Steve H Reports back from NAMM

Bill Burgess, Steve H and GW Childs at NAMM 2011 There's a wonderful underside of NAMM that doesn't usually get much press. It's the inventive, entrepreneurial side that I usually seek out when I'm  

Bill Burgess, Steve H and GW Childs at NAMM 2011

There's a wonderful underside of NAMM that doesn't usually get much press. It's the inventive, entrepreneurial side that I usually seek out when I'm wandering around what seems like miles of floors. This is where the small, independent companies show their non-traditional approach to music making.

In the limited time I had to explore I was able to find a couple of things I wanted to share with you. Next year, and perhaps if I go to Musikmesse in Frankfurt, I promise to allocate a bit more time to this truly interesting and ultimately appealing segment of the industry.

Read on to join my mini tour (with video) of 3 products I liked a lot from NAMM...


It's pronounced "bookla". I have a soft spot in my heart for the design and sound of Donald Buchla's instruments.  I've always considered Don the Stradivarius of synth makers. I first met him in 1976 when I found my way to his workshop where together we mapped out my 30 module, 200 Series Electric Music Box. It was quite an adventure for me. That beautiful "space-age" instrument became my musical life's focus. My mastery of it helped launch a career that is now several decades long. So here's a video I took with my iPhone showing some of Don's latest analog/digital hybrid modules. You'll quickly see that they are, by far, the most beautiful instruments every made!

Keith McMillen Instruments: SoftStep

I love unusual controllers. It is my main vice (other than a little poker and tequila). So when I stumbled (literally) upon the SoftStep I had to put down my cards and Reposado filled tumbler to try this amazing foot controller out. It's a Mutil-Touch controller for your feet with 10 pads that are sensitive to X-Y motion, rotation and pressure. Each pad can control up to 6 unique notes, CCs, Program Changes or OSC. It's small, light weight and made out of carbon fiber and comes with it's own programming software. There is nothing that this controller can't do. Let me digress:

When I was was in college I fell in love with a professional ballerina. She insisted that I study ballet. Anything for love, right? The reason that I bring this up is that had I stuck with ballet (we broke up after a few months because all she ever ate was diet Coke and it drove me insane)... (Editor's Note: Is this going somewhere?...)... OH, where was I ... had I continued with my dance studies I would really have been prepared to become a SoftStep virtuoso! Surprisingly, even with my clumsy size 12.5 feet I was still able to play quite espressivo with this well designed controller.

I'm definitely going to buy one of these (unless the good folks at Keith McMillen give me one for including them on this blog (hint, hint). So check out this video I shot of Danny Piccione, the SoftStep product specialist, who shows what this bad boy can do:

The Buchla Lightning III

OK. My attraction (or is it addiction) to unusual controllers continues...

As it turns out the Buchla booth was right behind the booth.  We shared the same back separator curtain. So when I heard some familiar, crazy sounds emanating form behind me I ran around to see the Buchla Lightning Controller III being demoed. This wireless infrared controller/instrument plays air!

It divides "real" space into many separate and totally independent zones. The performer holds a programmable (magic) wand in each hand to "hit" the different zones to produce all kinds of MIDI events to control either the Lightning's internal synth or any hardware/software synth you want!  Check out this video and let me know what you think!  Should I buy one of these too?  Hmmm.....

(Audio is muffled in parts of the following video)

That's all for now. See you next time....

Steve is the Executive VP and Publisher at NonLinear Educating, Inc.. His career encompasses a wide spectrum of the music universe. His TV scoring credits include more than 350 episodes, encompassing such award-winning productions including PBS's acclaimed, Reading Rainbow for which he composed the iconic "Butterfly in the Sky" theme s... Read More


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