The Artiphon Chorda Can Help Anyone Make Decent Music - Latest Global News

The Artiphon Chorda Can Help Anyone Make Decent Music

Artiphon’s whole thing makes simple musical instruments with an emphasis on instant gratification. They’re secret gateways into the nerdy world of polyphonic MIDI expression (MPE), which allows a player to give each note their own unique timbre, just as you would with, say, a guitar. It’s a technology that’s becoming increasingly popular and has been embraced by some pretty big players in the music world, but it’s still somewhat niche – and the entry price can often be high.

Artiphon’s Chorda costs just $250 and requires minimal skills to start making music. It’s an instrument vaguely reminiscent of the neck of a guitar, with 12 capacitive touchpads and a strikeable “bridge” on the surface. Inside is a relatively simple synthesizer engine that covers everything from chiptune leads to smooth bass and synth-pop drums. There’s even a sampler function for adding your own sounds. There’s also a pretty good built-in speaker, so you don’t need anything other than a cheap phone to get started.

The pads on top of the chorda are quantized to a specific musical scale, making things much easier for non-musicians. Even if you have no knowledge of music theory or scales, it’s pretty easy to just pick up chorda and do something halfway decent.

There are four modes: Drum, Bass, Chord and Lead. Drum is obviously playing drums. The bass provides monophonic bass. Chord adds a full chord to each pad, and Lead gives you a polyphonic palette to solo from.

Photo: Terrence O’Brien

In use

Navigating Chorda can take a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, most things make sense. Almost every pad has a secondary function for selecting sounds, triggering the loop recorder, changing tempo, etc. To access these functions, simply press and hold the A button at the end of the device. Some also require you to tap the bridge to cycle through options, such as if you want to move octaves up or down or change presets. Without a screen to give you visual feedback, this can get a little frustrating, but it was never enough to make me want to hurl the Chorda across the room.

One thing that is regularly quite frustrating is the looper. I won’t pretend I have perfect timing (there’s a reason I’m a guitarist and not a drummer), but I’ve been using various guitar pedals and Ableton’s push controller to do live looping for about 20 years . I’ve never had as big a problem as I did with the notochord (or Artiphon’s orba). I don’t know if it’s the result of too aggressive quantization or just very harsh control, but I’d say about 25 percent of the time I don’t get a perfect loop.

Top view of a slim black device with buttons almost flush with the top and a large round button with the letter A

Photo: Terrence O’Brien

Sounds

The sounds themselves vary greatly in style and quality. Between the four different categories, there are well over 200 presets, ranging from gentle Fender Rhodes piano sounds to industrial drums and ambient synthesizer leads. The synthesizer engine in the Chorda, like the Orba before it, is specifically designed for extremely low power consumption. This ensures smooth operation on the hardware and maximizes battery life, but it also comes with some limitations.

Chorda is at its best when it relies on its stripped-down nature, delivering bold FM leads and clean pads. It also handles the lo-fi limits of chiptune quite well, where even the meager processor is far more powerful than anything found in vintage gaming consoles.

More complex sounds, especially those that mimic acoustic instruments, can be a bit spotty. Bright Violin and Clean Guitar aren’t much better than what you’d find on a ’90s ROMpler (a sample-based synthesizer).

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