How Ariano Instruments, powered by Intel Startup Program, is democratising music creation with its expressive keyboard

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What if, when inspiration strikes, you had a tool at your fingertips to express yourself more intuitively and lay that riff? What if a keyboardist could play melodies like an acoustic instrument player? Making music on an app or software might seem like a sweet deal—but it’s no easy feat to figure out the various layers involved in hardware and software interfaces.

Bengaluru-based startup Ariano Instruments is disrupting the way the world learns and creates music. "Keyboards have a discrete set of keys, each playing a particular note. And unlike acoustic instruments like guitar, violins etc, it’s not possible to shape a note while playing on a keyboard. Simple actions like bending a string in guitar, or continuous travel between notes in violin, or blowing air harder into a flute, are missing from a keyboard," says Arul Praveen, Co-founder and CEO, Ariano Instruments.

Their K1 advanced keyboard is ideal for amateur keyboardists to professional musicians to music schools looking to create expressive melodies. It comes with five new gestures that provide dynamic modulation of multiple acoustic parameters and provide continuous pitch transition.

Where the melody began

The journey of Ariano Instruments goes back to 2018 in IIT Chennai where Arul and Swadesh Srivastava met while conducting research for the ‘nadi pariksha’ device they were building. Very often, the duo bonded over their love for music and as a keyboardist, Arul spoke about the problems he faced with regular keyboards.

"At the time, we were just two engineers, two music lovers who thought this was an interesting problem to solve. So we took the leap of faith and dived into research. We never imagined we would start a company and solve this problem at a global scale," says Swadesh Srivastava, Co-founder and Chairman, Ariano Instruments.

The founders first spoke to several musicians and composers to identify actual problems they faced while playing the keyboard. They found out that regular keyboards weren't as expressive and didn’t make virtual instruments ‘sing’ as well as their acoustic counterparts. The duo put their heads together and in six months, had the prototype ready.

"This was a gigantic learning curve for us and while we were solely focused on solving the problem at hand, we wanted to serve the industry more and considered the idea of starting a business," says Arul. After a year of research and development, Ariano Instruments was finally launched in 2020.

Bringing creativity and minimalism together

The K1 advanced keyboard leverages IoT, sensors, mechanical interface design and audio AI algorithms to democratise music learning and creation.

"We aim to build instruments that can help anyone with a basic knowledge of the keyboard to create authentic sound and help in seamless music creation. We are trying to be an organisation that is helpful in their journey and we seek to alleviate their pains by creating and dispersing our intuitive instruments," says Arul.

Ariano’s K1 advanced expressive keyboard has five new gestures that allow musicians to play smooth melodies across multiple musical instruments by sensing multiple dimensions of information within a single key.

While Ariano is the first Indian music tech startup to create a patented, expressive keyboard, they have a few competitors in the UK and the USA. What makes them stand out is the comfort and ease with which users can create organic and natural-sounding instrument sound anywhere, without too many additional resources. All you need is the K1 keyboard, a sound card and a laptop.

"Our keyboard makes music-making very intuitive and we want to implement that in all of our future products. You can close your eyes and listen to music created on a K1 or K2 and it will feel like you’ve stepped into a live concert because of how organic the instrumental sound is," says Swadesh.

Building on feedback from musical maestros

Several musicians, including acclaimed Indian composer Ilaiyaraja, music practitioner K Sathyanarayanan, music academician Adam J Greig to well-renowned film music producer Manikanth Kadri to Bharanitharan, a keyboardist in Illaiyaraja’s orchestra, who have experienced the early versions of Ariano's first product, K1 - a two-octave, portable expressive keyboard, affirm that it is – “the greatest advancement to the keyboard since the keyboard”.

The founders went to great lengths to gather feedback from 65 industry professionals, two leading music schools in India and several music hobbyists to further improve their products. Some of the feedback included - focusing on the performer rather than the instrument, further developing the sound engine and physical modelling of instruments, developing a five-octave key range for the keyboard, adding quick octave shift controls and so on.

The Intel Startup Program engagement

As soon as they gathered feedback, Ariano joined one of the collaborative initiatives under the Intel Startup Program at the beginning of 2020 to build its first version of K1. They leveraged Intel's technology and expertise in advancing its product to include AI algorithms to learn the patterns of the musicians for personalisation.

“The local and international ecosystem connect and investor visibility has been the biggest advantage from Intel Startup Program. Our mentor facilitated connections with some of the leading international musicians both in Los Angeles and Chennai who are providing us with a wealth of inputs. The business coaches, in turn, helped refine our pitches prior to our interaction with these artists," says Swadesh.

Bridging the gap for remote music education

Due to the pandemic, the online music education market is growing fast. It is non-trivial to deliver music education online since a lot of observation and feedback/demonstration from the teacher works best in person. "Our smart keyboards and ML models can bridge this gap. We are building a data-driven learning module which, in conjunction with onboard sensors on our keyboards, will assist teachers and students to interact better remotely," says Arul.

Often, musicians must apply different amounts of pressure when playing a certain phrase to emote the meaning behind the composition, and that level of detailing requires a lot of practice. Using this data with Ariano's force-sensing technology, they will be able to remotely provide analysis on student practice and performance to teachers without too much effort.

Swadesh adds, "Our keyboard is rich in data. We can record every detail of the playing via our coding system. Our K1 can gather positions continuously. It’s not just an on and off key, the slightest changes are captured. It becomes easy to collaborate with the data we provide on the playing. Even in independent learning, our analysis and real-time, rich live interaction can help teachers and students collaborate on learning easily."

The road ahead

With a team of six talented minds, Ariano is currently building K1 in a variety of different styles and working on developing the K2 keyboard.

The team is also working on an advanced midi-controller targeted towards music programmers. For all their products, they intend to use the finger/key level data from its sensors and build ML models to help in personalising the instruments and making the music programming process more intelligent, efficient and less dependent on a multitude of instruments/gadgets, as it is today.

Arul says, "Every single employee in our company is passionate and dedicated to doing something unconventional and serving the music industry in its progress. Creating music and helping others to create music has been a safe haven for many of us. Creativity is uncorrupted and like music was my source of comfort, we want others to have that same comfort and ease when performing or creating."

How the Intel Startup Program is enabling startups to build game-changing innovations

The Intel Startup Program is Intel India’s flagship program to engage with technology startups who have an IP or innovative solutions that have the potential to create an impact on customers and align with Intel's focus areas. The program is at the forefront of engaging with India’s startup ecosystem through high impact collaborations with the industry, academia and government and runs multiple initiatives that are either vertically aligned or focused on emerging technologies.

It engages with startups that have a unique global or local value proposition to solve genuine customer problems, enabling them with domain and business expertise from the industry and the best mentorship from Intel.


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