MIDI music scientists will doubtless be very familiar with sequencers, hardware or software used for recording, editing and playback of a series – or sequence – of notes, chords or rhythms. Many will also have come across an arpeggiator in their tune creation travels, which, in simple terms, is a feature of many synthesizers that takes the notes being played and turns them into a looped pattern. The Arpeggio brings sequencer, arpeggiator and synth together in one portable package designed for music melody composition, storage and performing on the fly.
"At our earliest design stages we asked how do we design an instrument not only for professionals to use, but also for drawing future electronic musicians in?" revealed product designer and Tangible Instruments' co-founder Charlie Lesoine. "How do we make something that feels inviting and inclusive?"
The result of those probing questions is a 3.5 x 8 x 2 in (89 x 203 x 51 mm) instrument described as being so simple to use, and the feedback so instantaneous, that there's no need for the kind of visual status clues offered by a display screen. The "blank sketchpad for melodies" has a modern video game controller-like aesthetic designed to make it inviting for beginners young or old, while the ability to use it as a sequencer for other synths and sound modules, or connect it to a full-size MIDI keyboard for full chord input, in addition to being able to sync to the tempo of drum machines or external clock sources without the need for a computer, will likely appeal to more seasoned electronic musicians.
The Arpeggio's interface features a 12 note, one octave keyboard that runs from low C to high B, with users able to move the octave range up or down, determine the length of played notes, change tempo, control melody sequences and alter synth timbres. Players can create monophonic sequences up to 128 notes long and save to a memory bank while playing, melodic sequences can be linked together, rest notes can be added and notes removed from a sequence – all on the fly.
512 memory banks organized into sets, songs and sequences are available to store melodic creations, with the player able to chain sequences together to form more complex patterns. Familiar up, up/down, down, down/up and random arpeggiator modes can be selected, a transpose mode caters for up and down sequence shifting and the Arpeggio also sports its own two-oscillator virtual analog mono synth (which currently runs a version of AVRsynth, but that's likely to change to proprietary code when the instrument gets released). Lesoine told us that the "sequencing, arpeggiating and all other functions are handled by our own code written in C."
Sounds can be output from the unit itself, courtesy of a Class-D amp driving a built-in speaker, or via a headphone jack for private practice or connection to powered speakers. A 0.25-in audio out jack has also been included to cater for onward connection to an amp or external effects chain. MIDI in/out and controlled voltage (CV)/gate out allow the unit to sync with or control digital or analog electronic instruments.
The Arpeggio can run on six AA-sized batteries for portability or AC power for long nights with only the creative muse for company, and at its heart beats an STM32F401 microcontroller and a Cirrus digital-to-analog converter.
A cross-platform companion app is also in development, which will allow users to connect to the device over USB or Bluetooth and get under the hood for some power play. The team plans to include the ability to create off instrument backups of settings, patches and sequences, edit Arpeggio sequences and patch parameters , export and share songs and sequences.
After 2 years in development, Tangible Instruments is now at the pre-production prototype stage and has taken to Kickstarter to bring its ideas to life. At the time of writing, backers will need to pledge at least US$179 for an Arpeggio. The crowdfunding campaign runs until November 1 and, if all goes to plan, the team plans to start shipping the first units out next April.
The video below gives an overview of the portable melody machine.