Eigenharp Alpha, Pico demo and mind-blowing concert (hands-on)

Remember the Eigenharp Alpha and Pico that we broke news of last week? Sure you do, but we bet you still haven't a clue how those long, elegant sticks work. The forty employees at Eigenlabs probably heard us simultaneously scratching our heads so they kindly invited us to their London studio for a quick demo, and boy, those musical wands look great up close, not to mention their remarkable flexibility for user configuration as well. John Lambert, Founder and Chairman of Eigenlabs, managed to sneak out of his busy schedule to give us the lowdown on the Eigenharps. It all started in his Devon barn about eight years ago and over time the Alpha was groomed into a 132-key beast, followed by the recently-developed, self-explanatory Pico. The defining character of both Eigenharps lies in their "completely new sensor technology" consisting of pressure sensitive keys, that can do dual-axis vibrato (not dissimilar to string instruments), accompanied by strip controllers for applying filters or pitch bend, or anything at all depending on how you configure them on their Mac software suite (Windows-support due in January). Likewise with the breath pipe: once you've loaded your library and presets you can switch from a Kenny G to a Daft Punk at the simple click of a key. Heck, you can even configure the air pressure sensitivity as well if you're tickling for a soft mood, or just feeling lazy. And those funky LED lights, you ask? Well, they're actually indicators for the different modes you're in rather than just being pretty. Watch the walkthrough videos after the break and you'll get a better idea.


As you can see, Eigenlabs' very own musicians made it look easy – even Lambert's eight-year-old daughter can play both the Alpha and the Pico, apparently – and it took them just five days of tutorials before they could start playing all-time hits like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", and within a month they were already jamming like pros. When it was our turn for the hands-on, we weren't entirely sure where to start with the sea of very sensitive keys at the top. Those wobbly keys are totally alien to this piano and saxophone player. And don't let the name fool you either, we're pretty certain that the experience on the Eigenharps is nowhere near one of plucking an ordinary harp. Once we got past that stage we were already playing all sorts of scales, only because you can easily switch between them using preallocated keys for each. Some might say this is cheating but you know they're just jealous. At this rate we'd agree that a week of continuous practice would be sufficient to master the basics of the instruments, before dedicating more time to understanding the software suite (which we didn't play with).

In terms of weight, the Alpha is surprisingly lighter than the average electric guitar at just 5.82 lbs. If you'd rather be standing up instead of playing the Alpha sitar-style, the supplied leather strap does let you walk around while doing a hinged windmill with the $6,302 instrument. Sure, your sober minds might not be so keen on that, but word has it that Eigenlabs already has a stream of very rich clients (read: rock stars) signing up for pre-orders with plans to take the instruments to concert stages over the next six months. We'll let you guess who these guys might be. As for the somewhat affordable USB-powered Pico ($557) we find it much easier to handle as total newbies for obvious reasons, and despite the same tactile feedback, the much smaller number of keys will definitely be a problem for sequence programming on the go, as well as being limited to just one instrument selection across the panel each time. If you still fancy giving it a shot, the Pico is slated for a November 9th release – exactly one month before its big brother's official debut though both are now available for pre-ordering. Until then, enjoy our very own free concert performed by Eigenlabs musicians, David Kemp, Mark Wilson and Finlay Crowther: