Artiphon’s INSTRUMENT-1 is a new musical synthesizer with the goal of being playable by a wide variety of musicians. It was recently demo’d at SXSW, the music, technology, and art festival in Austin, Texas. The design is very basic, a stylish bar with a series of black fret touch-pads down the neck. The INSTRUMENT-1 connects with mobile devices and computers, allowing you to choose which instrument you want to play.
You can make the synthesizer sound like any one of hundreds of instruments, downloaded from your computer, and the style of play can be chosen from guitar, violin, piano and it can create a drum loop. There is a built in speaker, allowing you to play anywhere. The battery is designed to last for over three hours, and there are currently three styles, black, white, and wood paneled. The black and white INSTRUMENT-1’s cost $400 retail, though the Kickstarter offers some real discounts.
History is filled with instrumental experiments. The Theremin, patented in 1928 was the first fully electric instrument. It’s novel design, unique sound, and the ability to be built by anyone who purchased a kit made it popular among hobbyists and sound designers. However, the Theremin did not find its way into popular culture aside from the eerie sound effect for a UFO, or psychedelic music bands like Hawkwind. The real triumph of the Theremin was the demonstration that electrical signals could be used to produce sound, which lead to the invention of the electric guitar, an instrument which truly changed the face of music.
INSTRUMENT-1 is a powerful multi-instrument synthesizer and necessary step in the future of music, but may only be the engineer of further change. It seems like a good way for primarily electric musicians to access their musical loops, but the fact that the unpowered Instrument-1 cannot be played in a meaningful way, like an electrical guitar, means that it may be a primarily a novelty outside of electrical music. It’s a wonderful way to access a synthesized music, but one cannot specialize in the INSTRUMENT-1 simply because of it variability, in true synthesizer form. Further, part of INSTRUMENT-1 is outside the synthesizer itself, contained on the mobile device or computer. People may discover new ways to create music with the INSTRUMENT-1.
Further developments in this line may lead to INSTRUMENT-2. Customizability and Self-containment, the ability to specialize are all necessary to make a new instrument, rather than a gadget.