We have all seen numerous quirky instruments over the years and now it’s time for yet another experimental gadget for music creation. Artiphon originally made a splash with the Instrument 1, a futuristic-looking MIDI controller that raised well over $1,000,000 on Kickstarter. It took a lot of inspiration from the guitar but incorporated support for MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE). Orba takes that mission of lowering the barriers to music making to extremes.
Orba lets you play every part of the song on a single instrument. Switch easily between Drum, Bass, Chord, and Lead parts, then layer them to create a song with the built-in looper. It takes just a few seconds to loop a beat, and then you can play along for hours. Orba adapts to the way you want to play, and there’s no right or wrong way! Orba’s touch and motion sensors combine to capture even your most subtle gestures. Pick it up and hold it, or just reach over and play a few notes while it’s sitting on your desk. Play it with one hand or both, with your fingertips or thumbs, or shake and wave it through the air. You can slide around each pad, or go crazy with some vibrato. Circle your fingers over the top like a singing bowl, or strum an invisible guitar.
According to Mike Butera, the founder and CEO of Artiphon, the physical side of Orba is largely complete. The remaining work is mostly focused on the software, but that’s a big part of the equation. Responsive controls and a surprisingly loud speaker are great, but on their own they’re not lowering the barrier to music creation. Getting the sounds on board and completing the app are a major next step.
Orba builds on Artiphon’s design theory of the multi-instrument: a single instrument that you can play as many. Where the INSTRUMENT 1 reflects traditional instruments like guitars, violins, and keyboards, Orba lets you play with simple gestures we use every day on smartphones, trackpads, and game controllers.
Right now Orba is basically a MIDI controller with a built-in audio interface. But even that is still pretty impressive, especially when paired with the right instruments. At one point Butera fired up a remarkably realistic physically modeled cello. The MPE capabilities of Orba brought the instrument to life in surprising ways. And the fact that the sound was coming out of the palm of my hand was a strange and unexpectedly enjoyable experience. It doesn’t hurt that the speaker is pretty decent too. It’s not gonna fill an actual performance space, but it’s loud enough to make conversation difficult when turned up.