Roger Linn’s newest music interface victim of tablet wars

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design Music
Roger Linn’s newest music interface victim of tablet wars


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In 1979, Roger Linn built the first drum machine to use digital samples of real drums, the LM-1 Drum Computer (Wikipedia). In the 80s, the LM-1, together with Linn’s subsequent machines the LinnDrum and Linn9000, appeared in countless pop recordings by 80s megastars including Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. Linn would go on to work with Akai in designing the MPC60 and the MPC3000, and has since branched out into guitar effects, notably the AdrenaLinn series of beat-synced FX pedals. He is an accomplished guitarist, a producer, and a member of Berkeley’s Dead Presidents Society, a prestigious panel of leaders and innovators in computer music.

All of which goes to say, when Roger Linn talks about electronic musical instruments, people listen. In the embedded video describing the design of his prototype “LinnStrument” interface, Linn impresses with confidence, clarity, and concision wrought by decades of experience in his field.

And although I’m nothing but a dabbler, myself, I find Roger’s design compelling and persuasive. It’s based on a large pressure-sensitive multi-touch pad outfitted with a custom printed overlay and custom software. The notes are arranged chromatically in rows, and vertically by fourths, which is analogous to the four low strings on a guitar in standard tuning, and allows for easy chording. Volume, pitch, and timbre of each note can be controlled independently by pressure, horizontal location, and vertical location on each key, respectively. Roger argues persuasively and at length for the virtues of this interface. And because it’s all done in software, theoretically the touchpad itself could be reconfigured with any layout an individual performer might prefer.

There’s only one problem: You can’t get ’em anymore.

The large, multi-channel, pressure-sensitive, high-resolution, fast-response, low-cost touchpad Roger used in his prototype was manufactured by a start-up called TouchCo starting in 2009. Then, in 2010, in a move reportedly intended to advance and/or protect the Kindle, Amazon swooped in, bought them out, closed up the shop, and took their products off the market. Now, Roger says, no adequate replacement is available to manufacture the LinnStrument. He’s written a letter to Jeff Bezos, but has no way of knowing if it’s reached him or not.

Neither Roger nor myself is interested in making Amazon out as the bad guy. They’ve invested a lot in the Kindle and they’re within their rights to try to protect that investment. And I’m betting the folks who ran TouchCo were more than happy with the terms of their buyout. Still, watching this video, I have a nigh-irresistible urge to play with a LinnStrument, myself, and it irks me that I can’t get one.

So let’s get the word out, folks: Hey, Jeff Bezos! Go read Roger Linn’s e-mail!

Unusual musical interfaces @ Yuri’s Night

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan


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