Matthew’s Linnstrument Page

screenshot of a fragment of a chord diagram

Linnstrument Chord Reference

Printable Chord Diagrams for the Linnstrument, or any other instrument using a fourths-based note grid

I’ve held a long fascination with more expressive methods for controlling synthesizers, and in the early 00’s repurposed the Drawing Tablet I used for graphics work as a synthesizer controller with Max/MSP, though I didn’t really know what I was doing either musically or in terms of making synths.

But the ability to use two pens to get simultaneous x, y, pressure and tilt signals for each pen seems like such a visceral improvement over to me over MIDI keyboards. Indeed, before MPE, controllers using MIDI were limited in expressive possibilities by constraints of the protocol, which was designed around keyboard controllers.

I tried mapping a few novel interfaces into controllers in Max/MSP: Joysticks, Wii Remotes, a Power Glove I got at a garage sale. Ultimately I found them difficult to master, for similar reasons to why it’s hard to play a theremin well. It seems gloves are back though.

I yearned instead for one of the deliberate controllers that worked similar to hertiage instruments, such as the Haaken Continuum or the Eigenharp, but they were priced way out of my range.

When the Snyderphonics Manta was released for a tenth the cost of an Eigenharp, I was entralled. It was only 48 individually capacative pads, no real opportunity for pitch bending, but it was my main controller for quite a while — at least for my own Max/MSP synth patches — and I learned a lot from it, and working with the Manta on a fourths grid encouraged me to also pick up a guitar, which I really learned a lot from.

By the time Madrona Labs introduced the Soundplane, I was working in tech and making decent money, so I ordered one. That it worked out-of-the-box with their Aalto synth (and the subsequent release of Kaivo). I still hadn’t gotten into a discipline of recording music, but again I learned a lot from practicing with it. Eventually I started running into frustrations in spite of the beauty of the instrument, particularly this item from the FAQ: Currently all simultaneous touches have to be more than approximately one inch apart from one another. This made some chord shapes very difficult.

Not long after, Roger Linn announced the Linnstrument and the MIDI organization was drafting MPE. It didn’t have the same touch/space limitation as the soundplane, and spoke MIDI natively, rather than through an interperter program. Eventually my frustrations with the Soundplane were too much — I sold both it and the Manta and got a Linnstrument, and I fell in love. That it coincided with my finally figuring out how to realize and finish the music in my head is perhaps no small coincidence. The Linnstrument is an instrument I think with, and I regularly hook it up to my iPad, away from the computer and its distractions.

Matthew Lyon 2023 — license: CC BY-NC-SA 4