I think the common thing these instruments have, which I both like and dislike is that they’re to some degree “controllers”, and not “instruments”. Something which I think a lot of musicians and inventors rightfully confuse. I think the problem is, everyone still trying to use electricity and sensors as the main selling point of the instrument, forgetting that sensors have a limit. A limit that’s hard to perceive but still an electrical limiter, and because of these limits, by inventing instruments with these electrical limits, they’re limiting the functions of their instruments too.

No hand gesture controller can be like a guitar, which you can even use as a percussion to hit it’s body, or remove its frets to get different sounds, or play its strings with a bow and get different sounds, etc. The reason these “controllers” are limiting I think is because the level of mastery is not high enough, and producing original material is the biggest challenge.

As an excited geek, I love the idea of using gestural controllers, but I think what these instruments are lacking is that they’re trying to turn the whole human body itself to an instrument. While, the successful old instruments are “played” with the human body. (and not the human body itself)

I’m speaking of the gestural ones of course. The ones that use gloves. or sensors on face. etc.

The rest, I think are cool ideas, but either lacked marketing, or availability, and I think pushing new instruments forward is not enough on its own, if no early adopters are helping it get better. Taking reactable as an example, without Björk and other notable musicians adopting it, reactable would be a cool instrument without anyone playing and carrying it even further. Same with piano. Because players loved its sound, and its layout, they wanted to be able to carry it around, and they’ve created digital portable versions of it. Although I’m not speaking about portability itself, I just wanted to give an example of how players and adopters can carry an instrument further too. I think we should focus more on “real sounds” rather than computer generated sounds. Even if they’re generated with the help of digital tools, the sounds would still have the unique dynamics, and the player factor in them, and there would be a greater chance in improving the already existing playing methods/instruments or creating new and unique instruments.


4 thoughts on “Videos

  1. Some interesting and valid points, John. But I disagree on the point about the human body — the oldest ‘instrument,’ after all, is the human voice. It’s a rather successful instrument. Despite it lacking some of the physicality of the guitar, for instance, there is an endless range of musicality and expressivity to be explored. While many gestural controllers do not live up to their hype, the problem is not the expressivity –or lack thereof–of the body itself. Rather, as you point out, the issue is in the limitations of the sensors. I am very interested in the expressivity of the human body through sound. (Personally, I have less interest in gestural controllers, but there are many other ways to explore sound through the human body.)

    • Hello stranger 🙂 It would have been great to know who you are 😀 Please get a user account / or use your name so I (and everyone else who reads this) can know who you are as well 🙂

      In terms of human body’s expressivity – I absolutely agree, but what I was trying to say was the expressivity communicated using these gestural instruments.

      So a good analogy would be : Human voice is the oldest instrument. However, microphone : a sensor, also an ‘instrument of sound’ that communicates human voice using electricity, (is not as old) and has its frequency limitations, and sensitivity. So if you use a cheap/bad microphone with the greatest human voice/vocalist, you’ll still get nothing but low quality sounds.

      In short, what I’m trying to say is :

      violin is also played using fingers, but because there is no sensors, and it’s pure physical interaction, the sounds are unique, there is no expression loss, dynamic range and expressivity is incredibly high.

      but a digital gestural finger controller, has sensors in it, it still is controlled using fingers, but the sounds that are coming out of it lacks the uniqueness and significant amount of dynamic range/expression is lost thanks to the sensors. Because this time a physical violin string is not the middleware that translates these expressions, it is the sensors.

      So when I said :

      “the successful old instruments are “played” with the human body. (and not the human body itself)”

      I meant, the successful ones have direct interaction with the human body, not indirect interaction (thru sensors)

      • Ah, I’m sorry I forgot to post my name — it’s Abby. (And here I keep telling people to post their names…) I think we’re in agreement here, anyway…the issue is not the body itself, but the sensors, which are imperfect. Effective mapping is yet another can of worms. Anyway…

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