing you can use the USB hub in passive mode as long as the Morph batteries are full).
Then find an (optimally MPE compatible) synth of your choice (hardware or software synth - all goes, thanks to the Morph-firmware the Continuano is MIDI-class compliant). Play!
Gratulations, your Continuano should be usable now - have fun!
Last but not least some suggestions for an improved SenselApp that would allow to make the Continuano even nicer:
- Round-to-target: An option for an MPE area to round to the base note if the finger is in the area and stops moving for some definable time. That way you could start in an area with a key, slide the finger up into the rounding free area to go wild and then return to a defined-pitch key to round to the target note that fits the accompaniment. (This would of course have to be a per-area function, so it does not affect the rounding free area)
- MIDI-channel range per MPE area: The ability to define a MIDI channel range for each MPE area would allow to play different sounds with the diatonic and chromatic and with the continuous zones - e.g. for accompaniment and lead voice.
- Last but not least: A 4-6 times wider Morph would allow to get rid of the gaps. Sure, the resulting instrument would be bulkier - but not heavier than the equivalent separate Morphs. Would also reduce the amount of cables and need for a USB Hub. Don’t regret to have the “mobile edition” now - but would buy the large version in an instant (and know of others who would do the same)!
Remarks referenced from above
*: Roli Seaboard might look similar on first sight but is actually quite different: It does not have the equidistant spacing of the “chromatic row” that a piano still offers, afaik always rounds to at least quarter notes and has a very narrow “strip” below the waves that isn’t meant for Continuum-like usage of absolute y-position for starting the timbre of a sound with a corresponding start value. So imho the Seaboard is great if you want to play hands-on vibrato and some glides while still staying close to the keyboard metapher.
The Continuano on the other hand is closer to the original idea of both the piano and the Continuum, keeping the equal-spacing of intervals in the chromatic piano-like row and allowing pure intonation, scales beyond the twelve tone scale and absolute control over y in the pitch free range.)
**: Have also experimented with two octaves per Morph (as with the Sensel piano overlay). But there particularly the rounding-free area is challenging to play: For two adjacent semitones it is barely possible to position the fingers side-by-side, it’s like a violin in the upper registers where fingers have to “make place” for each other - possible but not easy.