Every once in a while an innovation comes along that will supposedly change the way people experience music. Most of the time, however, the device in question achieves a meager level of popularity and becomes nothing more than an entertaining toy. There are a relatively small number of instances in history when inventions have actually altered the fabric of the musical art form, examples being the Moog synthesizer and the electronic drum kit.
This latest hopeful is the Instrument 1 from Nashville's Artiphon. At first glance, it looks like a piece of hospital equipment that removes hair via military grade laser. What it actually does, however, is recreate the sound of any other instrument, and produce entirely new sounds as well. That's an awesome idea in theory, but there's no way that a musician could achieve any significant level of subtlety or masterful playing on this thing. The tasty scratching of strings and the delicate interactions that musicians have with traditional acoustic/electric instruments can not be replicated.
The project's Kickstarter backers would clearly disagree with me, or maybe they just don't care; it achieved its $75,000 goal in just over five hours and has since reached over $600,000 in funding. Personally, I wasn't impressed by the enthusiastic user first impressions and awkward observations like, "the harder you do it, it's got that attack." Yes, midi instruments above the $100 price point generally have velocity sensitive touch. This is not something special or innovative, nor is its expansive library of sounds. Any DAW (digital audio work station e.g. Logic Pro,) worth its salt has a large built-in offering of pre-sets and synthesizers on top of endless upgrades, also creating the possibility to create virtually any sound imaginable. Combine that with an M-Audio Keystation and any Joe off of the street can become the next Kanye West
, seriously. The crux here is that these platforms already exist, and this new fangled super instrument is just a fancy attempt to re-invent the already re-invented wheel.
I believe that Mike Butera, the inventor and degree holding Dr. of Sound Studies, is a very intelligent man. His efforts to advance music technology are commendable, and could eventually prove to be a step toward the true next generation, but for now they will not cause any significant waves. And to think that youngsters may one day learn on a device like this is utterly terrifying. Advances in technology have already limited the demand for studio musicians, and like it or not, things will only get worse with time. For now, however, the game will remain unchanged. The Instrument 1 will make a fun holiday gift for music enthusiasts, but that's where its usefulness ends.
Check out the Instrument 1's Kickstarter campaign below and decide for yourself.