Touching Music

There is a lot of interesting work right now in the way of music interface design — with focus on creating ways for multiple people to collaborate in mixing and composing in real time. Read on for a few of my favorite ideas, with more accompanying video and images. There are also links to other designs I won’t elaborate on here, but have been thoroughly covered elsewhere.


The brain-child of Murat N. Konar, this is a system of sensor-equpped cubes that manipulate a computer program generating music. Different aspects of the music are triggered based on the orientation of each cube. Cubes can be stacked and manipulated together to initiate broad changes in the composition.


Mentioned previously on CN, this device consists of a 16×16 matrix of touch sensitive LED lights, that trigger either a looped or single note depending on how they are pressed. The device has LEDs on both sides, so the performer and the audience can both see the design of the music being played. Designed by Toshio Iwai and Yamaha, this will be commercially available soon. No video is yet available that I can find, but the website has a lot of pictures, and the background music gives you an idea of what it can sound like.


JazzMutant Lemur

Lemur is an extremely configurable, multi-finger-sensitive touch screen interface for controlling and creating music and video. A library of different UI elements including faders, switches, pads, keyboards, strings, etc. is available to create your own custom controller. Behavior of these elements can be customized according to various physical properties, including friction, evaporation, and gravity. The videos and company website offer more insight — as with other interactive music devices, it must be seen in action to be thoroughly appreciated.


In many ways, the best has been saved for last. Created by James Patten and Ben Recht (aka localfields), I came across this a year or so ago, and it still strikes me every time I see the videos. Using a projector that is mounted, facing down, above a surface with motion-tracked translucent markers, it allows for incredibly smooth and dynamic manipulation of a collection of loops. Beats and tunes can be triggered, filtered, sped up or down, and faded in or out, all in real time, with the ability to to handle multiple musicians.


Many more such devices exist — some similar to those previously mentioned, and others leaning more towards sound generation than the creation and manipulation of listenable music. The following links give a good survey of the current offerings (you’ll notice a lot of overlap between the two, but they each offer some things the other doesn’t):


If you want to experience any of this yourself, the following annual conferences and conventions will be of interest:

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