AlphaSphere: The next icon in electronic music performance?

By Kira Grunenberg

Nowadays, it seems like there is a conference or expo for just about any industry or activity. The idea of, “if you can imagine it, you can make it,” which floats around many of these gatherings is how many promising concepts usually find their place in the world. Technology and free form thought have led to many gadgets and experiments; all capable of doing things previously thought to be only the stuff of fantasy. The Skube, Shimi, Kinectar and writing music with star sounds are each successful and radically creative examples –just to name a few we’ve engaged through SoundCtrl. There is a definite sense of integrating complex science with an intangible element of fun.

A young company out of Bristol, UK called nu desine, (pronounced “design”), has followed this suit with a radically unique, electronic musical instrument called the AlphaSphere. The minds of nu desine include specialists in music technology, hardware design/engineering, software development and electronic engineering.

Literally shaped like a sphere, the AlphaSphere breaks traditional barriers in both form and musical capability. The nu desine team demoed their instrument in April, at Musikmesse, self defined on its website as, “the biggest fair for musical instruments, live music and the music business.” Then in August, the AlphaSphere was nominated by Stuff Magazine for “Design of the Year” as part of the publication’s Gadget Awards. Aside from structural difference though, AlphaSphere’s attractiveness and appeal come from how it is played. Primary engaged through 48 pressure sensitive, circular pads, AlphaSphere.com’s “About” section explains manipulating the interface on  as follows:

“Play the AlphaSphere percussively or apply more pressure to unlock another dimension of sound control. The elastic surface provides a haptic feedback that allows you to sculpt and affect the sound, adding a new element to your compositions, productions and performances.”

Flexibility goes even further with the programmable and fully customizable nature of AlphaSphere’s accompanying software, AlphaLive. The sphere can be loaded with sounds from one’s own library or integrated with a DAW. Each pad can be given a different sound and there are no restrictions. Its main connector is a standard USB.

Not only is the audio programmable but how physical interaction occurs (e.g tap v. push) affects the sound and how the sounds are patterned across the sphere. These changes are executed via the sphere’s three program modes: MIDI, Sequencer, and Looper. The AlphaSphere can also be used as a master controller for additional audio devices that reside on the same online network thanks to Open Sound Control output.

Icing the impressive cake with a touch of color aesthetics, beneath AlphaSphere’s pads are programmable LED lights that can be manipulated to match varying amounts and types of touches to the sphere’s interface. Once again, the visuals and audio collide with entertaining results. This device offers such personal power that to see it as a new signature tool for the leaders of electronic music and modern composition certainly seems feasible. Maybe DJs will tote around spheres to gigs instead of just turntables or laptops?

Below is a video highlighting the AlphaSphere in action, explained by the creatives behind it. The current model being prepped for release (noted as late 2012 on the website,) is the AlphaSphere Elite, built in black or white. The listed price to buy is £1,000 GBP, shippable internationally. Just put down your 50% deposit here!

Kira is an old school music nerd with a love for all things creative; always searching for music’s common ground. She graduated with an M.A. in Performing Arts Administration from New York University. Drop her a tweet @shadowmelody1

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