Wildly customizable keyboard unleashes iPad creativity

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The new Buchla Thunder layout for the Sensel Morph.
The new Buchla Thunder layout for the Sensel Morph.
Photo: Sensel

The Sensel Morph is a different kind of “keyboard” for the iPad or Mac. It’s a pressure-sensitive panel onto which you can slap various silicone overlays, turning it from a QWERTY keyboard into a piano, a movie-editing controller or many other specialized interfaces.

It’s a customizable, wildly imaginative input device designed for musicians, video editors, illustrators, writers and other creative types.

Sensel Morph

The Morph consists of three things. The pressure-sensitive baseplate, the various overlays, and software. These three combined let the unit become a highly customizable keyboard, a piano, a gamepad, a video-editing control panel, a drum pad or a music-production console. To use the various overlays, you just drop them into place.

The Sensel Morph keyboard is portable and flexible.
Portable and flexible.
Photo: Sensel

The software component translates your touches into commands. These can be almost anything: keystrokes, slides, taps, presses, even paintbrush strokes. (The Sensel Morph pad is sensitive enough to use as a graphics tablet, with a regular paintbrush.)

Imagine an iPad with a softer screen that’s sensitive to pressure and velocity, and you have it.

Because the underlying panel is touch-sensitive, it’s a great expressive instrument for musicians and artists. You can play piano with velocity and aftertouch, for example.

The Morph connects via Bluetooth or USB. It packs a rechargeable battery and works with Mac, iOS, Windows, Android and Ubuntu/Debian-based Linux.

Sensel Morph Buchla Thunder overlay

The most recent addition to the Sensel Morph toolbox is a Buchla Thunder overlay that mimics the ergonomic control panel of a famous MIDI controller created by Don Buchla.

“When it comes to expressive and unique instrument design, Buchla is a towering legend,” Sensel said in a press release about the new overlay. “30 years ago, with the release of the Thunder, Don Buchla introduced a musical playing interface inspired by Native American art and the natural playing positions of the human hands and fingers.

“Now, we’re thrilled to partner with Buchla U.S.A. to bring the Thunder to the Morph, for a modern update that combines the genius of Don Buchla’s ergonomic designs with the unparalleled force sensitivity of the Morph.”

You can check out all the available overlays on the Sensel site.

Flexible, customizable input device

One other great feature is the price. The base unit, with one overlay of your choice, costs $249. That’s fine. But most of the individual overlays run just $35 apiece, which is way cheaper than buying individual units. (The Buchla Thunder overlay costs $59.)

Plus, if you have the means, you can 3-D print your own overlays, or even print them on paper, and customize the software layouts using an app (Mac or PC). Check out the Sensel forums to get some ideas.

I like the idea of the Morph quite a lot. I wonder how it compares to the Roli Seaboard Block, for example. It’s certainly more flexible, in that it’s not just for musicians. I will attempt to check it out.