Homemade EWI stand

Works ok.

There are a few stands commercially available for the Akai EWI, and lots of folks have made their own or repurposed other items. I wanted one that was inexpensive and compatible with the Hercules stands I mostly use these days, and decided to try the DIY route. I came up with something workable but not perfect, so I’m sharing my finished project in case anyone is inspired to improve upon my design (please share!).

I built mine mostly from 3″ (~7.5cm) plumbing pipe and fittings. (I’m including some product links in case they are helpful, but mostly I was able to buy these things locally for much cheaper.)

I bought a 2′ (~.6m) length of pipe, but only ended up needing half of it.
Cut mostly with a hacksaw, and refined a little with some files and sandpaper. Good enough.
3″ end cap, with a hole drilled to fit the bolt. The bolt is 3/8-16 (imperial), which fits the peg sockets in my Hercules stands.
Disk cut from EPS foam (“styrofoam”) and hot-glued into place. This is where the end of the EWI will rest. (The pipe piece is shown here inserted into the 22.5° elbow.) I picked foam because it is lightweight and easy to cut to shape.
Bolt secured with 5-minute epoxy.
This nut will help lock the stand in place on the Hercules base, sort of.
I didn’t bother gluing the parts together, since they fit pretty tightly anyway and I’m considering this a prototype. Some paint
…and some craft foam, secured with spray adhesive.
Works ok.

It’s more stable than it looks, even on this small Hercules base, because its center of gravity is so low. The end cap and elbow are heavier PVC while the taller part is made of lighter foam core pipe. As always, don’t leave instruments on stands any farther than you can sprint to catch them falling over.

Things I like about the stand:

  • It was cheap and not hard to make. The worst of it was cutting and shaping the foam core pipe, and someone with cooler tools than I have could probably make quick and accurate work of it.
  • Does work with the Hercules stands I already have. If you can figure out what bolt thread to use, you could easily adapt this to other commercial stand bases.
  • The instrument just rests in the stand, no clips or straps to unhook. Plus the whole upper key “stack” is exposed 360°, so the EWI is easy to grab even during a quick instrument switch.
  • No interference with any of the power/line/MIDI jacks.

Things that I don’t especially like:

  • On the 3-peg Hercules base shown, the stand has to be oriented as shown to stand up properly, which puts the EWI a little bit in the way of using other pegs on the stand. It works better on one of the larger Hercules stands, like the saxophone or bass clarinet stands.
  • Since the stand isn’t symmetrical like a typical flute/clarinet peg (because it leans 22.5°), it doesn’t always work to just screw it all the way into the base—it may end up leaning in an inconvenient or unstable direction. The nut helps lock it in place when it’s leaning the right way, but it’s fussy and not as secure as I would like (the stand tends to rotate a little if I bump it wrong).
  • It’s pretty chunky. I made a previous attempt to build this from 2″ pipe, which would work okay except that the EWI’s side keys protrude too much. (I did consider sticking with the 2″ pipe and making little cutaways for the keys, which could still be a possibility.)
  • The plastic-specific spray paint I used didn’t turn out well. I had trouble getting an attractive finish, and the paint tends to scratch off without too much effort. I’m not sure if the paint just isn’t well suited to these specific plastics, or if maybe it’s because I applied it in the extreme humidity of a Mississippi summer.

Anyway, this is a usable though imperfect design, and may be a jumping-off point for future versions by me or you.

Problems of wind controller sounds for classical performance

I’ve been working on a little Baroque repertoire on the EWI in preparation for an upcoming recital. It’s not especially common to play recital-type music on wind controllers—they are far more often used in jazz and popular styles—but I think the instrument has great potential for “classical” performance. (I mean “classical” here, and throughout this post, in the record store sense, not in the more specific musicological sense.)

My EWI is customized with the really excellent Patchman soundbank which seems to be more or less de rigeur for EWI players. It has 100 different sounds designed especially for wind controllers. But it has been difficult to find sounds that work well for me for the music that I’m trying to play.

Before I continue, I should pause to point out that I’m not at all criticizing the Patchman bank, which I’ve unabashedly recommended to everyone I know. These sounds are fantastic. And really, some of the ones that seem worst-suited to this particular application are some of my favorite ones that I’ve used in other situations.

There are also plenty of additional sources for sounds. I personally like the convenience of on-board sounds, rather than plugging into external modules or a laptop, though those are certainly viable options. I also am personally uninterested in playing sampled or acoustically-modeled sounds that attempt to mimic the sounds of “real” acoustic instruments; I want to play a synthesizer as a synthesizer, not as a substitute for something else.

So I’m looking for good synthy sounds that align with the aesthetics of classical performance. But many of the sounds that work really well for other styles of music have features that don’t fit classical music ideals of wind playing. For example, some of the sounds:

Continue reading “Problems of wind controller sounds for classical performance”

Quick tutorial: Telemann Canonic Sonata on EWI, à la Jeff Kashiwa

I recently posted a video of Jeff Kashiwa demonstrating the Akai EWI4000s wind controller. As part of his demonstration, he plays a movement from one of the Telemann Canonic Sonatas (well, sort of an arrangement of one).

The Canonic Sonatas are duo sonatas, with both musicians playing from the same part. (You can download free sheet music of the Canonic Sonatas from the IMSLP.) The first player begins, and the second player echoes, one measure behind. If you have ever sung “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as a round, then you already understand how this works.

Jeff Kashiwa plays the Allegro movement from the first Canonic Sonata all by himself, playing the first part on the EWI and using a delay effect to create the second (echo) part.  Here’s the video again—it should start playing about a minute and a half in, and the Telemann goes until about 2:40.

After the 2:40 mark, Mr. Kashiwa uses more sophisticated looping techniques, using some kind of external device. But you can perform the Telemann duet without any extra hardware, using only the EWI4000s’s onboard synthesizer. Continue reading “Quick tutorial: Telemann Canonic Sonata on EWI, à la Jeff Kashiwa”

YouTubeage: Cool EWI videos

Some of my favorite EWI videos. Enjoy!

Jeff Kashiwa explains and demonstrates the Akai EWI4000s to an appreciative audience. A little loopstation fun, with some Telemann and then a smooth-jazz tune.

EWI specialist Bernie Kenerson does cool stuff with an EWI hooked up to a vocoder. Continue reading “YouTubeage: Cool EWI videos”

Flexible EWI fingerings

With traditional woodwind instruments, the fingers work together to change the effective length of the instrument’s body tube by opening and closing toneholes. Woodwind fingerings at their most basic use the fingers in sequence. For example, a certain note might be produced with an “open” fingering (all toneholes open). When the “first” finger (the one closest to the mouthpiece) closes a hole, the pitch drops, perhaps by a whole step. Adding the next farther finger drops the pitch again, and so on toward the bell end of the instrument.

“Forked” fingerings, in which a lower tonehole is closed while one above it is open, often produce somewhat inferior results—notes that are mismatched in timbre and/or intonation. (Some modern woodwinds use special mechanisms to correct for this, such as the F resonance mechanism on a high-quality oboe.)

An electronic woodwind-style instrument, such as the Akai EWI series, uses a fingering system that is designed to be similar to a traditional woodwind, so that a traditional woodwind player can easily adapt to it. But this is an arbitrary choice. Since the instrument’s tone production system uses electronic circuitry and software, rather than a vibrating air column, the fingering system don’t necessarily have to use the fingers in sequence, and forked fingerings don’t have any inherent problems. The fingerings can be invented completely from scratch, with no acoustical limitations.

EWI fingerings are designed to draw upon the best of both worlds—the familiarity of traditional woodwind fingerings, and the flexibility of a non-acoustical fingering system.

Note that the current-model EWI4000s, using version 2.4 of the operating system, includes several fingering modes. The mode I am considering here is the “EWI” mode, as the “flute,” “oboe,” and “saxophone” modes sacrifice some flexibility for the sake of increased familiarity to traditional woodwind players. You might consider this article to be subtitled, “Why you should be using the ‘EWI’ fingering mode.”

The current manual (“revision D”) shows a mere 17 fingerings in its EWI mode fingering chart (11 chromatic pitches, with B-flat through D having fingerings in two octaves, and B-flat having one additional alternate fingering). But many, many more are possible.

We can consider the individual EWI keys as having individual functions, rather than being inherently interdependent. For example, pressing none of the keys produces a C-sharp:

C-sharp

Adding any key will alter the C-sharp pitch by a given amount:

key pitch change
(in semitones)
exceptions
LH 1 -2
LH bis -1 If both LH 1 and LH 2 are pressed, LH bis has no effect
LH 2 -2 If LH 1 is not pressed, LH2 produces -1 (this makes LH middle finger C possible)
LH 3 -2
LH pinky 1 +1
LH pinky 2 -1
RH side +1 No effect when used in combination with LH pinky 1
RH 1 -2 If LH 3 is not pressed, RH1 produces -1 (this makes 1 + 1 B-flat possible)
RH 2 -1
RH 3 -2
RH pinky 1 +1
RH pinky 2 -1
RH pinky 3 -2

If I press LH 1, LH 2, and LH 3, the pitch is lowered from C-sharp by a total of 6 semitones, producing the G fingering familiar to saxophonists, oboists, flutists, and clarinetists.

But that is only one possible combination. I could also produce a G with, for example, LH 1, LH 2, and RH 3. Or LH 3, LH pinky 2, RH 1, and RH pinky 2. These fingerings would be extremely unlikely to work on a traditional woodwind, but with the EWI the possibilities are wide open. As long as the total pitch change adds up to -6 (and accounting for any of the listed exceptions), you get a G.

Standard G fingering.(LH 1 + LH 2 + LH 3) = (-2 + -2 + -2) = -6 = G One alternative G fingering.(LH 1 + LH 2 + RH 3) = (-2 + -2 + -2) = -6 = G Another alternative G.(LH 3 + LH pinky 2 + RH 1 + RH pinky 2) = (-2 + -1 + -2 + -1) = -6 = G

These examples are illustrative but likely have few real-world applications. For a more practical example, consider trills, which among traditional woodwind players are a subject of endless discussion and books upon books of awkward, complicated fingerings. An ideal trill fingering involves moving only one finger, preferably one that can be moved in a rapid, controlled, non-awkward way. Continue reading for a musical example and sound clip →

Review: Akai EWI4000s wind controller

I recently got my hands on one of these:
Akai EWI 4000s wind controller

Believe me when I tell you that this is a seriously cool instrument.

Even after hearing and reading a number of rave reviews of the Akai EWI 4000S, I was pleasantly surprised by its playability, responsiveness, and capacity for expression. In my opinion, this is a real instrument, and a viable option for serious music-making.

A few highlights:
Continue reading “Review: Akai EWI4000s wind controller”