Even though touch-sensitive digital music interfaces like Roger Linn's LinnStrument offer users access to whole new worlds of sonic expression, there's still something very appealing about the feel of real wood beneath the fingers. The Soundplane Model A throws cold plastic playing surfaces out the window and presents players with 150 walnut keys incorporating patent-pending continuous capacitive sensing technology, for a computer music controller with the feel of an acoustic instrument.

The 22 x 5.5 inch (560 x 140 mm) playing surface of Madrona Labs' Soundplane Model A consists of a custom-made articulated sheet of walnut veneer bonded to a fiber backing that can be configured as a 150 note keyboard - with position and pressure-sensing on each key - or as one continuous surface. The keys, some with inlaid position markings (like on a guitar neck), are encased in an FSC-certified, Washington alder body milled from a single block. The instrument is hand-made and tested in Seattle.

The 29 x 8 x 1.25-inch (740 x 200 x 30 mm), 4.6 pound (2.1 kg) Soundplane Model A is USB-bus-powered and can be played using fingers, mallets, sticks or anything that applies force to the keys. It's capable of detecting up to ten simultaneous touches across the x, y and z axes, and its 975 Hz sampling rate allows for individual note articulation and expression.

Madrona Labs has also developed some software which takes the raw signal from the instrument and translates it into OSC/MIDI, which can then be used to control computer software or other hardware. A patchable, signal-based Mac/Windows software synthesizer called Aalto is also available, which is built around a Buchla-inspired complex oscillator with controls to enable a wide range of distinctive and expressive sounds.

The initial production run of 30 units is available in the U.S. only at a special introductory price of US$1,695, with an 8-10 week production period before delivery. Madrona Labs says that units after this limited run will likely cost US$2,000 or less.

Have a look at the following video of the Soundplane A's first public outing at last month's Decibel 2011 in Seattle:

View gallery - 6 images