The recorder’s simplicity has made it ubiquitous in music education. Digital builders want to refresh it and make it cool – and no, this isn’t an April Fools’ joke.
Italian startup Artinoise is taking on the recorder as controller, musical instrument, and learning tool, with its new re.corder. Davide Macini, who has made the excellent boutique soundmachines line as well as working on the latest IK Multimedia synths (among others) is behind the project, so this is actually coming from someone with real experience.
And recorder joking aside, this has to be a new standard in affordable expressive controllers. Short only of using your own voice, there isn’t another way to get something this portable and this expressive and this affordable.
Recorders have become a mainstay of music education, because they are so cheap – particularly with mass manufactured plastic instruments. Recorders of course have a relatively simple playing method – just finger the right holes and blow, with fairly basic pressure control giving reasonably consistent pitch.
Unfortunately, that same blessing is also a curse; those cheap instruments don’t exactly exude character, and the easy of playing them kinda sorta in tune versus the relative complexity of playing them expressively and precisely in tune means that a classroom full of kids can make a fairly horrid sound. That was my experience learning with them, at least, and perhaps yours, too. A consort full of poorly played plastic recorders is not a lovable sound. Basically, the problem is overblowing. So it was that the wonderful wooden Renaissance instrument was replaced by a cartoonish post-war parody in plastic, overused in education without actually teaching kids intonation. (Read a detailed article on the topic if you like.)
The re.corder might just salvage all of this. It’s actually three instruments:
- An acoustic recorder, in the traditional sense.
- A digital instrument with its own sound, provided by app but using the recorder’s expressive and simple controls.
- A controller for other instruments, via MIDI or CV/gate.
There’s a mute plug that lets you play it silently for scenarios 2 + 3, which also gives the ability to play this without disturbing others via headphones.
The re.corder is hardly the first digital instrument, or even the first to have teaching as a key use case – Akai, Roland, Yamaha, and others have attempted the same. But those instruments don’t double as acoustic recorders, and they come from manufacturers who spread attention across a range of different instrument forms. The makers of re.corder have really focused on this single solution.
And then there’s the price, which was what allowed the poor plastic pipes to take off in the first place. The re.corder pricing starts at just 62EUR (with a 55EUR early bird price), and costs even less in bundles. That makes it competitive with other educational offerings.
Their Kickstarter has only just launched, but it already has mounted some impressive sales figures. That suggests people are looking for this combination of inexpensive, simple, and educational. The launch video is a bit awkward, but the point is taken – this is an educational instrument that promises to be taken seriously by adults, in contrast to what has come before.
I just worry a bit that their design looks a little like a Doctor Who prop, but I suspect the idea is solid anyway.
In addition to the acoustic capabilities, you get touch sensors, custom fingerings, 3D accelerometer sensing for added expression, and Bluetooth LE wireless communication with the app (or your computer or other gear).
Plus, as period recorder players can tell you (while their gamba playing friends struggle up the stairs), the whole thing is eminently portable.
Given you could easily spend twice this on a crappy plastic MIDI keyboard you’ll toss or forget in a couple of years, I do think this product might have some success.
You can back the project on Kickstarter now, and find a lot more details:
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