Gizmag first heard from Claudio Capponi about two years ago when he told us that he'd started working on a new musical instrument. Development has continued apace ever since and now the Liutaly iV electric violin is ready for its place in the spotlight. There are already a good many electric violins on the market of course, but the iV stands out from the crowd by packing its own amplified speaker system, having its own power source and making use of a docked smartphone running music creation apps to access an almost infinite arsenal of digital sounds.
"Liutaly believes that future bowed instruments will inevitably be supported by technology," says the iV's inventor. "We are producing them now, without modifying the violinistic technique, the expressiveness, the vibrato, the portability, without annoying wires and heavy amplifiers."
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The first of Liutaly's instruments out of the starting gate is the iV electric violin, which marries modern materials and mobile technology with a classic form factor. The instrument comprises a strong and rigid carbon fiber body, an aluminum tailpiece, a maple neck topped by an ebony fingerboard, maple pegbox and scroll, and ebony nut and pegs. The neck, tailpiece and nut are interchangeable, so users can set the instrument up for four or five strings, and players can also opt to use favored traditional pegs and bridges.
It's built around a patent-pending technology dubbed the Self Amplified, Self-Powered Electronic Bowed Strings Instruments (SASPEBSI) system. This essentially translates to the inclusion of two upfiring 15 W speakers to the front of the chin rest, positioned between the left ear and the standard violin strings, and powered by a two channel Class-D power amplifier. Capponi reports that this gives the iV roughly twice the volume of a traditional acoustic violin. The instrument is currently powered by a 7.4 V/1,800 mAh Li-Pol battery pack, though the creator says that the system can run anything from 500 mAh to 5,000 mAh and can be powered via an external power supply, too.
The path that the signal takes through the electric violin is determined by the player using switches mounted on the body. The iV caters for four modes of play – analog, electric, synth and electronic.
The analog mode offers a natural, but amplified, sound by way of a piezoelectric transducer or magnetic pickup at the bridge with two-stage equalization, gain adjustment and volume control. The sound can be output through built-in speakers, the headphone jack or to an external amplifier/speaker system via a line out port, but the iV's sonic capabilities get really interesting when a smartphone gets to play with the signal.
Electric mode dials in virtual amps and effects running on an iOS or Android smartphone docked underneath the instrument and held in place using magnets. An audio cable runs between the headphone jack of the smartphone and an input on the violin. Internal circuitry then merges the signal from the pickup with sounds generated by the app and the output is routed to the speakers, headphone jack or line out as before.
Capponi explains that this method means that players are not restricted to different signal levels and impedances or have to deal with different types of smartphone connector. A user can also opt to route the signal to an external effects chain and then back to the instrument if desired.
The synth mode leverages the power of audio to MIDI apps for expressive synthesized voices. There are no physical MIDI in/out ports, but MIDI OSC is reported possible via the smartphone's Wi-Fi connection. Finally, an electronic mode makes use of samples and audio to MIDI technology to recreate the sounds of instruments like the saxophone or real world instruments like the Juno.
Liutaly hasn't developed its own music-making app, instead relying on the multitude of existing mobile apps in circulation, from Amplitube to ThumbJam and Loopy to Animoog. Most of those tested with the iV so far have been iOS-based, though the system has also been used with Samsung (Android) smartphones.
The player can select modes independently, or mix and match, and can even merge straight electric violin with combined pickup and smartphone-influenced sounds.
Capponi says that without amplification, or with the headphones plugged in, there will be very little sound from the instrument, only "low natural string vibration" – similar to that produced by playing an unplugged electric guitar.
Domestic and international orders for the iV are being taken from this month. Shipping time from order will depend on customization options selected, but costs will range between €5,000 and €7,000 (about US$5,600 - $8,000). An iC cello flavor is also on the immediate horizon, with other bowed instruments like the double bass and viola da gamba currently being considered for future development.
The video below demonstrates the creative power of the iV when used with the Animoog app from Moog Music.