Here's a new page containing interviews with some of the talented artists who play LinnStrument.
September 1, 2023
Fontaine Burnett is one of my favorite LinnStrument players, using LinnStrument for two-handed piano-style play. I enjoy his beautiful chord voicings, his composition, and the sensitivity of his playing. He appears in two of the “LinnStrumentalists” compilation videos:
“The LinnStrumentalists 2”
“The LinnStrumentalists 3”
He has also created two tutorial videos about his LinnStrument playing technique:
“Fontaine’s Fingerfood Episode 1”
“Fontaine’s Fingerfood Episode 2 - the Eight-Fingered Hand”
Fontaine is an American ex-pat living near Hamburg, Germany, and is a multi-instrumentalist who also plays bass, guitar, keyboards, lapsteel, ukulele, percussion, harmonica and sings. Here’s his YouTube channel.
Q: Hi Fontaine. I enjoy your LinnStrument videos, especially your beautiful chord voicings and the sensitivity of your playing. In your video “For McCoy”, you open with a graphic “On the Grid”, and I also notice that your studio contains some other grid instruments. Had you been drawn to the grid format before LinnStrument and if so, why?
A: Thank you for the kind words Roger…that sure means a lot to me! Yes, I had originally come to the grid as a compact replacement for keyboards. A few years back I had gotten involved in a couple of electronic music projects and also had been doing a lot of DJing. I wanted to integrate sample loops and play other sounds in my sets without having to carry a large keyboard rig along with all the other stuff I had to lug around. My first grid was the Novation Launchpad. At first, I mainly used it to launch clips, fingerdrum and play the occasional melody line. Eventually, I started soloing with it and added chords. The grid in the fourths layout immediately made sense to me because of my history as a bassist, and around 2019 the grid really started to become an important part of both my live and studio rigs, so I added the Akai Force and Polyend/Dreadbox Medusa to my setup. I had become aware of the Linnstrument but wasn‘t one-hundred percent sure if it would be for me. Well, now I am sure. It is by far the best grid instrument available on the market. So in the beginning of 2020 I took delivery of my first LinnStrument. Then the pandemic hit and I had a lot of time to get familiar with it. Becoming a grid player (and more specifically a LinnStrumentalist) has had a major impact on my musical life the last couple of years. I really feel somehow connected to the future of music making. I hope to see more and more musicians adopting the grid…especially young people. Maybe one day we‘ll see kids getting on school busses with LinnStruments in their backpacks. I think a LinnStrument is an excellent choice of instrument for beginning musicians as well as professionals. I would also love to somehow get involved in helping develop future generations of grid instruments.
Q: In your video “The eight fingered hand”, you discuss using both hands to play or arpeggiate more complex chords, acting more as a single many-fingered hand than two separate hands. I found this useful in my playing, and find it similar to how some jazz pianists play, blurring the line between accompaniment and melody. Can you say more about this?
A: Sure! One thing I really love about the Linnstrument is how it brings together so many worlds…the keyboard world, the stringed instrument world, the percussion world, the worlds of brass and woodwinds. When most musicians think about two handed playing, they generally default to the idea of the classic pianistic way of playing. That is, the left hand and right hand have fairly defined roles. Left hand does the low notes/chords and the right hand does melody/solos. Physically speaking this makes a lot of sense if you are focusing on the Linnstrument‘s keyboard heritage. But once you begin to get familiar with the stringed instrument logic of the layout, you aren‘t constricted by the left/right paradigm. You can take advantage of the notes made available by playing vertically across the surface of the Linnstrument. Both hands share the task of voicing the chords and playing the bass and melodies. As you said, the line between assigned roles blurs. In my mind, it is a more „guitar“ oriented way of approaching the grid. Keeping the hands closer together increases accuracy in your playing and makes it easier to visually keep track of what you are playing. That being said, there are moments where the traditional left/right way is musically more useful. I‘d encourage players to get familiar with both approaches and choose whichever one is most appropriate for the music and the moment.
Q: In your video “Fontaine’s Fingerfood Episode 1”, you state that LinnStrument’s string/grid pitch arrangement makes “the inherent geometry of music” easier to see. Can you say more?
A: Certainly! Guitarists are sure to be familiar with the concept of movable chord shapes. Closed position chords that can be transposed up and down the neck of the guitar without changing the shape of your hand. You learn the shape of the voicing in one key and simply move it to where you need it. The isomorphic layout of the Linn facilitates this even more as the intervals between rows or „strings“ are consistent. It‘s this consistency that reveals to us the patterns and geometry of music. Connecting lines of intervals create simple shapes. Using the eight-fingered hand we can add these simple shapes together to create more complex shapes and thus more complex harmonies and melodic material. These relationships remain consistent throughout the surface of the LinnStrument. An isomorphic layout is by definition „key agnostic“ whereas the piano keyboard (and to a certain extent the guitar) are biased toward certain keys. The inherent geometry of the western musical system is somewhat obscured on a traditional keyboard due to the fact that these shapes are always changing as we modulate from tonal center to tonal center. The grid layout alleviates this problem and allows us to see this geometry more clearly.
Q: Are you ever tempted to use LinnStrument’s touch expression for other types of sounds, for example bending a note’s pitch or using pressure to control loudness? If not, that’s OK— your playing is wonderfully expressive as it is.
A: Not only am I tempted…I actually do use the touch expression quite extensively. For those who have watched my videos, it might seem that I only use the LinnStrument for the merits of its layout, but in day to day use as a composition and performance tool, I take advantage of its incredible MPE implementation as well. Whether it‘s for animating woodwind and string sounds with continuous control or adding vibrato with pitch bend or modulating synth parameters with pressure, I use it quite a lot. I mean, why own a LinnStrument if you don‘t want to make use of these capabilities? :) Some of the videos that I have planned for the near future will definitely show more of me using the MPE stuff. That being said, no amount of bending, wiggling or sliding make for expressive playing alone. Subtleties in timing, phrasing, dynamics, emotional connection and (of course) good taste, all play a huge role in ultimately being expressive on any instrument.
Q: What advice do you have for LinnStrumentalists who wish to develop some of the skills you demonstrate in your videos?
A: Well, first would be to dive a bit into the history of the instruments that preceded the LinnStrument. The Linn wasn‘t born in a vacuum. It‘s a culmination of many centuries of musical instrument evolution and its corresponding playing techniques. There are a tons of skills that can be gleaned from the world of piano, guitar, percussion and more.
Second would be to train your hand/ear coordination. Connect what you hear to what you play. Learn to sing with your hands. I‘ve got a video about this coming soon…stay tuned!
The third thing would be to embrace simplicity. All complex things are really just networks of simple things. I recently had an experience while I was checking out some Bill Evans transcriptions. His lush and complex sounding chords and melodies were just so amazingly beautiful…breathtaking. Upon checking the transcriptions I was slightly shocked to see that most of the time he was using simple three and four note chord voicings. He was able to create the illusion that there was far more going on than there was just by implying these lush harmonies without actually playing them. That says a lot about how music is perceived and what we can do to excite the imagination of the listener…aural symbolism for abstract ideas and emotions. Both the mind and heart respond very strongly to simple input…so keep it simple. This should be one of the primary goals for he or she who wishes to master music; the ability to elicit with simple tools, strong images in the mind and strong emotions in the heart.
August 1, 2023
Jesse Washmon of Denton, Texas is a highly proficient player of LinnStrument and guitar, and has created many skilled LinnStrument performance videos of classical music. It is particularly interesting that Jesse chooses to play LinnStrument in a vertical orientation, rotating it 90 degrees while using the standard Fourths String Layout in this orientation.
Here are Jesse’s segments from two of my “LinnStrumentalists” compilations:
* “The LinnStrumentalists 3”, position 3:20 (“Elegie Op. 3 No. 1” by S. Rachmaninoff)
* "The LinnStrumentalists 2", position 2:16 (“Un Sospiro” by Franz Liszt)
Here is Jesse's YouTube channel, where you can see the full versions of the above segments, as well as many other videos. And here is Jesse's site.
If anyone would like to try playing LinnStrument in the vertical orientation, Jesse has provided information on how to do this on the LinnStrument "Tips & Tricks" page, under the tip “Play LinnStrument in vertical orientation”.
Q: Jesse, thank you for doing this interview. I’d like to talk about your use of Linnstrument in the vertical orientation. Why do you prefer this, and what do you see as the advantages?
A: Hi Roger, my pleasure! The Linnstrument has become a part of me and my soul, and I have you to thank for that! It is a wonderful instrument that is the closest thing (I feel) to recreating a piano effect from a pad instrument on the market.
In regards to the vertical orientation , this was a result of my experimentation in grid layouts and the efficiency of scale movement in the upwards direction. Ergonomically, on the guitar, we have significant dexterity when our hand and fingers remain in a stable position, while our wrist moves. I have always found vertical movement on the guitar, (movement from the low e to the high e or vise-versa) to work well with scales, arpeggios, intervallic movements, etc. With vertical movement, one’s hand does not have to change position and the fingers stay in a fixed position (mostly). I like to compare fingers to keys on piano or a woodwind instrument, in that the more they can hover over where they need to be, the better.
That being said, there is a great deal to say about horizontal guitar playing. Beautiful glissandos can be achieved - melodic inflections that mimic the nature of the human voice. Very efficient playing of sequences of close groupings of notes (i.e. 123, 234, 345, 456, etc.), which mostly can be done just as quickly as when done vertically depending on the sequence. My rule of thumb as far as this goes - if you have an additional hand movement necessary before your next finger is over the note you need to be at, you are not doing the most efficient fingering (unless you have no other choice). I’m sure there are exceptions to this general rule, but for the most part, it’s pretty true. I have not used the Linstrument in its horizontal orientation, though the power of its expressiveness in glissandos is very formidable and it stands as a pioneer in regards to electronic expressive capabilities in many ways.
The aspect of pitch range vs distance is important as well, this I feel the vertical format to be better suited for. With fourth intervals across grids, one is able to span the course of an octave in merely three rows. This, of course allows for an (almost) identical tuning of the Linnstrument to that of the grand piano (save for just a few notes). The nature of the bass section in the lower half of the Linnstrument and the treble section allows for the hand space to be split accordingly. Hand space can also be split vertically (i.e. left and right side). The latter is a problematic issue with the vertical tuning format, in that hand spacing in this regard is limited. A slightly larger grid, perhaps 12x16 would accommodate for this. Nothing is perfect.
Q: Given that your videos are of piano-style two-handed play, how would you compare Linnstrument's Fourths String Layout to the conventional piano and guitar pitch arrangements?
A: It's sort of a mash-up of both. I’ve thought about it a fair amount. Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages. To preface, I want to state that I am far more proficient at guitar than I am at piano, but I do play some piano.
With the grid layout, you basically get the congruence of the guitar (they are both grids, but one shifted a half-step up in one area of the grid) with the addition of a left hand. That’s a lot. When I was first experimenting with grid systems, I was contemplating playing an arrangement of Claire de Lune on guitar, but was dissatisfied with the transcription issue related to the guitar. The vertical grid format I developed solved that. I could have all the notes now! I could do this all without dealing with the asymmetry of the piano. Because of the natural symmetry of grid-based systems and my experience with the guitar, learning this new format was incredibly intuitive.
Oh yeah, one more thing. One consideration in Linnstrument playing is the option of different shapes for the same melodic or harmonic figure, which does not occur with piano. It is a guitar problem that I am used to, but is not an issue that piano literature addresses, which does add a layer of trial and error and guess work that would not be there if learned on the piano.
Q: Have you ever experimented with fourths tuning on guitar?
A: I have not. Though I’ve always been curious about it. I have a 5 string bass and have gotten a taste of it, though the scale length is different. I have always been interested in the development of instruments and instrumental pedagogy in regards to the structure of the instrument itself. How our technique is dependent on the designs, customs, and information we have available.
When I think about this subject of a fourths layout on a guitar, I am always reminded of Allen Holdsworth’s workshop at UNT that I attended when I was in my undergrad. Someone asked him the same questions and he responded with “That (the major third interval) is for campfires and cowboy chords. If it were up to me I would cut the bugger off”. That really enlightened me in the sense that I had never really questioned this predefined structure about the guitar. It also gives rise to a myriad of questions about the mastery of the instrument. For instance, we have a vast number of techniques that are dependent on the guitar's original tuning (ex. the chord solo styles of bop-era guitarists such as Joe Pass and Jim Hall, particularly on the first four strings). It’s sort of a chicken vs the egg thing that is also dependent on the nature and nurture of the chicken. A ten-year old Joe Pass was probably not experimenting with “perfected” fourths tuning systems. By the same token, the “imperfection” of the guitar’s traditional layout may have even be better suited to his needs (certainly the case for the full bars with high-reaching melody notes that Pass would make extensive use of).
I suppose the problem (if you call it that) is there is not much of a chance of these concepts reaching musical minds early in their development. Which is pretty true of most instruments (ire. different tuning systems on the piano). Though, there are plenty of musical dudes who will certainly figure it out later in their lives. :)
Q: In learning the compositions for your videos, what challenges did you encounter in choosing the fingerings that you used? Any specific examples?
A: Many. Some that I don’t want to remember. Some that I am very proud of. One that stood out in particular was in one of the final sections of Un Sospiro where the melody is placed above the broken chordal arpeggios in the right hand. I had to conceive of a fingering for the arpeggio that ended on the thumb so it could propel the hand forward to reach the next chord without taking too long and jeopardizing the overall rhythm and playability. I actually showed this exact example to some music friends of mine. I remember playing it for them and then describing the process of trial and error that it took to find the fingering. I first had to learn the section of music well enough to hear the phrase and have a strong visual conception of it, estimating the fingering. By nature of hitting the same notes and shapes enough, eventually you gain the dexterity to start making decisions involving physical movements and can begin experimentation with different fingerings. This process, I feel, becomes a force of will due to the amount of focus involved. Everything has to come together and you have to try swinging as many ways as you can before you hit the ball.
In addition, there are also passages that simply cannot be played as quickly on pad devices (or at least ones with narrow vertical orientations) as can be played on piano. One example of this is the cadenza passage in Un Sospiro that uses 2nd intervals and is played at incredibly fast tempos. I’ve concluded that this would be possible on a 12x16 or 16x16 grid, where both hands have ample space. This is another advantage of the grid format - the allowance of contiguous notes in different parts of the keyboard, which would solve some of hand spacing issues of the piano, I feel.
Q: You’re quite an accomplished jazz guitarist, yet your Linnstrument videos have all been of classical music? Why? Do you find jazz improvisation to be more difficult on Linnstrument?
A: I never really approached the Linnstrument with jazz in mind. I suppose I’ve gotten over the tendency to feel like I need to know everything about each instrument I play. I try to think of music as these spheres that you enter, and each sphere has its own little attractive gateways. Guitar, for me, was being at these late night jams at parties my parents would take me to and being mesmerized by sort of everything at once. Or trips to a jazz club in Fort Worth, a speak-easy in the basement of a building in downtown Sundance Square.
I suppose in an objective sense, it follows logically to use what I know harmonically and translate that to the Linnstrument. It didn’t really make sense for me in a musical direction. I found myself diving into piano-literature and getting an opportunity to explore a world that I knew of, but never anticipated immersing myself further into. The multi-media, artistic aspects of it followed suit due to the amount of time I was at home (COVID) and it became a foray as well into the realm of sound design.
Thinking back on it, I felt much of the same sort of mesmerization that I had felt in high school when I would see some of the best jazz musicians in Denton play. That sort of drunkenness and love is key, I feel. If you have that, you’ll do whatever it takes. The objective part really isn’t it, even though we like to fool ourselves that it is.
Q: I see on your site that you offer lessons on guitar, cello and piano. Have you considered offering Linnstrument lessons via video?
A: I have had a few people ask and one serious inquiry. I currently don’t. It’s a battle gauging how much goes into the organization of it on my end and the level or seriousness of the student.
Q: Any additional thoughts you’d like to add that may be of interest to other Linnstrument players?
A: Comfort and dexterity take time (for me at least). I believe this to be intrinsic to our emotions that dictate confidence and fear. Acting out of love, I find to be most use in accomplishing anything musically. In music, we can find hints and direction in others, but ultimately we have to go on the dive alone and hope we find some cool caves.
July 1, 2023
Jeremy is a very talented musician and one of my favorite LinnStrument players, as well as one of the early LinnStrument owners. I admire him for his beautiful solo improvisation skills, not only on LinnStrument but also on piano, guitar, Chapman Stick, and Zendrum.
Here are some videos of Jeremy playing LinnStrument:
1) “Jeremy Cubert Plays LinnStrument” (2016)
2) “The LinnStruments” (2018): locations 0:15, 2:30, 7:08, 11:14.
3) “The LinnStrumentalsists 2” (2021): locations 4:54, 3:39, 4.54.
4) “The LinnStrumentalists 3” (2023), location 4:22.
And here is Jeremy’s web site.
Q: Hi Jeremy. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you since 2015 when you obtained your LinnStrument, and was immediately impressed by your solo improvisation skills. Given that you already played piano and guitar, what drew you to LinnStrument?
A: I saw your LinnStrument demonstration at MoogFest 2013 and immediately saw how LinnStrument solved two problems I had using monophonic lead synthesizers.
First, LinnStrument combines all the expression features of a keyboard synthesizer into one finger - modulation, pitch bend, velocity, and aftertouch. Instead of needing two hands to play a lead synth, you could use one hand while the other plays piano/organ/polysynth.
Second, as a Chapman Stick player, I spent years learning the fourths tuning on the melody side of the Chapman Stick. While there was an option to add MIDI to the Stick, I wished there was an easier option. It appeared to me the technique would be immediately transferable to the world of MIDI and synths and it was!
Q: I was also impressed with how quickly you adapted your skills to LinnStrument’s pitch arrangement and pads. How was that process of adaptation for you?
A: My background as a Chapman Stick player was directly transferable to LinnStrument due to the fourths tuning on the melody side of the Chapman Stick. However, even the differences between LinnStrument and Stick expanded the playing options. For example, you cannot play more than one pitch on a single string of a guitar/Stick/Bass. However, you can on the LinnStrument. This feature opened up new chord shapes and double-stop features for lead playing.
For live playing, I sometimes play Stick and LinnStrument at the same time (bass part on the Stick and melody on the LinnStrument).
Q: I like how you use LinnStrument to play convincing wind, bowed-string, and guitar parts. What have you learned about using LinnStrument’s expressive control to achieve convincing performance gestures on these instruments?
A: The expressive capabilities of LinnStrument opened up new worlds for me. I finally felt comfortable enough playing wind and bowed instrument parts for my solo recordings because of the nuanced expressive capability of LinnStrument combined with, for example, the Audio Modeling plugins for strings and saxophone. I do not claim that these techniques can replace a real string or wind player, but they allow me to approach a similar kind of expressive play I would not be able to achieve on a standard keyboard. I have been asked to add virtual string quartets and solo string parts to various recordings.
For sampled guitar libraries (like the Orange Tree Sample and Impact Soundworks libraries), playing the fourth tuning and using guitar-like pitch bend techniques has given me much better results for acoustic and electric guitars and electric and upright bass virtual instruments. Harmonics and mutes can be achieved by setting velocity or pressure levels or using a pad outside the range of the instrument to trigger an articulation. Although I play guitar, my tapping/LinnStrument technique is better and I often achieve better results using LinnStrument than attempting the same lead part on a real guitar.
Q: Another part of your playing that I like is your unique ability to create overdubbed recordings in which you play all parts, but the finished recording sounds like a live ensemble in which the players are playing live together, responding in real time to what the others are playing. How do you achieve this?
A: I pick one instrument to be the foundation of a piece - usually piano, drums (played on a Zendrum), or Chapman Stick. I have a melody or theme in mind and improvise a track to a click in my DAW. I add the drums next and use the visual cues on the foundational track I recorded to help me hit accents, starts, and stops in time. Then I add a bass track followed by melody tracks. I use LinnStrument for all the melody tracks - everything other than piano and organ.
I have been working on two-handed playing more and more on the LinnStrument and I have started to incorporate that more into my recordings.
Q: Your day gig is as an intellectual property attorney specializing in life sciences, which would seem to require an analytical and scientific mind. But in your playing I see more of a free-form, creative and experimental mind. Do you see these two worlds as being similar, different, complimentary? And how does one affect the other?
A: I think they are complimentary. The skills I develop from the musical, creative, free-form side of the brain help me be more creative in solving legal problems. The analytical, scientific skills from my day job help me solve the inevitable technical issues one has using computers for electronic music.
Q: Have you used LinnStrument in live performances? Have you had to overcome any challenges using LinnStrument live?
A: I played LinnStrument live at MoogFest a few years after seeing your demonstration! It was relatively straightforward using LinnStrument connected through a USB cable through an Apple Connection Kit to an iPad - using a long cable allowed me to move around a bit. I used AniMoog on the iPad as my sound source and it was well-received.
I now have LinnStrument connected through an iConnectivity interface to a Haken Continuumini on the upper level of my keyboard stand - the LinnStrument stacks neatly on the narrow ContinuuMini. This not only gives me access to all the great expressive sounds on the Continuumini but I can use both the LinnStrument and ContinuuMini surfaces to play depending on what the song calls for and both can be played at the same time.
June 1, 2023
Jordan Rudess (of Dream Theater fame) is one of my (Roger's) favorite musicians. I recently attended a piano concert of his in San Francisco and both I and the audience were enthralled by his unique and extraordinary talents.
He also created an iPad app called GeoShred, which like LinnStrument has its pitches arranged in rows of chromatics offset by musical fourth intervals, which I call the Fourths String Layout. (Here's a video of him playing LinnStrument, using his GeoSWAM sounds for GeoShred.) In this interview, I ask him about his choice of this pitch arrangement and why he likes it.
Q: Hi Jordan— thanks for doing this interview, in which I’d like to focus on the 4ths String Pitch Layout, my name for the pitch arrangement used in both my LinnStrument and your GeoShred app. What do you see as the advantages for soloing?
A: Soloing on an instrument based on fourths makes a lot of sense once a player gets used to it. Being able to access an extended range of notes in a small amount of physical space is a powerful tool! Uniform finger patterns can really open up so many cool musical ideas and shapes! For anyone with Relative pitch, a fourth layout is ideal because transposition and general navigation of the instrument become a much easier task.
Q: What do you see as the advantages for chord fingering?
A: Let me start by saying that as a player I use my Geoshred instrument mostly for melody and solos. That said- those who would approach an instrument based on fourths for chordal play can find many very positive aspects to that approach.Consistent shapes are a big one. Once you learn any chord shapes, they remain consistent anywhere on the playing surface. Compared to a keyboard it’s a whole lot easier to navigate and find voicings. On a piano almost every chord (even if it is the same chord type) is a different shape! I also think that because the fourths layout offers an extended range, the playing surface can open up the possibility of discovering new ideas and fresh harmonic interest.
Q: You’re clearly an excellent pianist. How would you contrast the piano layout and the 4ths layout?
A: I grew up playing the piano from a very young age. It’s absolutely my first language and therefore very natural for me. The main difference is in the fact that playing the same types of chords and scales in different keys all have different fingering and this could be quite cumbersome- especially for someone who is just learning the instrument. I would think that the 4ths layout would be easier to absorb and get used to for most people!
Q: What about two-handed piano-style play, playing accompaniment and solo at the same time? I notice that you do this spectacularly well on piano, but you generally use GeoShred for soloing. Do you think the 4ths layout is inherently more difficult than the piano for such two-handed play?
A: The invention of GeoShred initially happened because I wanted to find a way to be able to go between a fretless type of modality and a diatonic one. I had Steve Vai and Jeff Beck in mind, and I was mostly thinking about soloing! I think it’s probably more about what you spend time practicing than one being more difficult than the other, I also think that each instrument layout naturally lends itself to different approaches and musical styles. There will definitely be things that are easier to play on something like the Linnstrument and Geoshred than piano and of course techniques on piano might be very difficult the other way around!
Q: Do you think that in 50 years, the 4ths layout will be in common use in instruments at that time? Or do you think the piano pitch layout will still dominate?
A: I believe that both layouts will remain vital to music making. They are both such a big part of so many musicians lives that I believe we will be using these for a long time to come.