Zeppelin Design Labs has released the Altura MkII Theremin MIDI controller. The latest version of the Arduino-based, ultrasonic controller adds an arpeggiator / sequencer and the ability to store 21 presets. If you’re intrigued by the idea of controlling your synths like a Theremin, this gadget is worth a look.
Altura is an ultrasound-based MIDI controller that mimics the Theremin’s way of controlling pitch and volume by moving your hands in the air. It was designed to complement the Macchiato mini synth from the same developers, but you can use it to control any MIDI-equipped synth. And its use extends beyond pitch and volume, as Altura is capable of sending other control messages as well.
The idea of controlling synths without touching them is of course fascinating. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen anybody using Roland’s D-BEAM controller, so it’s obviously a niche market. But if you’re into alternative performance controllers, like the Instrument of Things 2.4SINK module or the Remidi T8, Altura MkII could be another worthwhile addition to your arsenal.
Two ultrasonic controllers
Zeppelin Design Labs Altura MkII can be powered by a 9V battery or an AC adapter. In place of the Theremins antennae, it has two ultrasonic range finders. The right one controls the pitch, for which you can choose from twelve scales. The left sensor can be configured to control pitch bend, modulation, velocity, channel volume, and portamento time. There’s also an X/Y mode, in which both sensors send control change data. As Altura is Arduino-based and open-source, enthusiasts can download and modify the source code to create an even more unique controller.
New features of Altura MkII
The new version adds an arpeggiator / step sequencer, which you can use to program 8-step sequences. Sequences are transposable and you can use the left hand to multiply the tempo. There’s also a tap tempo function. The second improvement over the previous edition is the ability to store and recall up to 21 presets, which will come in handy if you use the device to control multiple parameters on multiple synths.
Altura MkII is available as a DIY kit or as a preassembled device. The kit comes with a template for making your own cabinet, or you can purchase a ready-made one. There are many configurations to choose from. Prices range from USD 69 for the electronics kit only (no cabinet) to USD 109 for the electronics kit with a preassembled cabinet, to USD 159 for a fully assembled device.