dination meetings. He was a friendly, soft-spoken
young man in his mid-30s. He exuded confidence
and frequently redirected some of our activities.
The design problem for this intricate bundle of
electronics hardware and software was twofold.
First, musicians are rarely, and usually don’t want
to be, electronics engineers. They want to play. The
control panel had to look slick and be perceived as
simple to operate at performance time. We needed
to bury the inherent complexity. Second, there were
actually three levels of complexity from the point of
view of the musician-user. Besides the performance
time instrument, there were the pre-performance
setup requirements. Contemporary professional
musicians use sequences—repetitive series of notes
in selected “voices” that are pre-programmed and
can be selected quickly and introduced into the
performance as repetitive background accompaniment. Like organists, the keyboard players want to
be able to call up different sound effects while playing. Some of these to-be-called features were made
directly available on the panel, but others had to be
assigned to buttons ahead of time. Besides pre-performance setup, the more sophisticated user was
also given the capability to record new sounds or to
modify or adapt a factory-preset library of sounds.
Oh, I forgot to mention an additional design problem. Because of cost considerations—remember,
this was 1982—we were told, in spite of protests,
that we were limited to a one-line, 16-character
LED display with which to communicate all of these
interactive control activities.
At performance time, the user was given direct
access to controls needed in the course of a “gig”
through sliders, wheels, buttons, and foot pedals. A
digital number pad was used to call up prearranged
sequences and keyboard assignments rapidly. For
example, the keyboard could be “split” and have
different instrument sounds assigned to different
blocks of keys. Some numbers were assigned to factory presets and many more to user-defined presets.
For setting up keyboards, the time and effort constraints associated with live performance could be
relaxed. We utilized the display to provide specific
prompting of what to do next at each step. Preparing
pre-recorded sequences was handled similarly.
The more difficult problem was providing access
for purposes of creating new or modified versions
of the stored keyboard layouts, i.e., the detailed features of stored sequences of notes and the parameters that make up each instrument sound specification. This was accomplished by thinking of the keyboard layout in terms of a spatial, two-dimensional
matrix with different keyboard layouts arrayed
vertically while horizontally, the detailed parameter
specifications of key assignments were provided.
The 16-character display could present only one
cell of this matrix at a time, plus enough information to identify the context. The user employed the
left-right and up-down arrow keys to move freely
November + December 2008
• Artist’s original
conception of the Kurzweil