Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reactable: Multi-touch Tabletop Synthesizer Now Available

Oooh boy, me want!

This is the final product version of the Reactable, previously a thesis project by grad students at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain.

What is it? It's a tangible multi-touch projection surface hooked up to an interactive modular synthesizer. In other words, take the Evil Supreme Being's water surveillance screen from Time Bandits:

and combine it with a virtual version of Robert Moog's modular synthesizers:

What I like about this multi-touch screen is that it can "see" special barcode-like glyph patterns on the sides of objects. These glyphs can generate specific controls on the screen, or represent modes (like say "octave" or "turn on delay"). The screen detects their position and rotation. In contrast, something like the iPhone tracks fingers, but once you remove the finger, the tracking and control (as well as the visual representation of the control) are gone unless something tells the software to make that control "stick". This is not as intuitive as a tangible control. (After all, we know what to do with blocks as soon as we're old enough to grasp things.) The blocks on this surface are the signal to the screen to make a control. Removing them makes the control disappear. No extra interface to learn. It's also a nice way to partition the work of many users. Each player can control something (or many things) with his/her own block and participate with the overall result of everyone else's control blocks.

Looks like this incarnation of the Reactable is meant for museum and art installations, rather than personal use. And of course, it's running a specific application, namely a synthesizer. Wonder how much it costs!

As mentioned before on this blog, the last couple of years have been great for multi-touch interfaces. Jeff Hahn's interface, Jonny Lee's Nintendo Wiimote hack for a multi-touch whiteboard, the Reactable, Microsoft's Surface and the iPhone. Keep 'em coming!

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posted by Brian at 10:50 AM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Korg DS-10: Nintendo DS can now be an Analog Synth!

Despite all the attention the Apple iPhone is getting for making downloadable applications available in their store, there are still other interesting portable devices to consider, like the Nintendo DS. Though it's mostly a game system, this little pen-based dual screen computer is starting to get a few non-game programs, such as this really cool patchable analog synthesizer from a real music company, Korg.

Seems like Sony's Portable Playstation (PSP) is getting further and further behind when it comes to cool non-game apps, which is a pity.

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posted by Brian at 3:02 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Turntable + Analog Drum Machine + Step Sequencer motif = Drum Buddy

Speaking of the step sequencer design motif, here's a video of the Drum Buddy, a hand-made, fantasmic analog drum / filter instrument thing, only 10 of which exist, and all of which are sold out (at $5000 a piece!). Note the rotating spool with marks, which are read by optical sensors hooked up to analog oscillators and filters. But unlike piano rolls or music boxes, this guy can be spun in a manner any DJ turntablist would appreciate.

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posted by Brian at 7:12 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Orb, Little Fluffy Clouds, and now Little Grey Clouds

The first ambient techno electronica CD I ever listened to was back at PENN (circa 1990), at the new CD store in Houston Hall at its listening bar. The title of the album intrigued me "The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Underworld" and right away I was hooked by the first track called "Little Fluffy Clouds." It has a processed sample of Levar Burton (Reading Rainbow, Star Trek TNG) interviewing Ricky Lee Jones, asking her about the skies in her childhood.

Last night on KCRW I heard an hysterical parody version called "Little Grey Clouds":

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posted by Brian at 10:31 AM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sesame Street animation: 3 striped Balls & a Polka Dotted Ball

I'm very glad someone found this little stop-motion animated clip from Sesame Street in the 1970s. I've had its synthesizer music in my head since I was a child, and it's greatly influenced my sense of melody and arrangement.

If anyone knows who created this piece, please let me know!

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posted by Brian at 12:44 AM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Robot + Pet + Analog Synthesizer =Thingamagoob

For $100, this adorable pet Thingamagoob can be yours to love and give a good home. Each one has a customizable color scheme and is a simple monophonic analog synthesizer hand-made by John-Michael Reed over in Austin, Texas. I met Mr. Reed at Bent '07 here in Los Angeles. Formerly a grocery store clerk with no formal electronics training, he has cleverly turned his music tinkering hobby into a full-time business.

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posted by Brian at 1:19 AM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dr. Who Theme Making-Of Video

Permanently etched into my inner ear is the tune from the Dr. Who theme. Dr. Who is a very long-running (20+ years?) British sci-fi television show meant for kids, though it's tone is deadly serious and at least until recently, its special FX laughably (charmingly?) awful.

The show's original theme by Ron Grainer was arranged using elaborate electronic equipment not meant for making music, manually adjusted and spliced together using magnetic tape by the late Delia Derbyshire. I grew up with this version, hearing it on the episodes with the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, played by Tom Baker.

The version demonstrated in the video is for the fifth season with Peter Davison as the Doctor. It's still quite good and I love seeing the old Yamaha CS-80 and ARP Odyssey (1970s era) synthesizers, which are pre-MIDI (hence the need to record them directly to magnetic tape). But it's not quite as mysterious and other-wordly as the original.

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posted by Brian at 2:42 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, January 22, 2007

Computers -- Bad for Music Creativity?

I really have to agree with this article from the Chip Collection Blog. When I first began composing with a computer, I had an 8Mhz 2 Mb RAM Atari ST running a very simple sequencer called Hybrid Arts EZ Track, with a total of maybe 16 total MIDI-only tracks. I had one keyboard (a Korg M1) that could play up to 8 instruments at a time. I had one drum machine for better drum sounds. With it, I was quite productive. It never crashed. Once I figured out the basics of my equipment, I was ready to go.

Since I moved to the PC, I've barely finished a piece. First, getting all the drivers for the audio & MIDI interfaces to co-exist on a single version of Windows has been gnarly. Then, whenever I chose a platform to learn, the company making it would either die or get bought out and abandoned, rendering my tool extinct. Finally, the sequencers out now are ridiculously complicated. Sure, they're powerful, but sometimes you don't need an F-16 fighter plane to get to store to buy some milk. And they crash, put glitches in your music during playback, and make my brain work really hard to the point where I lose interest and go watch another episode of The Office.

Granted, the short bits I do end up making can sound amazing. With dozens of software instruments and thousands of sounds and samples, I could sound like Vangelis, or Vince Clark, any Hip-Hop / Rap piece or The Orb if I wanted to.

But ultimately, the PC has taken a decade to where it is remotely useful to me for making music in an inspired, relaxed way. Interface design and stability are the culprits, in my opinion.

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posted by Brian at 3:45 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, August 22, 2005

Joe Ranft & Bob Moog, R.I.P

Ack! The world lost two greats this week. First, Joe Ranft, one of the Pixar story-gods and voice artist for several of their films. Then, Bob Moog, creator of the first popular synthesizer.

I was fortunate enough to meet both these guys this year. Bob was at a "Legends of Synthesis" event in Chatsworth a few months ago. I asked him what kind of music he liked to listen to. He said "Rap, Hip-hop mostly." Joe was at Jeff Pidgeon's wedding (for which I was "Bridesman")

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posted by Brian at 10:25 AM 0 comments links to this post