A few years back, mathematician and musician Jules Hotrique combined two passions to develop a new arrangement of musical notes called the dualo principle. After creating a number of keyboard instrument prototypes based on this patented geometric model, he joined forces with his computer engineer and musician friend Bruno Verbrugghe to form the Dualo Company in 2011. Last year, the startup sold 40 pre-production twin keyboard prototypes, and now the first market-ready du-touch controller (for computer-based or MIDI instruments), synthesizer, multitrack looper/sequencer and follow me song learning devices have started shipping.
"We aimed to build an instrument that's as portable as a guitar and as powerful as a synthesizer, and which also includes some features popularized by music on computer," Verbrugghe told Gizmag. "Many musicians say it's a true new instrument because of the layout of keys, which propose something different than a synthesizer based on a piano keyboard. This layout of keys is already validated by hundreds of musicians and teachers."
Verbrugghe says that the main idea is to split a scale into two groups, each containing notes that sound good together. The notes are arranged alternatively on the left and right keyboards. Notes on a staff line in music notation are to the left, with notes in a space on the right. Sharps and flats are arranged on either side of the middle notes.
"As our keyboard is isometrical, a chord color (a Major 7th, for example) becomes a shape, unique and invariable, whatever the key (tonality) you are playing in," he explained. "The shapes are easy to do because they are built with consecutive keys on the keyboard. The consequences are that a scale is represented by two shapes, one on each hand; the fingering of a scale or even a song is the same whatever the key (no need to 'work your scale'); playing chords is very easy; music theory appears very visually and makes it easy to learn and to understand."
The 2.6 lb (1.2 kg) du-touch features 116 pressure sensitive keys, three touch sliders and a number of mode or function buttons. The instrument is played or controlled by touching the hexagonal keys, stroking any of the three touch sliders and, as it contains a 3-axis gyro, by moving the instrument itself.
In synth mode, 112 instruments and four percussion kits are made available, and selected with the help of a two-line LCD display to the top. Two sounds can be layered, the keyboards can be split so that one side is set to high pitch and the other set to low, and several notes can be assigned to a single key for one finger chords. Players can also import their own sounds and loops, and make use of eight player-editable onboard effects, including distortion, delay, chorus and reverb.
The 8 track sequencer is engaged via the circular button out front, with the top eight keys of the right keyboard being used to select or deselect recorded tracks – green means the track is active, orange means it's on hold. Up to 58 songs can be written to the onboard memory, or saved to a computer running the company's du-station software over USB.
"We have developed a built-in system that lights up the LED under each key so you can learn each part of a song (drum, bass, piano, lead, etc.) just by following the lights," said Verbrugghe. "As we saw that it works great, we are also working on a video game."
The device is reported good for 6 to 8 hours of continued use between charges of its battery and, says Dualo's co-founder, "because it is battery powered, just plug your headphones and you can play anywhere, at anytime, without the need to start a computer." In addition to the headphone jack and USB, the instrument has a stereo output port, a MIDI output and can wirelessly connect to a computer that has a dongle plugged into a spare USB port.
The current production run has already sold out, and the next batch is due to be shipped in November. A du-touch can be reserved now for €990 (about US$1,260) each.
The video below shows the kind of musical adventures you can get up to when you've mastered the du-touch.