Soundplane – multitouch wooden controller


The Soundplane from Madrona Labs is one of the prettiest electronic controllers I’ve ever seen. It might just be a superficial thing , just looking at the Soundplane it’s beautifully simple and made from one of my favourite materials, wood.

There are a few things missing from electronic instruments which can make them less satisfying than traditional instruments. The first is resonance  Resonance is one of my favourite musical phenomenons  I could get lost in it for days. And, as I have quite a deep voice, sometimes I am even able to excite the resonant frequencies of small rooms. This can make for a strange moment when I veer off mid sentence to sing a note.

My love of resonance aside, the other wonderful thing about musical instruments is the way they age with use. Particularly the marking left from repeated use. The way you can trace out the different scale patterns on a guitar from pressing of the player’s fingers on the fretboard, over and over and over. The musical equivalent of the lines you get on grass when people walk the same path for years. Fender famously started using rosewood for their fretboards in the 50s because the company thought the wear on the guitar looked unsightly when bands performed on television. Which seems a shame to me as that pattern of use is something I find very beautiful.

Moving on to how the Soundplane actually functions, it provides a really elegant interface for playing music.It uses rows and columns of copper strips to detect where on the controller is being touched and with how much force. In the demo video below the creator, Randy Jones, discusses how the rows and columns are being used to provide data. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the workings of the device, suffice to say that it seems to work beautifully. A nice detail of this implementation is that the Soundplane can be used either as a series of programmable keys and as a continuous controller simultaneously.

What I like about the Soundplane is the way that the instrument is likely to wear over time. Although, as it is programmable, you’re unlikely to the same regularity of wear between different people’s instruments–in the same way you would with a guitar. Just the possibility for this kind of wear on the instrument is something which I think will make these instruments really special.

Soundplane demo

Soundplane prototype