TouchKeys Combines Multi-Touch And Keyboards For Musical Magic

The keyboard was a technological spin on the piano, and in that way really changed the instrument, but the keyboard itself has not really adapted to take advantage of modern tech. But TouchKeys, a new Kickstarter project that launched recently, introduces a way to add multi-touch input to any keyboard with a DIY kit, exponentially changing the range of expression possible when playing.

Created by London’s Andrew McPherson, the TouchKeys multi-touch musical keyboard is available in both DIY and pre-installed versions, and adds touch-sensitive surfaces to the keyboard’s keys that use capacitive input (just like that used in smartphone screens) to convey touch data that can then translate into vibrato, pitched bends, additional sounds and more via software plugins for popular audio programs like Kontakt, Logic Pro X and Reason.

The end result is that you can add a number of effects to your music that normally have to be added afterward or controlled via clumsy sliders and wheels while playing, in real-time, on the very keyboard where you’re playing the original composition itself.  Each key supports up to three separate touches, and the set uses USB 2.0 to connect to your computer.

McPherson developed the TouchKeys over two years at the University of London’s Centre for Digital Music, and at Drexel University. McPherson has ample experience researching and creating innovative music projects, and previously designed the magnetic resonator piano, a modified piano that can generate new sounds acoustically from the piano strings themselves (sort of an analog version of the TouchKeys in many ways). McPherson is an assistant professor in digital media at Queen Mary University of London and has completed graduate schooling in engineering and music at MIT, the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel.

touchkeysThe TouchKeys are going to be made entirely in the U.K., and the pre-built editions will be hand-assembled at Queen Mary and the London Music Hackspace, hence the limit of 50 on pre-orders of the pre-built editions. Pre-installed editions start at £660 (just over $1,000 U.S.), and both they and the kits should ship around January 2014 if everything goes according to plan.

It’s not cheap (the basic 25-key DIY kit costs £330) but it’s a unique experience for musicians and researchers that could be a precursor to a very different kind of musical keyboard to come, should the tech get commercialized and adopted by keyboard manufacturers.