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15 October 2009, 09:37

Eigenlabs to open source new music control protocol and API

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Zoom The Eigenharp Alpha
Source: Eigenlabs

Eigenlabs, the designers of a major new electronic musical instrument system based around a music controller called the Eigenharp, are planning to release the control protocol and API used with the system as open source early in 2010.

The Eigenharp does not use the ubiquitous MIDI standard to control recording and sound generation software, but Eigentalk, a new high performance protocol developed by Eigenlabs. Releasing as open source should encourage adoption of the system on its way to becoming a possible replacement for the now ageing MIDI.

The Eigenlab controllers connect to a base station using 4 core, standard star quad microphone cable, which can be up to 40M in length. USB2 is used to connect the base station to a host – at the moment only Apple Macs are supported. Within the host system, communication is via Eigentalk, the native protocol used between agents (Eigenlabs software components) which can run over standard Ethernet cables.

The API supports Eigenlabs equivalent of AU (Apple's Audio Units) or VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plug-ins, hosted in the Eigenlabs software, EigenD. Although MIDI, AU and VST are not the native protocol and plug-ins, EigenD does support gateways for them.

The Eigenharp is available in two models; the Eigenharp Alpha and the entry level Eigenharp Pico. The Alpha resembles a cross between a Chapman stick and a bassoon and has 120 playing keys, 12 percussion keys, two strip controllers and a breath pipe. The Pico looks a little like a Melodica and has 18 playing keys, 4 mode keys, a strip controller and breath pipe. The Eigenharp Alpha costs around £4000, while the Eigenharp Pico is £350; both controllers ship with the necessary cables, base station and an 8GB USB stick loaded with latest install software and getting started tutorials.

Eigenlabs is a start-up company founded by John Lambert in 2001 and based in Devon UK. In an interview on the Create Digital Music blog, Lambert said of the Eigenlabs software that it's "written in a mixture of C++ and Python. It’s quite scary code, but very clean and pretty, with little ‘cruft’. I think the open source community are going to have fun with it. Its a big system too, 8 years of R&D in one huge release. I don’t think that there’s been anything quite like this open sourced before in the music world – it is a bit as if Logic or Ableton were GPL’d tomorrow."

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