Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

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Anderton
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30 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Post Tue Oct 09, 2018 6:16 am

KVR is starting something new to raise the level of online reviews: Having KVR Experts—members of the KVR community—who can dive deep into products, and come back with objective, useful information. I was asked to kick off the concept because of the work I’d done with “Pro Reviews” on Harmony Central, which I started in response to the limitations of working in print: there were never enough pages available to really dig into products, there wasn’t any dialogue, and the credibility was suspect because of a concern (sometimes justified, sometimes not) that the writers were beholden to the advertisers. Pro Reviews were about not just one person’s opinion but community interaction, which is another facet of what the KVR Experts will bring. I’ve also invited Roger Linn so he can comment if he has any particular insights or additions, or can correct me if I say something stoopid.

This first KVR Expert review is of Roger Linn’s LinnStrument, a MIDI controller that crosses over the line into a new musical instrument, because it proposes a new playing technique as well as the technology that makes this technique possible. I’ll be doing a post about every other day while this gets going...so as I learn more about the LinnStrument, you will too.

linnstrument-0.jpg

The goal is to liberate electronic music instruments (hardware and software) from the conventional “on-off switch” limitations of conventional keyboards. To be fair, over the years these switches have been augmented with velocity, aftertouch, and in some cases, polyphonic aftertouch. And of course, you had modulation and pitch bend wheels, footpedals, and breath controllers. But where the finger meets the playing surface hasn’t changed much. As a result, keyboard controllers seldom translate the immediacy of acoustic or electric instruments, where (for example) how you hold a guitar pick influences the sound of an electric guitar.

The LinnStrument incorporates many facets we need to discuss: The note layout, the technology it uses, the instruments with which it’s compatible, and the musical impact. But is it compelling enough to take the time to learn a new instrument? Let’s find out. And if you have comments, questions, or ideas, feel free to participate.
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The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

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Anderton
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30 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
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Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Thu Oct 11, 2018 12:28 pm

If you’re unfamiliar with Roger Linn, you need to know a bit about the LinnStrument’s inventor. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve probably already used some of his inventions, and you’ve definitely heard music using them. His LinnDrum, the first programmable drum machine with samples, was the engine behind the synth-pop music of the 80s (more recently, he collaborated on the Tempest drum machine with Dave Smith—another electronic music pioneer who many consider to be the father of the MIDI spec). It also allowed composers to create music with drums that sounded a lot more realistic than the analog drum machines of that era.

And when you hit a 4 x 4 matrix of pad controllers, those come from the MPC beat machines he designed that became universal fixtures in dance, rap, and hip-hop. Roger also invented the AdrenaLinn, a kick-ass guitar effects box that opened up all kinds of synchronized filtering, distortion, and time-based effects. When I was gigging a lot on guitar over in Europe with DJs early in the 21st century, it was the only box I needed—guitar went to the input, the output went to the house PA system, and sync came from an MPC’s MIDI out.

The bottom line is when Roger Linn comes up with something new, it’s worth paying attention—so tomorrow, we'll cover the LinnStrument’s note layout as well as the pads themselves, which represent a major innovation with respect to instrument design.
The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

acYm
KVRian
795 posts since 11 Sep, 2015

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Thu Oct 11, 2018 10:00 pm

Double the pads and it still would only give me 4 more notes than I can access with my Launchpad Pro in chromatic mode. This should have been 12x12 instead. That would give me both an extra octave and a half, and more comfort with chords. Verticality is the limiting factor on a grid keyboard, and 8 is not enough. These things are played in quadrants that are never more than 5 pads wide, so it's pointless to make longer rows instead of taller columns.
Hopefully there's a way to rotate it 90 degrees.

tapper mike
KVRAF
4842 posts since 20 Jan, 2008

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Fri Oct 12, 2018 7:21 am

Having an octave per row (string) isn't really advantageous for playing chords or melodies. I too have LP Pro's which I pair. As well as an artiphon instrument one and a ztar. Artiphon's and ztars are capable of octave per "string" tunings The LP Pro doesn't have full MPE it has velocity sensitivity and afterpressure.

That being said...
http://www.rogerlinndesign.com/ls-global-settings.html

Scroll down to row offset where you can change the rows setting for per row octaves or any tuning.

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Roger_Linn
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1071 posts since 8 Jun, 2010
Roger Linn Design

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Fri Oct 12, 2018 7:45 am

Hi acYm,

I think you’re saying that the 16 x 8 pad matrix of the smaller LinnStrument 128 model has less merit because it gives you only 8 additional chromatic notes of range (in the default fourths tuning) beyond that of your 8 x 8 LaunchPad Pro in chromatic/fourths tuning. Yes that is true, in the same way that a 16-fret guitar would give you only 8 more chromatic notes than an 8-fret guitar. But I think it is also true that guitarists would prefer a 16-fret guitar over an 8-fret guitar because of the increased flexibility of play for both chords and single lines.

And yes it is true that if LinnStrument had more than 8 rows, you could have more pitch range. However, I think there’s a good reason why instruments are generally long and wide rather than narrow and deep: it is easier to move your hands or arms freely left and right—or to play with two hands—than to stretch your arms far in front of you. However if you prefer that, Starr Labs makes a very nice keyboard called ZBoard that uses a matrix of either 12x24 or 24x24 keys, and I think they sense pressure like your LaunchPad:

https://www.starrlabs.com/product/zboard2424/

But I also think that judging LinnStrument on pitch range alone is missing the point. The point of LinnStrument is to bring the skilled expressive gestures of fine acoustic instruments to electronic performance, by virtue of sensing three dimensions of finger movement for each touch, along with velocity and release velocity, polyphonically. This enables gestures such as vibrato, pitch bends, pitch slides, subtle wind or bow control, pick position, wind embouchure, or other subtle continuous variations in note loudness, pitch and timbre. By comparison, your LaunchPad Pro permits control of velocity and pressure only. And a MIDI keyboard’s aftertouch is worse, sensing pressure only after the key is pressed to 90% of its travel.

If you’re unfamiliar with LinnStrument, I invite you to visit my site (www.rogerlinndesign.com), where you can see over 100 videos from LinnStrument players around the world, demonstrating how their musical creativity has been freed from the limitations of playing music with the simple switches of MIDI keyboards and common MIDI controllers.

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Roger_Linn
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1071 posts since 8 Jun, 2010
Roger Linn Design

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Fri Oct 12, 2018 7:54 am

Hi Craig,

Thanks for doing this series on LinnStrument, and for your kind words above about my past products. I look forward to chiming in.

If anyone has been living under a rock for the past ~35 years and isn’t aware of Craig Anderton, you should know that he is perhaps the most respected writer in the field of electronic music products, and I believe he has had a major influence on electronic music and electronic music products. He’s a very good player too.

And thanks to Chris Halaby for creating this KVR Experts thing.

Disclaimer: I’m good friends with both Chris and Craig. :)

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Anderton
KVR Expert
30 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Fri Oct 12, 2018 8:56 am

First of all, I'm thrilled to see that people are responding, making comments, and asking questions...that's what this format is all about. When writing reviews, I always felt no one cared (or should care) whether I liked something or not. My goal was to describe a product as if someone was looking over my shoulders, so they could decide whether it was something they would like, or not. Also, thanks to Roger for being able to make comments. Of course, the inventor of a product will have insights into why it was done a particular way that no one else will have.

Regarding "long vs. wide," as a guitarist who doubles on keyboard, "long" makes sense to me. However, the star of the show here is the pads themselves because of the way you can manipulate them beyond simply doing velocity/aftertouch. As a result, my fingers tend to spend more time in one general area, working the pads, than jumping over wide areas of the keyboard. As I continue playing with the instrument, though, I'll pay more attention to whether I feel the width is a limitation as I become more proficient.
The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

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Anderton
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30 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
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Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Fri Oct 12, 2018 8:58 am

Let's get deeper into the pads and the layout. The original LinnStrument has 200 pads, covers five octaves, and costs $1,499. The instrument being reviewed, the LinnStrument 128, is a more compact, less expensive version ($999). Its main interface is an 8 x 16 matrix of 128 pads; each pad represents a musical note.

Image 1.JPG
The pads are the biggest innovation here. They respond to velocity, pressure, side-to-side motion, front-to-back motion, release velocity, and sliding (e.g., like sliding up and down a guitar string—try that with a conventional keyboard). They’re laid out somewhat like the notes on a guitar neck, except the default interval between rows is fourths; the default row offset can be (in semitones) 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 12. However, If you hold down the Octave button you can enter any interval from -Guitar (backwards guitar tuning), then -16 (high pitches in front) through zero to +16. I stuck with the default, although it’s good to know options are available. In fact, the latest software version (2.2.1) allows for tuning each row independently, like open tunings on a guitar.

The layout is significant. Back in the 80s, I wrote up a project called “the matrix keyboard,” which used an identical keyboard layout based on Chomerics membrane switches. It was indeed just on-off switches, but with my primary instrument being guitar, it made sense because I could think in shapes, and those shapes were the same in any key. I found I could play wicked fast solos spanning note ranges that would be impossible to play with a conventional keyboard, and the LinnStrument layout has the same attributes. It will remind some people of a Chapman Stick.

So how do you play it? You have a couple options, so let’s look at that next.
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The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

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Tj Shredder
KVRAF
1602 posts since 6 Jan, 2017 from Outer Space

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Fri Oct 12, 2018 1:00 pm

acYm wrote:
Thu Oct 11, 2018 10:00 pm
Double the pads and it still would only give me 4 more notes than I can access with my Launchpad Pro in chromatic mode.
A comment from someone who has an idea about the instrument but no hands on experience. But he knows why it doesn‘t work for him... Well you might change your mind if you get hands on a Linnstrument.
I bought mine some 2 years ago for a little discount as the first buyer sent it back to the shop, lucky me, as I live from very little money this was a big investment... But the best investment I made since I bought Max back in the 90s...
I was a lot into synths back then in the 80s, but lost more and more interest and concentrated more on treatment of live sound. So much more lifely than a synth who‘s expression had to be programmed in advance by lfos, envelopes and alike...
I did touch a Continuum when I was working at CCMIX in France and we had a Kyma demonstration. I fell in love with this new controller but was never able to afford it. Three years ago I also tried a Seaboard as friend of mine had it. It was fun, but so far away from my Continuum experience and I did not like the pianolike hubbly surface. Years after the continuum a so much less innovative idea? Though I am extremely grateful how they pushed MPE into the almost mainstream...
And then the Linnstrument. I ordered it without a test, probably I thought „in case it doesn‘t work out I can send it back“...
It was an immediate love affair, though on my first impression compared to my continuum memory I missed that z-dimension softness and distance. The surface is hard! Now I would not want to have it different my pressure control is perfect...
I switched to the augmented fourth tuning a while ago and still prefer that. There is an interesting thread about that here:
viewtopic.php?f=263&t=477082
With that tuning I have 5 1/2 octaves range which had served me well, certainly enough, and in case I would need more, I could split the keyboard and extend it if necessary (never happened...). This instrument was a game changer for me because suddenly I could play synths with the same expressivity I know from my violin... Constant fun... But also something to learn newly, I am still a beginner. But that helps to support the beginners mind... :wink:

GruvSyco
KVRist
468 posts since 2 May, 2002 from Kalispell, MT

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:58 am

Can the linnstrument do scales without spaces? I love grid controllers and love this feature on the Push.
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dug dog
KVRer
8 posts since 5 Nov, 2012

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:22 pm

What a coincidence! I was just thinking, this very week, about how I missed those expert reviews. I bought 2 interfaces and a DAW, based on those reviews, some 10-12 years ago.

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Tj Shredder
KVRAF
1602 posts since 6 Jan, 2017 from Outer Space

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:49 pm

GruvSyco wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:58 am
Can the linnstrument do scales without spaces? I love grid controllers and love this feature on the Push.
On the Push you can't make bends. If you think about it, its much better to have the option to touch wrong notes in the right place...; - ) A Linnstrument is as far away from a Push/Launchpad as a cello from a piano...

GruvSyco
KVRist
468 posts since 2 May, 2002 from Kalispell, MT

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Sat Oct 13, 2018 1:13 pm

Tj Shredder wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:49 pm
GruvSyco wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:58 am
Can the linnstrument do scales without spaces? I love grid controllers and love this feature on the Push.
On the Push you can't make bends. If you think about it, its much better to have the option to touch wrong notes in the right place...; - ) A Linnstrument is as far away from a Push/Launchpad as a cello from a piano...
So, is that a no?

I understand the Linnstrument is a much more expressive instrument. That had nothing to do with what I asked. As far as comparing a cello and a piano, I think I understand what you're implying but... They are both very dynamic stringed instruments. While I couldn't find a video of anyone playing a cello with hammers, I'm sure it's been done... meanwhile here is some bowed piano for you: https://youtu.be/O3hOBD-zRi0

My point? Sometimes instruments get used in a way they were not originally intended.

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Roger_Linn
KVRian
1071 posts since 8 Jun, 2010
Roger Linn Design

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Sat Oct 13, 2018 1:29 pm

GruvSyco wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:58 am
Can the linnstrument do scales without spaces? I love grid controllers and love this feature on the Push.
Hi GruvSyco,

I'm sorry to report that the answer is no. The reason is explained on an FAQ from my web site:

Q: LinnStrument's rows always contain consecutive semitones (chromatic scales). Is it possible to set LinnStrument so that the rows contain consecutive notes of a specific scale, for example only major scale notes while skipping over the accidentals?

A: It is fundamental to LinnStrument’s design that each of the eight rows always contains only chromatic scales. While it is true that some controllers (like my Tempest drum machine) permit you to set consecutive pads to play only scale notes (for example, only major scale notes, skipping accidentals), this is really only useful for controllers with few pads like drum pad controllers or Ableton Push. However, LinnStrument has 200 or 128 note pads so it is not necessary to delete any notes of the chromatic scale. The problem with removing the notes outside of the scale is that you can't play them, which is useful in all but very simple music. Note that even blues requires a flatted fifth. There are other problems with non-chromatic scales:

1) You must always change the scales to play in different musical modes so you never get a chance to develop any playing skills because the notes are always moving.

2) Pitch slides will no longer be consistent, with larger jumps between note pads that are a whole tone apart than between those that are a semitone apart.

3) Vibratos on a pad with a semitone interval on one side and a whole tone interval on the other will be asymmetrical, bending twice as much on the whole tone side than on the semitone side.

Instead of preventing you from playing accidentals, LinnStrument borrows an idea similar to the piano keyboard's black and white keys: it provides access to all the notes but highlights the naturals. So if you don't want to play the accidentals (sharps and flats), simply play the lit notes and don't play the unlit notes. By default, LinnStrument highlights the natural notes (C, D, E, F, G, A and B) in green lights and highlights all “C” notes in light blue lights, but you can change it to highlight any scale and in any of 10 colors (red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, white, orange, lime or pink). This is done in Global Settings / Note Lights.

If you feel it is important to remove all accidentals and have LinnStrument's rows consist of only consecutive scale notes, LinnStrumentalist Rick Burnett has created a Mac application and Max/MSP patch that does that, though pitch slides will no longer work correctly:
http://erogenous-tones.com/linnstrument ... cale-mode/

GruvSyco
KVRist
468 posts since 2 May, 2002 from Kalispell, MT

Re: Roger Linn Design LinnStrument - by Craig Anderton

Post Sat Oct 13, 2018 1:48 pm

Thanks Roger.

I've been aware of the Linnstrument since it's release (I'm quite the Linn fan (I owned a Tempest for a while and have been an admirer since I first touched a LinnDrum in the 80s)). While fascinated by its ability to be very dynamic, I (personally) am a very simplistic player. Honestly, for a lot of stuff, I don't really care much for velocity or aftertouch but prefer to get dynamics in sound by turning a knob (I'm also primarily a mono synth guy). Push, with it's grid layout has peaked my interest in a broader range of style/technique. It sounds as if Linnstrument is designed to be more of a live performance instrument.

Anyway, it never dawned on me to read your FAQ. I've only ever seen the Linnstrument in that particular layout so, I was assuming that was the case. I do appreciate the link to the Max patch. I'll look into it as well as that artist.

Thanks again for the feedback... ~Mark

Keep on innovating!

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