There’s a simple problem: sound is invisible, and sound synthesis concepts don’t have any physical reality. Knobs, faders, patch cords, keyboards, infrared sensors, touchpads, and the like all work quite nicely for synthesizing sounds. But take a closer look at Bjork’s use of the reacTable, an interactive multimedia interface that uses a camera to track the movements of blocks on a surface. They really are using it to make sounds, those sounds really are visualized in a nice new way (watch the waveforms connecting the blocks), and while the result is some swoopy synthy sounds, the interface does make making them a lot of fun.
It helps that Bjork pulls out some of her synthiest, electronicilicious-est tracks, like Pluto:
And, of course, part of what happens is that the computer screen here has become the interface. When it works — when the visuals match the sounds, and suggest some new ways of constructing music — it really does show potential for this kind of instrument. (Even if you don’t buy into the blocks, the way the visualization itself works has a lot of promise.)
That’s the idea behind Microsoft’s Surface, too … but sometimes the gimmick can be a solution in search of a problem. Well, actually, maybe your computer of the future really will be “a big-ass table.” (Thanks, SarcasticGamer.com, for making me laugh so heartily.)