Superbooth 2024

We attended Superbooth 2024 in Berlin and enjoyed meeting with so many enthusiastic people. Here are a few observations of some of the exhibitors.

The Electra One is super cool. Its not new but this was the first time I got my hands on one and it just works! The touch sensitive, smooth continuous rotary pots were velvety smooth with perfect accelleration for each control. They also have touch switch (like the Z2). The touch screen was intuitive (needing only a little descirption to help fully comprenhend everything). Everything felf fluid with response being mosty instant with just some small lag on round-trip data but even that was okay when you know what is happening. The build quality is great with a heft that shouts quality. Given the tech in it I think it is probably priced right. This is a device I recommend. I asked if rotary / arc controls could be displayed which they cannot without some user coding but the UI uses LUA so you can get in there and customise anything. There are lots of user / community templates available.

The Voyage portable piano was one of the the first things I looked at. It is a modular device that joins together as 2 octave segments, with a couple of hinge like brackets and two screw fastners. When bound to finger tightness on the screws it feels quite robust. There are some pin connectors that carry signal between the units. You need at least a left and right unit and then any number of centre units (although these are not sold seperately). It is USB powered and has a joystick for pitch and modulation plus a couple of knobs and buttons. It has built in sound module but no built in speaker. The action is said to be semi-weighted and felt quite nice but I would say it was possibly closer to synth action. I quite liked its action. These kinds of modular keyboards have not been very successful for various reasons in the past. This one seems quite expensive at over €1,000 for the 88-note version. There is a fully weighted version in development although they are concerned about weight and robustness for transit.

Nerdseq was demonstrated by a very enthusiastic chap. It is a feature rich tracker style sequencer for CV & Gate and also MIDI. I won’t bore you with the detail as there is so much in there. It has 2 CV + 1 gate for each channel allowing either note + modulation or 2 note paraphonic. There is an expansion module that gives HDMI mirror of the small builtin screen, USB MIDI controller and I2C which I found interesting. There are several devices using a kind of standard I2C protocol for inter-device communication. This we should investigate! I am not a tracker user so had to learn about it from the demo but this does seem like an extremely flexible and versatile hardware tracker.

I was really glad to try the Osmose expressive keyboard. (Their website seems to be down at the moment.) I love the idea of this degree of expression but worried it would feel strange to play but it actually was really nice. The action felt fine for a synth and the side motion for pitch control had the right amount of friction to avoid accidental operation but allow smooth expression. The aftertouch felt like a large sponge. You could play without triggering this but when you pressed further there was substantial extra action for this expression. They have got the dynamics of this physical interaction just about right. This is not a cheap device but it works really well, especially with carefully selected patches.

In a similar vein, the last thing I tried was the Haken Audio Continuum Fingerboard . This took me by surprise with a foam like surface. It reacted beautifully under the fingers leading to playing styles that are quite different to a traditional keyboard but I would worry about keeping such a material clean. At almost $5000 you really need to need or want this thing! I enjoyed my short play but that may be my last experience with this thing.

I watched a little of a performance with the SOMA FLUX which was interesting. This kind of expression is a mechanical challenge which SOMA have solved by using magnetic flux with the performer holding small wands (more like a thimble sized) called, “magnetic bows” which are moved over the suface of the instrument. No contact is required. Think of a cross between a table guitar and a Thememin. The performer was the inventer and was able to demonstrate the product well but I felt he lacked the accuracy required to provide a good performance. It is an instrument that would required levels of practice similar to that required for a traditional bowed instrument, like a violin. There is no price for this yet as it is still under development.

I played bass guitar into PandaMidi , a monophonic audio to synth converter as a hardware pedal with builtin synth. It also did CV & Gate output but not MIDI (which was a bit of a surprise). The pitch detection was pretty impressive even at low registers but requires some care to avoid false triggers and to play sufficiently hard to trigger. It does have adjustable sensitivity which had to be wound up full for my light picking. That is what led to most of the false triggers. It has a builtin subtractive softsynth and audio through mix. I was actually interested in the open audio hardware store next to it but this was a bit of fun. I can see that some people might find a use for this. I played something similar in the mid-80’s but would now recommend a split pickup and dedicated MIDI converter.

Something that seems quite popular this year is connecting bits of scrap metal to sensors, e.g. springs, times, rubber bands etc. You physically interact with the items that have their own mechanical properties and the sensor (transducer) converts to voltage and acts as a modulator with the acoustic effects of the material being tapped, stroked, pulled, etc. Springs have the obvious reverb effect. There were modular synth interfaces and whole instruments based on this.

There were also larger mechanical instruments that you played by touching pipes etc. And some that used metal plates or cymbals as speaker cones.