After a few weeks spent telling you the story of the dualo project, and before revealing the rest, we wanted to interview Bruno Verbrugghe, founder of the company Intuitive Instruments.
First of all, to set the scene for this interview, can you tell us about your background and your role in the Dualo project?
I started music in high school, with the classical guitar, then the electric guitar. At the time, I was already passionate about sound, and I quickly tweaked my guitar, even going so far as to cut a hole in the wood to change the pickups and get the sound I wanted. I sometimes spent more time working on the sound of a part of a solo rather than learning to play the piece itself.
Arriving in Paris for my computer studies, I quickly met other musicians and it was there that I started playing the trombone, because I was attracted by Jazz and Funk, and because I was surrounded by guitarists a lot more gifted than me.
In the end, I succeeded in combining my studies and my passion for music by becoming a student and then a researcher at IRCAM, the mythical research centre dedicated to sciences applied to music and sound.
In 2004, I met Jules Hotrique in an amateur big-band of experimental Jazz-Groove, named Balbazar. We were both in the trombone section.
After IRCAM, I seized the opportunity to join a startup when it was created. We were working on the recognition and analysis of the singing voice, firstly for musical applications, such as controlling virtual synthesisers, and then in the field of video games. I’ve therefore participated in the production of around twenty vocal karaoke and dance video games on Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo Wii.
In 2010, I teamed up with Jules to develop a new musical instrument he had invented from the keyboard and the prototypes he had made in his kitchen. A year later, we co-founded the company Dualo SAS to professionalise the project.
What prompted you to take the plunge, to say to yourself “we’re going to create a new instrument”?
Essentially, my speciality at IRCAM was musical gesture and musical interaction systems. And by then it was already more than ten years since, as well as practicing the trombone and the guitar, I made music with computer software and recorded groups. So I felt that I could bring something to the project.
Then, thanks to Thomas Guyon, the director of the business incubator of La Courneuve, we worked with Jules on our underlying motivations, our professional mantra.
And there was a point that became central: we had both experienced this incredible emotion that you feel when you play in front of people or when you have created a piece of music that you are proud of. Everyone has their own words to describe this pleasure, this emotion, and it was very clear to us that our mission was to ensure that everyone could express themselves through music and feel this. This is our contribution to building a better world.
Also, I was always an average musician because I never took the time to master harmony. On the guitar, I always found it complicated and long to learn. For example, from one chord shape to another, the fingers do not have the same harmonic functions….I immediately understood that the dualo keyboard simplified a lot of things and made it possible to get satisfaction quickly. And for inspiration, there’s nothing better than to feel pleasure.
When the Dualo company was created, you already had the dualo keyboard and Jules’s prototype. What then directed the the design of the du-touches the and du-game?
It was really the desire to create a modern instrument for today’s music.
The more we moved away from Rock and the guitar, the more we realised that there was no tool to play Hip-Hop as well as House, without needing a computer and lots of equipment. No more evenings with friends playing today’s music.
Also, from a personal viewpoint, because of my studies and the lack of time, my friends gradually became much better musicians than me. To be able to continue jamming with them, I wanted to have a tool that would allow me to make music less with notes and more by creating atmospheres with sounds, such as film dialogues, noises, sirens, cities, nature..
Jules, on the other hand, wanted an instrument as mobile as a guitar because he frequently played here and there. He often had several bands and he wanted to be able to play lots of different sounds to take on the role of drums, bass or keyboard..
It started with that. Then we asked thousands of people how they imagined the ideal instrument or the instrument of the future and we made a compliation of all these desires.
This is why the du-touch S is an autonomous instrument, battery powered, which has plenty of internal sounds as well as the possiblity of loading the user’s own sounds; and which makes it possible to create whole tracks in all styles, espcially urban and electronic music.
We then added the du-game, because we wanted to provide the keys to enable improvising in all styles and to learn whilst having fun.
Always this story of democratising the creation and practice of music, so that as many people as possible can feel that emotion I was talking about before, and which has guided our steps.
Last year it was therefore 10 years since the project had been professionalised. Looking back, do you think it worked? How was the du-touch received?
At the beginning of our adventure, we spent a lot of time explaining that “yes, yes, in the 21st century it’s still possible to create new musical instruments”. Today this is less the case, although it remains complicated to get people to admit that the way of placing notes on a keyboard can be optimised, and that the piano and the guitar are not the ultimate solutions, that they weren’t designed to make it easy to manipulate harmony.
In our desire to make access easier, we have also regularly come up against the belief that to learn music you have to suffer.
The du-touch, and particularly the du-touch S, is a success, it’s undeniable. It’s an uncompromising invention, and we followed through the idea without faltering, and that makes it an exceptional instrument.
However, I think the du-touch is still way ahead of its time. It remains a UFO in the landscape of electronic instruments and therefore we can see that before buying it, it’s not easy to anticipate the added value and the sensations that it can bring. It’s not so much a problem to be able to try it as to project yourself using it.
One of the major brakes is its accordion look of the future. A lot of people have dismissed it because they think it’s an accordion. Those who use it know that it’s especially practical to be able to play on your sofa, on the train, in nature, standing up whilst walking or on a stage, and that it slips easily into a bag. The extreme mobility that we have given it is too much outside current codes.
A few days ago I was discussing once again with a professional drummer who perfectly understood the interest of the dualo keyboard for him, but the shape of the du-touch S is so far removed from all the machines he already has that he has never taken the step.
Another example, we have a lot of trouble getting the du-touch S out of the French speaking sphere. We regularly send press releases to English-language media specialising in music, but none are passed on. This is one of the reasons why the community of dualists is mainly French-speaking. I think it’s once again this UFO look that makes people not pay attention to it, and take it for what it is not.
Still, the community of dualists is the best proof of the potential of the du-touch. Today i can cite the names of about forty people who have expressed to us, over the years, how much their du-touch had had a strong impact on their lives.
And just yesterday, to a lesser extent, a dualist who received his instrument barely three weeks ago, told me that after composing his last track he felt an emotion he hadn’t felt for years with his guitar.
What’s next for the dualo project? Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
In 2020, during the first lockdown, we took a step back to better understand what we had created so far, to understand who the dualists are and their motivations.
This allowed us to work on the expectations of the community and the general public, and then to identify what improvements we could make both to existing instruments and within the framework of the development of new products.
And so we did the work of slicing all our know how into autonomous and complementary elements, everything that makes the dualo experience intuitive and different from other electronic instruments.
We have therefore isolated three main elements:
- the dualo keyboard;
- ergonomics dedicated to musical creativity, also called the creative workflow;
- musical education with the du-game
For each of these elements we have imagined how we could make them evolve and become more robust over time…Which we will reveal to you next week!