Critter & Guitari's Brooklyn-based workshop is the source of beautiful, if borderline esoteric electronic instruments. Its latest box, based on the colourful metal-and-wood design the company is known for, is fully programmable, so that those lovely lacquered keys can make any sound you want.
The new Organelle is perhaps the logical extension of the work C&G has been doing for years. Its playful design looks basically identical to the Pocket Piano and Bolsa Bass that came before it, with an aluminium case, 25 maple keys, and some knobs for twiddlin'. The immediately noticeable difference is the little OLED display at the top, which hints at the new instrument's programmable guts. As Peter Kirn neatly sums the Organelle up over at CDM: "The upshot is, the Organelle is like a more music-specific rival to devices like the Raspberry Pi."
This is a computer for playing music. The Organelle is powered by an ARM Cortex A9 processor running Linux. As with the Pocket Piano and Bolsa Bass, the new hardware ships with some preloaded sounds, but the hope this time is that people will load their own patches onto the device via USB. This instrument can sound like whatever you want it to. The Organelle supports patches written for the open source Pure Data music programming environment, and if all goes as planned, a vibrant community will arise around the Organelle.
As for other specs we should run down, the Organelle has what you would expect from a contemporary instrument: Stereo analogue I/O as well as MIDI over USB. It ships later this year for a price yet to be determined.
This hardly the first programmable piece of music hardware to ever come out. Shit, you could use a MacBook and a MIDI keyboard if you wanted. but what's always made C&G instruments attractive, besides the design. Though the sound might originate from computers, the things don't feel like computers at all. They feel like, well, instruments.