During my freshman year at Penn I built a neat little instrument with my friend Dave Sharples. Dave needed a senior design project, and I needed a final project for an embedded systems class I was taking that semester. Dave is a DJ and was interested in lowering the learning curve for playing synths, I am a guitarist who was, at the time, experimenting with other instruments. The traditional piano key layout requires a larger set of muscle memory to cover the same musical language when compared with a guitar in standard tuning, which shifts focus away from the music and toward the mechanics of playing. I was also aware of tunings such as the Stanly Jordan tuning and isomorphic layouts such as those used on the AXiS keyboard.
We designed and built Joytone to experiment further with the idea of isomorphic key layouts. The Joytone uses the Park layout which prioritizes triad locality, making chords and chord alterations intuitive to find in any key. Dave's experience with DJ equipment influenced the design as well; the direction of the joysticks control timbre while squared distance controls volume, which is similar from a degrees-of-freedom perspective as a programmed synth, but playable in a live setting. We also had plans for a sick menu-driven display and LED playalong guidence.
We presented Joytone at CIS and DMD senior designs, gave interviews to Linux User & Developer magazine, Make magazine, and were featured on the Raspberry Pi blog. Joytone is now on display outside the ESE office at Penn. Most of the insides were cannabalized for other projects.