Well, here it is, the Lachenal anglo that Roy Whiteley has converted into a MIDI instrument for me, sitting atop the Roland XV5050 synth module I use it with:-
Here you can see it in the context of our "music room":-
And this is what it looks like opened up:-
Here are a couple of tunes played on it:-
The original instrument was physically in quite good condition with some nice features such as relatively new bellows, but the reeds were breathy and difficult to play, though sweet, and Colin Dipper had told me that the situation was irremediable. It therefore seemed an ideal candidate for what is after all a once for ever conversion.
I should say that this still an ongoing development project, because this is the first such anglo conversion that Roy has done, and so we have been working closely together to get the performance characteristics right. The way that this thing works is that switches detect when buttons are pressed and a pressure sensor in the bellows detects which way they are moving and the amount of pressure the player is applying. This of course is not the same as the "feel" of real reeds (there are no reeds in this beast), so to produce something that feels like a traditional instrument requires a lot of clever programming by Roy for the PIC microcontroller that can be seen in the bottom picture. This in turn requires Roy to listen a lot to what I say about the feel of the instrument as I play it. Fortunately Roy is a good listener, and after several iterations we are getting pretty close to the feel I am looking for.
At the time of writing I feel that there are a few more tweaks, but we are very close now, and I can play it with real pleasure. Those who follow after me and get anglo no. 2 and greater will benefit from all this, but they'll miss the fun of getting there in the first place.
Roy also wrote a manual to go with it, which is here if you have MS Word or Open Office (warning: 1.4 Mb). It's not quite up-to-date, since we have made changes since version 1, but it will give a good grounding in what it offers. The two sound clips above give an inkling of what it can do when matched with a good synthesiser. It's a splendid piece of kit and I am really pleased with it. Talk to Roy if you want one of your own.
Chris Timson - 10th September 2005
ADDITION - 11th September
I forgot to say just how much fun the beast is. Well, it is! You can waste hours just noodling around playing different tunes in different voices and just enjoying the sound you make (whether Anne enjoys the sound I make is an open question - so far she has been discreetly silent on the issue). It's not going to replace my other concertinas, ever, but it's not intended to. It gives me something different - the ability to make strange noises in a hopefully musical manner for pure pleasure. Later, in the context of a band it might give me the ability to vary arrangements with new sounds that I would not otherwise have access to. Don't buy one of these as your first instrument, but buy one if you are a confident concertina player who wants to expand their musical horizons while having a lot of fun en route.
ANOTHER ADDITION - 30th September
Since I wrote the above Roy has worked hard at debugging the program and adding new facilities. In particular it now has a mode not described in the manual whereby it transmits pressure sensitive information from both sides on channel 1. Combined with its fairly accurate reproduction of the sensitivity of an acoustic anglo it is a joy to play. It's a cracking machine, and I love it to bits.
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