How did the AlphaSphere come to be?
There were several phases, but the basis of its creation was the realisation that there were no instruments designed for electronic music. There are electronic instruments such as the MIDI keyboard, obviously, but the design is based on the piano - the interaction mechanism, the keys, were designed to bash felt hammers onto steel strings. The AlphaSphere was conceived as a means of being more expressive with electronic sound, to 'play' electronic music.
Does it take a long time to become a pro, or can anyone play it?
The AlphaSphere hasn't really been around long enough for anyone to truly master it. Becoming a virtuoso will undoubtedly take time, but people can pick it up and get a decent sound straight away; there’s less of a barrier to entry than with some musical instruments. AlphaLive, the accompanying software, is designed to be intuitive and helps beginners get up to speed quickly.
You've won a few design awards - did you know from the start it would be a success?
Taking a call to say we've been nominated for an award alongside Google and Microsoft is crazy. Google has thousands of employees, and us – we’re just five kids from Bristol with an idea. One of the main reasons we developed the AlphaSphere is that everyone always reacted so well. When it was still little more than a concept people from all over the world started emailing us, asking if they could buy it.
What was the main influence on the unusual design?
It was about making an instrument that departed from Western tradition. It had to make musical sense but be fun to play. A sphere is natural and represents infinity, conceptually it works with the idea of 'infinite programmability', but it’s also a playable shape.
The piano is very linear - going from C,D,E,F,G,A,B and up to C on the next scale – we wanted to make an instrument that wasn’t. A circle around one ring of pads is an octave, when you play it from one side to the other it’s a perfect fifth, but you can reprogram it using the harmonic table.
How long did it take to develop?
From concept to product, it's been about five years. We founded nu desine about two years ago and have been working full-on since then. Although we've already sold out of the first ‘elite series’ run, we’re still finalising production and making a few tweaks - we have to make sure the electronics don't emit too much electromagnetism as it interferes with computers and speakers, we’re had to do a total redesign when production moved from our 3D prints to a manufacturer.
AlphaLive: the software.
What's your favourite feature?
The tactile pressure sensitive pads are probably the most groundbreaking feature.
What band or musician would you most like to see playing one?
There's this awesome Japanese breakbeat duo called Hifana who make their beats live with all kinds of different gear. We think they could do something really special with the AlphaSphere.
Can we expect more musical innovations from nu desine in the future?
Definitely. We announced ourselves to the musical instrument industry less than a year ago and the response was overwhelming - everyone wants to know what’s coming next. We can't tell what it is right now, but it's going to be immense.
For more on the AlphaSphere head over to alphasphere.com