Hacken Continuum: an electronic instrument with acoustic responsiveness

    Lippold Haken, an engineer with a long-standing music experience, has invented his dream and invented an electronic multitouch-based music controller, which, like the acoustic instruments, is completely dependent on the artist.

    Let us see how the Continuum was coined, what is innovative in it and why a whole community of musicians has developed around it.

    Our microformat - Telemania channel "Audiomania"

    Photo Wikimedia / CC / Haken Continuum

    Continuous dreams of continuous sound

    Shortly after Lippold was born (he was born in 1961), his family moved from Munich to the American town of Champaign: his father, a professor of mathematics, was invited to work at the University of Illinois. At the insistence of the mother, the boy, like all her children, learned to play the violin from an early age. As the inventor himself admits , these exercises were often to him, but partly thanks to them he succeeded, designing the Continuum later.

    Here is an illustration of what is called the force of trifles. Vibrato is one of the most expressive methods of sound extraction in the violin parts. In short, this is when the finger of the left hand evenly slides along the string pressed by it, which causes a special melodious sound - with slight fluctuations of its height, strength or timbre. Haken, he recalls, was not given vibrato (fretless instruments generally require special precision movements), but I wanted to perform it.

    Starting from high school, Haken dreamed of creating an electronic instrument with acoustic features. One that would play not on the basis of samples or on predetermined algorithms and would give the musician complete freedom of action and influence on the sound.

    In the early 1980s, at Haken University, who chose the path of electrical engineering, he and his friends developed synthesizers that were connected to the PLATO computer system (MIDI keyboards were not yet widely distributed). In addition, they collected a device that, when connected to a microphone, accurately determined how the pitch changed during singing or playing the instrument.

    In theory, the PLATO computer system supported audio input with a continuous change in pitch, but young enthusiasts did not have synth “keys” with which such input would be possible. It was then that the musical training and engineering experience of Haken formed together - an idea arose that later turned into the invention of “Continuum” (from the Latin continuum - “solid, uninterrupted”).

    In the same laboratory, Carla Scaletti, the future creator of the visual programming language for sound design Kyma, worked as Carla Scaletti . Not only a scholar, but also a professional harpist, she also had a deep connection with the world of music. So the collaboration is productive. Haken - along with colleague Scaletti, Kurt Hebel (Kurt Hebel) - developed a digital processor for processing signals Platypus, which was used in conjunction with Kyma to create applications for interactive design of digital audio signals.

    Since 1985, Hacken has experimented with different sensors and sound synthesis technologies to achieve the desired result. And achieved. Full-size prototypes of the "Continuum" appeared in the early 1990s, and the first tool was sold in 1999.

    Continuum device

    The modern “ Continuum ”, also known as Continuum Fingerboard, is an electronic musical instrument, or controller, which allows you to change the pitch in steps of one cent, which corresponds to the hundredth part of a semitone of uniformly tempered pitch; the transition from one cent to the neighboring human ear is practically indistinguishable in practice. Its solid work surface is made of neoprene (synthetic rubber) and looks like a miniature treadmill.

    The range of height variation for this “keyboard without keys” for a standard, uncorrected model is about 7.79 octaves. For comparison: a modern piano has 7 octaves. However, it is rather appropriate to compare the control zone of the “Continuum” with a violin fretboard, keeping that in his mind Haken, it seems, designed the instrument, making it possible to make an exquisite vibrato without many years of preparation.

    They control the “Continuum” with their fingers - in three axes: moving horizontally is responsible, in fact, for the pitch, the timbre is adjusted in vertical movements, and the volume is determined by the force of pressing. Something looks like a thereminbut not with gestures in the air, but with the brush sliding on a hard surface. You can play with several fingers, even with two hands, in order to lead at once a certain number of melodic lines: many fans appreciate the polyphonic features and value the controller.

    Compared to MIDI-controllers, “Continuum” allows you to simulate the characteristics of the acoustic instrument (for example, the attenuation of notes) is much more accurate. The nature of the sound production entirely depends on the person playing the instrument — the performer as if “sculpts” with his fingers the sound in real time, causing an instant response by his actions in the physical environment.

    Improvement: also continuous

    Improvement "Continuum" does not stop to this day. For the past ten years, Hacken has been working on an instrument in collaboration with composer and sound designer Edmund Eagan. Together they create sounds that will be built into the Continuum. In addition, Egan and Hacken developed the EaganMatrix digital synthesizer . With its help in the Continuum Editor program, musicians can generate their own sounds without connecting any additional equipment.

    Haken not only improves Continuum itself, but also creates additions to it. For example, the Continuum Matrix Expander increases the controller's processing power by a factor of three, making it possible to make musical polyphony even more complicated and diverse.

    Recently, Hacken announced the creation of a mini-version of "Continuum", crowdfunding on which will start at the end of summer. Pre-order tool will cost $ 549. In the meantime, “Continuum” is available in two versions - full-size and “half” for $ 5290 and $ 3390, respectively.

    Continuum Fans and Their Philosophy

    One of the most famous musicians who was fascinated by "Continuum" is Jordan Rudess, keyboard player of the Dream Theater group: the progressive metal controller is also capable . Due to the ability to easily build an arbitrary sound, the instrument is also often used to perform music with non-standard musical system, such as classical Indian: on ordinary guitar and piano, the device itself is subordinated to European musical intervals, it is problematic to output microchromatic melodies.

    The traditional motifs of their homeland and modern tricks of the game with the help of "Continuum" are combined by the Indian composer Allah Rakman (Allahrakka Rahman).

    The tool is also used by film and gaming composers. Derek Duke used Continuum to compose and play the soundtracks for World of Warcraft, Diablo III and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, and John Williams using his fingerboard. Haken wrote the music for the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

    Around the tool in less than 30 years, managed to form its own circle of fans. Since 2016, the ContinuuCon conference is held annually in Paris , where musicians can meet directly with the creators of Continuum, learn from Lippold Hacken about the latest instrument improvements and share experiences with each other. And it is not at all surprising that the event ends with a collective concert.

    At the conference are arrangedperformances on the history of instruments with continuous change of pitch, and discusses the technology of creating electronic music devices. And just as there are no borders on the working surface of the “Continuum”, there are none in the community: any visitor can communicate with the creators of the controller and put forward their ideas.

    For visitors, ContinuuCon is not just a musical instrument, but a whole philosophy, a small technical and aesthetic cult, which, however, does not close itself on itself and at the same time gives rise to new music and new engineering solutions - continuous innovation.

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