In 2016 a little French company called Joué launched a Kickstarter campaign for a shapeshifting instrument it simply called the Joué Board. It was one of a rash of new and experimental types of MIDI controllers that embraced emerging technologies like MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) and ditched more traditional pads or keys for large pressure sensitive pads. Joué and Sensel took things a step further by making the interface actually customizable. Both are essentially blank pads that you put modules on top of that mimic drum machines, keyboards, fretboards, etc...
But, the $400 price tag (and that’s just for the board with no overlays) and involved set up process probably kept more casual musicians at bay. The Joué Play tackles both of those obstacles by lowering the price -- $289 with four overlays -- and adding a companion app that allows you to quickly and easily start making music with built in sounds. In fact, if you ask the company, it think the Play will appeal to even those who can’t play an instrument, but want to make music.
The heart and soul of the Joué Play is the same as the original board -- a pressure sensitive pad with wooden sides with interchangeable silicone pads that have an RFID chip in them. Drop down the pad controller module the app will automatically switch to the rhythm track and load up a drum machine. When you’re ready, swap it out for the fretboard module and you’ll get a guitar sound.
Of course you can change the sounds to whatever you want. But the key here is that dropping down a new pad switches to a new track and loads up an appropriate instrument without you having to customize your on MIDI mappings. The app, which will be available on iOS, PC and Mac (but not Android, sorry) is designed to be simple and straight forward. You record a loop, swap the pad the open a new track and add more layers -- up to eight tracks per song. The app comes preloaded with “professional sound banks”, though we’re reserving judgement of their quality until we can actually test it out ourselves.
You can still use the Play as a standalone MIDI controller without the app. But you’ll have to know how to customize the controls in your DAW of choice. It’s here, that the Play has real potential to be more than just an expensive toy. The ability to fit an MPE-enabled controller with four swappable pads in your backpack for under $300 is pretty compelling on paper. Though, your DAW will need to support MPE to get the most out of it.
You can back the Joué Play now on Kickstarter for $289, with an expected delivery date of Fall 2020.