March 15, 2006
../ New Jammer Controller Announced
After spending over two years and $1.5 million on its development, Thumtronics,
an Australian concern, has developed a new electronic musical instrument called the Jammer. About the size of a paperback book, the Jammer combines
an arrangement of note-controlling buttons with thumb-operated expressive controls.
Black joystick controls, on the side, allow unique performance modulations in real time
At a recent demonstration in Perth, Thumtronics showcased a prototype to dozens of
musicians and came away confirmed that the Jammer is more expressive, easier to learn, and more musically stimulating than other current products based
on user feedback. The Jammer's superpower is what Thumtronics calls "Field Of Expression."
The Jammer has several expression controls that can used simultaneously on the polyphonic
instrument. Today's users are familiar with keyboard expression pedals and modulation wheels, but Thumtronics is trying to
take the whole idea of expressive control to the next level by incorporating two thumb
joysticks that can be used along with expression pedals and other modulators.
If that wasn't enough, Thumtronics has devised a new methodology for playing music based on
a Isomorphic Note Layout, "any two elements that together sound the same musical interval also have the same spatial interval relative to each other."
So on the Jammer's "keyboard" any given musical interval has the same shape wherever it occurs. It gets pretty freaky from here, but the idea is
that playing chords and transitioning from different keys is logical based on the Isomorphic layout.
CEO of Thumtronics, Jim Plamondon translates, "Basically, that means that a given scale, chord
progression, or even an entire song has the same fingering in every key. Many of music theory's abstract concepts appear as simple patterns on the Jammer's keyboard"
allowing for easier comprehension and faster learning.
The Jammer's Isometric Layout
A dozen prototype Jammers are in the hands of top musicians today, with hundreds of new
prototypes becoming available this Spring. But is the Jammer a controller or an instrument? "It is a MIDI controller, by way of USB. That is, it sends
a non-MIDI control data stream via USB to its host computer, which interprets that data and then transmits it as MIDI to the musician's software or hardware
synth(s)," according to Plamondon. The commercial model is expected to be globally available in September/October 2006 after Thumtronics receives
another infusion of investment capital.
Dr. Sam Leong, Director of Music Education at the University of Western Australia and
Co-Director of the recently-completed National Review of School Music Education, stated "I have not seen any innovation with as much potential to revolutionize
music education. The Jammer could transform the musical landscape in the 21st century." No price has been announced. For more information hit
The Future: Thumtronics certainly has an uphill battle to climb. In addition to
needing a new round of investment to keep the company afloat, Thumtronics has the immense task of educating the public on an entirely new way of playing
music. Hundreds of start-ups and several big manufacturers have attempted such a feat, but only a handful actually Stick.
The idea is a provocative paradigm shift, but will the instrument be compelling enough to generate enough user interest?
And then there's the name...
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