1/25/2014 2:17 PM
If you were at NAMM, you might easily have missed a percussion controller called the Jambé being shown in the KAT Percussion
booth on the convention center's top floor. Developed by John Worthington (former director of Apple's music technology group and part of the team who gave us QuickTime), it looks simple enough: a circular wooden frame with a head divided into numerous playing surfaces. It controls an iPad app that either produces drum sounds or passes its signals on to other apps on your iPad or computer. Sensors inside its internal electronics determines the Jambé's position in space and the angle you're holding it, which can determine exactly what kinds of samples it triggers. More than a simple controller, the Jambé looks like it would be equally at home in the hands of an experienced acoustic drummer or someone looking to explore electronic sounds.
Line 6's Amplifi
is a pair of guitar amplifiers, 75W ($400) and 150W ($500), that leverages crowd-sourcing to
select amp and effects settings you load whenever you want to play popular songs. The amp looks sleek and innocuous enough to be the high-quality Bluetooth stereo in your living room. The idea is that you open a song on your Android or iOS device—say, Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love"—and Amplifi's companion app will suggest a list of guitar tones for the verses, bridge, solo, etc. You select the tones deemed most popular by other guitarists, and before you know it, you sound like Jimmy Page (how well you play still depends on you). If Amplifi catches on, I think it’s a brilliant idea that will make better guitar tones more available to more guitarists than ever before.
Another product that impressed me was from Starr Labs, a company that makes alternate MIDI controllers for guitarists. They were showing the AirPower2, a new wireless MIDI transmitter and receiver that costs $299 and can send MIDI data from a strap-on keyboard controller to your synth rack or computer up to 150 feet away. I've seen a few such devices that actually worked, but none of them ever caught on because they were too expensive. This one looks like a winner to me.
Although it wasn't officially being shown on the show floor, I was especially pleased to see a new book about to be published: The Synthesizer ($35), by Mark Vail. You may remember Mark as author of Vintage Synthesizers, an essential text in the library of any self-respecting electronic musician. His new book looks like it weighs about 7 pounds, judging by its heft, and is no doubt chock-full of everything you ever wanted to know about the use and history of synthesizers, from one of the leading authorities on the subject. I can hardly wait to buy a copy.
Speaking of books, TC Helicon, known for its cutting-edge vocal processors (including the new VoiceLive 3), has gotten into the publishing game. Anyone who attended the company's press conference on Wednesday walked away with a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Singing ($25), a book aimed at vocalists looking for advice on performance technique, gigging, equipment, career decisions, health issues, and all things related to singing professionally.
Yamaha was on hand, as always, taking up an entire wing of the Anaheim Marriott Hotel, right next door to the convention center. The latest piece of technology that captured my imagination was the TransAcoustic piano, a combination acoustic and digital piano that uses its soundboard and body as the transducer when playing non-acoustic sounds. Yamaha calls it an acoustic piano with a volume control and a digital piano with strings. The U1TA upright should be available in April, with a grand to follow later.—Geary Yelton