Vienna-based design firm GP designpartners sponsored the FRONT musical interface design as part of its annual student thesis project. We’ve certainly heard these promises before for alternative interfaces: “a really new music instrument — without using classical paradigms. an instrument for new sounds, that gives the musician the possibility to express himself — even live at stage. with great expectation we are awaiting the jimmy hendrix of the 2010s.”
The design itself has simplicity going for it, certainly — but it may not live up to its radical promise. Basically, it’s a twistable knob, with touch-sensitive capacitance, in a slot (for use as a fader), connected via USB. There’s also a tack-on panel that you can bend up and down, for control of another parameter. Then there are lots of fiddly flaps and connectors and such which allow for right-handed or left-handed use, plus a belt clip that makes the FRONT into a FRONT-tar.
The result certainly looks beautiful, regardless, and I do appreciate the thought and restraint that went into the design. It looks stunning as a student product. Of course, wanting to play it is something else entirely. I mostly wonder how one would set the tension of the fader/slider element.
I always enjoy new instrument designs, whether you might consider them successful or not. But I wonder if a better exercise for students, before they embark on trying to invent a new interface (though that is a worthy endeavor), would be to find some existing interface and make that work for music — ideally something mundane, that seems at first unsuited to the job. It seems that part of what’s essential about the musical performance impulse is not finding objects that work, but finding objects that don’t. Dedicated musicians sing in the shower, badly and out of tune, through blown-out cords, prod gadgets and instruments incessantly even as they sound awful, and drum desks and pant legs until they annoy their significant others. Do we, as the site suggests, “need new musical instruments badly?” Or do we really just need new music and new musicians? Discuss.