Omer Yosha has created a beautiful, elegant interface that uses infrared sensors to control music applications. Touch-free interfaces, of course, date back to the Theremin, but Omer is trying some new things here, creating an invisible matrix of controls in the air. And I love the way the physical object looks. He writes to tell us about the details:

I’m an Interface Design student from the FH Potsdam (near Berlin), i have a musical background, and the idea to create an AirPiano developed as i was playing around with the Arduino board, Processing and some IR sensors in my free time. It was fun controlling MIDI through moving my hands in the air, so i eventually found a way to set it all up in a way that makes sense and that is easy to control.
The concept behind the AirPiano is having a matrix in the air, with virtual keys & faders. The location of each key must be very clear for the user and easily learnt. The AirPiano is therefore only one example of an application that could adopt this concept. Since it is only the first prototype i built, it features at the moment a matrix with 3 layers, 8 keys for each layer. As long as a key is triggered, a note plays and an LED underneath the virtual key turns on (unfortunately it is hard to see it on the videos). The LEDs give the user additional feedback. The device is connected through USB and communicates with the AirPiano Software, which allows the user to assign each key/fader with a Note/Controller number, Channel and Velocity as well as transpose and save/load presets. The AirPiano Software can communicate with any MIDI instrument/sequencer. It is of course a polyphonic controller.
The AirPiano is not only fun to play, it also invites to experiment, to explore endless arrangements and develop new playing techniques. It might be useful for DJ performance, as a music therapy instrument or as a toy.
I’m at the moment trying to look for investors and people that could help me take this idea further. I presented the prototype two months ago in the Hannover Messe and received very good feedback. The concept is protected as a Provisional U.S. Patent Application.

If you can help him, chime in! I’d love to see what develops.

Here it is controlling Ableton Live:

More photos and another video to give you a sense of how this works (it’s particularly clear once you see the software interface):

Finally, here’s a video of a melodic application — not quite as convincing, I think, as the controller application (I’d rather have a Haken Continuum for actually playing, I think, and I do like tactile feedback). But it’s still really provocative as a design.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Wow, the controller video is CRAZY! The melodic application is pretty cool too, but I too would rather have a Haken Continuum for that. Then again, I can't even afford one so … hahaha. This looks great, very elegant design. I wonder how much it all cost to put together. I hope that he gets someone interested in manufacturing it for a good price, and that's a smart move to already have a patent for it.

  • BirdFLU

    I think this is a great controller. No doubt there are other controllers that are more efficient or expressive, but this one solves a problem for _performing_ artists: the visuals. Seeing the performer do something other than pecking at a laptop engages the audience. Remember this is a prototype and this guy hasn't even mastered his own instrument yet.

  • Otend

    Reminds me of that one show on Fuse.

    Gestural music control is a big step forward, is it not?

  • Jordan Espionage

    Hah! Every time I have an idea involving a revolutionary midi controller I always see it on create digital the next day. I've been messing around with the Arduino as well making a similar controller. Either way i'm glad someones making this! Pretty cool stuff.

  • 4lefts

    me wants

  • Damon

    Fantastic! And clearly something that can be produced in numbers at high quality. I love how he has really fleshed out and fine tuned the instrument, usurping any immediate gimmick label. You could toss this in a gear bag or arrange a bunch of them like a group of work stations. You could sell these in very high quality finished examples, and even mass market lesser specified examples to those on the lower cash brakets. Everything about this one screams success.

    Blessings,

    Damon

  • http://ivanfranco.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    I've produced something similar in 2005 and now my company (www.ydreams.com) has also produced a commercial version. It was presented in NIME, an academic conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (www.nime.org), something you folks might want to check out.

    What I really find very questionable is that people produce novel controllers but are using them in the same old fashioned way. Yes, I'm more into experimental stuff, but does it really make sense to build a new instrument that just triggers standard stuff like Live? It's not just about the controller, it's the mapping… :-)

    you can find info and videos on my Airsticks on:

    http://ivanfranco.wordpress.com/

    Cheers

    Ivan

  • gbsr

    now thats one lean mean controller right there. aswell as the airstick.

    i can totally see all the indistrial kraftwerk fanboys playing these, dancing around (or rather waving their hands around as he did in the video heh) on the stage in total sync with their airpianos and the standard robot outfit.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Thanks, Ivan. Direct Airstick link — notice folks that it's vertical (always more than one way to skin a cat):
    http://ivanfranco.wordpress.com/airstick/

    What I understood was different here was the mapping — but then all the more reason to raise that question, I agree. I don't know what's patentable and patents fall squarely in the category of things that make no sense to me, but I'll see if I can find out more about that side of this.

  • http://ivanfranco.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    Hi again Peter. In fact the one you saw on the site was the first iteration, which could be played in both vertical and horizontal positions. Naturally the way you orientate the instrument immediately correlates to a particular instrument paradigm – in the first case maybe an harp?

    Now I have a more "sleek" version, co-produced with YDreams. It's also used as a general input controller for other interactive applications. I'll update with a pic of the new version. This one is USB.

    http://ivanfranco.wordpress.com/airstick/

    Another very interesting consideration regarding these type of instruments is, of course force-feedback, which is very important for musical controllers, but that's even another issue for discussion!… :-)

    Cheers all!

    Ivan

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  • http://www.airpiano.de Omer

    Hi, and thanks for all the nice comments. As for the Airstick, i like the idea playing completely experimental music and the videos are very interesting. I guess the main difference between the two devices, and correct me if i´m wrong, is that the AirPiano features a matrix of virtual keys while the Airstick features a number of virtual faders. As i was developing the device, i also started out with using the sensors as faders, and with the AirPiano´s software you can still switch between 3 keys and a fader (if you check the photo above, you will notice an extra button bellow each column. The fader, can be used of course in many different ways, but it won't let you play conventional music. This is actually what makes the AirPiano different from all similar controllers. The fact that the user knows exactly where the key is, and that triggering it won't trigger anything else… As for force feedback, i´m not so sure. The AirPiano gives light feedback and i believe it´s enough. In any case, respect for the Airstick, the experimental music and the visuals!

  • http://astro.temple.edu/~phanley Peter Hanley

    The patent thing is putting me of a bit too… what is possible to patent here? Not only are touchlesss controllers prior art, but so are controllers which are organized via a grid, and which give some sort of feedback. It's not that I want his instrument to get stolen by a big instrument maker like yamaha or korg, but more that I'm afraid that when investment capital wanks are running his company anyone who makes a touchless controller that isn't a theremin will start receiving cease and desist letters.

  • DooKoo

    Ivan wrote: <blockquote cite="">What I really find very questionable is that people produce novel controllers but are using them in the same old fashioned way. Yes, I’m more into experimental stuff, but does it really make sense to build a new instrument that just triggers standard stuff like Live? It’s not just about the controller, it’s the mapping… :-) and

    <blockquote cite="">Another very interesting consideration regarding these type of instruments is, of course force-feedback, which is very important for musical controllers, but that’s even another issue for discussion!

    There was an experimental Continuum mapping on MatrixSynth a couple of days ago.

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  • http://www.covops.org Bjorn Vayner

    Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but what does this have that Laser Harps and D-Beams don't? And what is there to patent? Hasn't JM Jarre played out with these type of things for about a quarter of a century?

  • Terry

    Imagine an orchestra of these things outdoors with blow out speakers!

  • http://www.airpiano.de Omer

    The difference between the AirPiano and the Laser Harp or the D-Beam is that the AirPiano introduces for the first time a matrix of virtual keys. The D-Beam is basically a virtual fader, and the laser harp has no keys arranged vertically. This makes the AirPiano unique and allows the user to develop much complex arrangements and playing techniques.

  • Mustard

    I like the air piano. I have big hands, and fat fingers, too fat for a piano even. This looks like something I could/would use (or at least build bigger for me).

    P.S. <strong)I</strong> am not fat.

  • Ms Fingerz

    Impressive stuff! Would it work with a prosthetic hand, made of rubber?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Ms Fingerz: IR sensors should definitely pick up the prosthetic hand, yes.

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  • http://astro.temple.edu/~phanley Peter Hanley

    <blockquote cite="Omer">…the AirPiano introduces for the first time a matrix of virtual keys….This makes the AirPiano unique and allows the user to develop much complex arrangements and playing techniques.At the risk of seeming belligerent or against Omer, I still am at a loss to see why this should be patentable. I understand that it is not the same as prior touchless interfaces, it still seems to me to be a combination of other previously existing devices with previously existing sensor technology.

    Again, I'm not raising the objection because I don't want small inventors making new instruments making money from their inventions, but because I believe it becomes problematic when tools for creating other things are "protected" by patent regulations which prevent other instrument makers from making too-similar a tool.

    Given that one of the main claims of originality of the interface appears to be that it possesses a "matrix" of keys, I hope the reasons the patent makes me uncomfortable should be obvious, in light of a the "one-click" patent granted to Amazon, or the various patents which were given out for "sending text and graphics over a network simultaneously" or "playing music from a digital source" which in the end only protected the ability of patent attorneys to make money.

  • http://www.covops.org Bjorn Vayner

    Yeah, I don't get it either.

    A set of D-Beams with corresponding software IS a matrix.

    Since it acts as a fader, you can specify imaginary points in the air.

    I believe you can even do this with a WIImote and the likes.

    Many of the Roland MC series grooveboxes had 2 beams and software to specify ranges.

    And Jen Lewin has been setting up installations that do these things for a while.

    Anyway, I guess I got put off by the word "patent". Dunno why, maybe its one of those words.

    I fail to see the originality of this, because the only difference between an "Air Key" and an "Air Fader" is ignored ranges. Which is a standard feature on Roland grooveboxes and V-link devices. And has been so for about a decade.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, because I'd gladly know what I'm missing here. Even the video of the melodic application shows you play this exactly like D-beams, which on the mc-909 have visual feedback of which notes you're playing.

  • http://www.quoico.com RichardL

    I don't see any support for gestural input. Gestures are a very difficult problem domain. This is just a MIDI controller: notes and CCs. OK great. No fingerprints. I see a big market with the OCD crowd.

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  • Mike

    Jo Hamilton playing Air Piano live last month in London: photo

  • http://www.poseidonmusic.com Jon Cotton
  • http://www.poseidonmusic.com Jon Cotton

    Well that html didnt work! I was trying to post this link to a short film about Jo's work with the Airpiano. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTp5MFgzqZk&fm

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  • Amanda

    I WANT ONE SO BAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.musiciansbuy.com/keyboards.html keyboards

    Is this thing awesome or what? amazing how technology has progressed including in the musical sector.