This video (1989) is the earliest surviving recording during the development of the 3rd generation Monolith prototype. Note the touch activated keys and bank of self-designed analog synthesizers. As much as I like analog I found that trying to keep 10 synthesizers in tune was a nightmare so I went to a digital design and MIDI protocol. In addition I abandoned touch activated keys because of the lack of tactile feel - so essential for a musician - and developed the current key switch actuation that provides similar travel and pressure feedback of a piano key.
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.