Musical instruments seem to have reached the pinnacle of their development long ago, yet creatives still invent new ones all the time. Disney Research has turned plants into instruments, apps have turned keyboards into music players, and Björk even invented a new one. But now Nashville-based Artiphon has created an electronic instrument that beats them all for one reason: It can become them all.
The Instrument 1 made its debut on Kickstarter on March 3rd, and in five hours and 23 minutes, it had met its $75,000 goal. As of this writing, 1,110 backers have shot the funding up to $415,171. What’s made the instrument so instantly appealing is the fact that its inventors claim it can be used to create literally any sound imaginable. That’s not hyperbole; the Instrument 1’s endless compatibility and customization means it can reproduce the sounds of a bongo, an oboe, a hurdy gurdy, a lur, even a nyckelharpa. Even crazier, it can create all those sounds at the same time by assigning each of its digital strings to a different instrument.
The incredible device can be plugged into almost any computer or Apple smart device and, because it works on the MIDI standard, connected to hundreds of music apps, from GarageBand to Animoog to ProTools. The face of the device is a “fret board” with “digital strings,” plus a six-notch “bridge.” Everything is touch sensitive, meaning the notes will change with the strength and speed with which you strum or tap. There’s a knob to control volume of the built-in speaker and switch between eight presets, plus another set of capo buttons to change programs instantly.
The musician can perform hammer-ons and pull-offs, turn on fret-less play, slide, create vibrato, and even use an iPhone like a bow(!). As the Kickstarter page explains, users can even change the way you’d normally interact with an instrument. “Basically, you can easily create new instrument presets and play them immediately. Want to strum a piano? Bow a banjo? Pluck a drum? Done.” It’s even ambidextrous and can be played in virtually any position.
Mike Butera began working on the device in 2011 after earning his doctorate in Sound Studies at Virgina Tech. His dream, according to the Kickstarter, was to create an instrument that would transcend sound, age, and experience. “Our goal is to create the most effortless music-making experience at any skill level. Music isn’t about gear; it’s about self-expression. Every aspect of the INSTRUMENT 1 can be customized to behave the way you want it to. Tune it all to E-major if you like, adjust the sensitivity, or forget strumming altogether and let it auto-play the notes you press.”
The sheer range of possibility Butera and his team have created with the Instrument 1 is simply mind blowing. It’s almost too much to take in from a technical standpoint, so it might be best for Butera to explain it himself in the Kickstarter video, which you can watch below. It also gives you a nice look at Instrument 1 in action in the hands of people with a range of musical experience.