A website for the creative works of Jacob Duringer

   Author, Inventor, Composer

The History of The Monolithic Two-dimensional Keyboard

At the age of 19 I stacked 3 keyboards on top of each other and attempted to play them simultaneously. The resultant sound inspired me to realize that the one-dimensional piano keyboard severely limited the multi-timbral capabilities of the synthesizer. I decided to expand the keyboard into two dimensions, variable pitch in the x-axis like the piano AND variable timbre in the y-axis. I envisioned that a synthesist could perform entire arrangements of music, all the instruments and all the parts, such as a symphony, by manual fingering in two-dimensions instead of tracking each part and building up a composition in the studio.I am happy to report that this is exactly what can now be acomplished, although it did take almost 30 years of research and development.
I invented the Monolith (on paper) in 1976. In 1980 I developed the first prototype. I used an ARP 2500 and 2600 for synthesizers. In 1982 I designed and built my own bank of analog synthesizers and created the 2nd generation Monolith prototype. In 1985 I developed a touch-capacitance keyboard (3rd generation prototype) but found the tactile feel unnatural.
In 1994 I developed the 4th generation prototype, a midi version, and the one I have used on my albums and videos. This prototype is now 23 years old and still going strong!

The Monolithic Two Dimensional Keyboard

The musical keyboard has not evolved much since its creation. The reason for this is simple: there has been no overwhelming reason for changing the design. But what happens when musical technology exceeds the capability of the fingering interface mechanism - namely, the piano keyboard? The new technology adapts to the accepted interface mechanism. In order to compose multi-timbral music using the piano keyboard, composers have been forced to utilize multi-tracking or programming techniques. As a result, the use of new musical technology - mainly synthesizers - has become an art form that is executed and performed in the studio rather than the stage.

The use of synthesizers in studio-based multi-tracked production has been embraced by artists and academics, but has not largely been accepted by the general public.

I believe the main reason for this is that the public is interested in individual skill and performance. What is needed is a new keyboard designed especially for use in live performances with synthesizers. It is my opinion that, if a new keyboard is to be widely accepted, it must (1) offer a substantial advantage over the current keyboard that would motivate keyboardists to switch to the new design; (2) modify or add to the existing piano technique and curriculum rather than detracting from it; and (3) be as accessible to the public as the standard piano keyboard.

I offer a solution that satisfies the above requirements: The Monolithic Two-Dimensional Keyboard, or Monolith for short. This new MIDI keyboard is based upon a simple idea,: that of expanding the one-dimensional piano keyboard (which has a fixed timbre and sequential pitch changes in the X-axis) into two-dimensions (offering sequential pitch variation in the X-axis AND timbre variation in rows parallel to the first row. Each row of keys offer the possibility of different instruments in the Y-axis.

The standard piano chromatic structure remains unchanged. The whole and semi-tone keys are placed side by side rather than being set apart from each other as they are on the standard piano keyboard. The new keyboard maintains the same length per octave as the standard piano keyboard, which allows for preservation of piano fingering technique. The keys are all equal in width, facilitating easier and more linear fingering than is possible with the piano keyboard. The key length on the Monolith is only that of a finger tip. The extra key length found on a piano keyboard does not serve a useful purpose for synthesizers since the piano keyboard originated from the cantilever action of the hammer-string mechanism. Thus, the new keyboard has been reduced to a thin strip of keys. Note however, that the piano structure and scaling is left entirely intact.

With this new design other rows of keys can be arranged above or below the first row. These rows of keys are manually accessible by moving the finger horizontally AND vertically. Now two adjacent fingers can play different rows of keys, each row assigned to a different MIDI channel and processed through a different timbre or instrument. The Monolith engineering prototype, 4th generation, contains 15 rows each of 4 octaves of keys.  

Since each row can be a different instrument the performer is effectively playing an entire arrangement of a musical composition, not just a part. At any moment in time the performer can change the timbre and pitch of multiple instruments simultaneously. 

The Monolithic Two-Dimensional Keyboard is still in the prototype phase and is not in production. If you would like to be  kept abreast of its manufacturing status or are interested in bringing this instrument to fruition for others to enjoy please put your contact information on the guestbook web page.
Here are some early recordings featuring The Monolith, Electric Guitar, and Drums - all performed by Jacob Duringer
Jacob Duringer in the recording studio on the 4th generation Monolith MIDI prototype in 2009.
Jacob Duringer with 4th generation Monolith MIDI prototype in 1994.
Jacob Duringer with 3rd generation Monolith touch capacitance activation prototype. (1985)
Jacob Duringer with 2nd generation prototype and self-designed and built analog banks of synthesizers in 1982.
1st generation Monolith prototype (1981).