Tapping out everything from a bassoon to a bass drums with a MIDI keyboard and a sampler is no big deal — it’s been a staple of electronic music for years. But, as anyone who’s tried it will attest, that’s a long way from “playing” those instruments — to the point MIDI drumming has become an art in and of itself. Enter Pulse, a versatile hardware controller recently shown off at London’s famous Abbey Road studios as part of its Red program, and launching on Kickstarter today. It’s modest claim? Being the future of music playing.
The flat, egg-shaped Pulse is described as “virtual reality” music controller. Inside the ovular frame, is a circular play surface that uses a number of sensors to let you interact with it in a number of ways. Bang it like a drum, poke it like a piano or — thanks to a 3D sensor — float your hand above it like a theremin. The multiple input options also let you, for example, strike a drum at different strengths, dampen the sound with your hand, then jump into a piano solo on the hop. Perhaps more exciting, is the claim that Pulse can even recognize the type of drumstick, or specific hand-gestures you’re throwing at it, allowing a mix of traditional “playing” with a dash of 2015 gesture-control.
Controllers that do “a bit of everything” aren’t new. Many modern MIDI devices come with a mix of pads, faders, touch controls and so on. There are also devices like theInstrument 1 or Jamstik that require musical skill to play. Pulse seems to be going after both camps. There’s a library of cross-platform software instruments, plus compatibility with most music composition software (Ableton Live, Logic Pro etc.). The support for modern software, and the intriguing 3D-senso, combined with the emphasis on performance should help it appeal to instrumentalists and button-pushers alike.
At approx $1,140 (it’s priced at £750) for the early birds, and unto $1,520 for the decked-out Light edition, versatility, it seems, comes at a price. That said, a top end bassoon will cost much much more, and Pulse way more portable than that bass drum.