Backed Or Whacked: One Keyboard And One Harmonica Strike Two Different Kickstarter Chords

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Editor’s note: Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research and blogs at Techspressive. Each column will look at crowdfunded products that have either met or missed their funding goals. Follow him on Twitter @rossrubin.

Given Kickstarter’s mission as a place to promote creative projects, gadgets that have roots in the arts seem to have a particular affinity with the service. For example, hardly a week goes by without a device to steady or roll a camera gracing the Design section. Music-making devices don’t appear as often, but a pair of portable instruments/MIDI controller projects recently met with different fates on the service.

BW-qunexusBacked: QuNexus. Keith McMillen Instruments has been responsible for many firsts, all of which its namesake CEO can adeptly catch and throw in midair in QuNexus’ Kickstarter video. The company is a returning Kickstarter alum, having raised more than $165,000 for the now-shipping QuNeo, an iPad-sized MIDI controller that features multicolored, multitouch light-up surfaces for feedback. QuNeo brimmed with unmarked controls, such as 16 trigger pads, nine multitouch sliders, two rotary sensors, and a look inspired by the illuminated disco dance floor that John Travolta made famous in Saturday Night Fever.

If the QuNeo had a novel take on the drum pad, its QuNexus follow-on does the same for a portable MIDI keyboard controller. Most of its rectangular pads are laid out in two chromatic octaves that light up white or blue; the pads are sensitive to velocity and tilt. Unlike a conventional musical keyboard, you can press different parts of the squishy pads to bend the sound. (There is also a separate but small pitch bend pad.) The lack of much key travel on a keyboard-style MIDI controller may be more of a disadvantage than it is on a drum-style one, but the device is much thinner than a comparable traditional controller and less susceptible to having keys stressed during travel.

With about a week to go in the campaign and with already more than 50 percent above its modest $20,000 funding goal, the QuNexus is expected to arrive in the tapping hands of musicians next April.

BW-jamboxxWhacked: Jamboxx. The Jamboxx has nothing to do with the well-regarded Yves Behar-designed portable Bluetooth speaker devices from Jawbone. (The extra “x” is for x-halation). While indeed boxy (boxxy?), the Jamboxx looks a bit like and is played similarly to a large harmonica. It can not only be used as an instrument or MIDI controller but even as a game controller or, asserts the Albany, NY-based creators, a PC mouse alternative.

The Jamboxx was inspired by Dave Whalen, a musician and would-be trumpeter who lost most use of his hands — but not his drive to perform — after a skiing accident. However, as its Kickstarter page and video do not fail to remind, the Jamboxx is designed “for everyone,” including guitarists or keyboardists seeking a hands-free alternative to the harmonica. The Jamboxx’s creators – who are game developers by trade – have created a learning game to master the basics, as well as a pro software suite that allows Jamboxx players to model any instrument in any octave. The video demonstrates it emulating the signature bass lines from Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

The Jamboxx looks like a lot of fun on which to get hands, er, mouths. Sadly, its recent campaign raised only about $15,000 of its $100,000 goal. Some of that may have been due to its early backer reward price of $299 for a Jamboxx, about 50 percent more than the price of the QuNexus. But while it may be a bit pricey compared to many harmonicas, it’s completely reasonable for a novel MIDI-enabled instrument. As is the case for many other projects, here’s hoping it finds another path to production.