Making the Music Sway to Your Beat

November 29, 2001 | Source: New York Times

Digital instruments are creating imaginative new forms of musical expression.

Some current research projects:

  • A wearable system of sensors that allows users to create and play music while doing routine tasks and share performances with one another over a wireless network. Tapping any of the sensors produces a digital signal corresponding to a note or a musical sequence. This signal is transmitted to a computer, where it merges with signals from other users and the result is heard on headsets.
  • Motion-sensing devices that translate gestures into music and sensors that generate sounds based on body movement.
  • Motion tracking systems that would let a crowd at a disco shape the beat or let a ballerina’s feet create the music as well as the dance. Each sensor has a piezoelectric film. Dancers can tie the sensor around their arms or ankles. As they move, tiny signals from the piezo foil are sent to a computer, which searches for recognizable patterns, which could indicate, for instance, that a sizable number of dancers are swaying with a particular rhythm. Based on the pattern, the music is digitally modified by accentuating a beat or a note to encourage a certain dance step.
  • A system that produces music based on stage movements picked up by a video camera.