Shoes are the new turnables.
Or at least that’s the conclusion you might reach after watching a new Japanese campaign for Nike’s Free Run+ running shoes. Apparently wishing to tout the bendable qualities of its new footwear, Nike enlisted sound artists to transform its product into a musical instrument. The shoes get plugged in, switched on, and mixed up, battle-style, as they sense when the shoe is flexed or moved in space. And yes, everything you see in the video is real: the shoes really are controlling digital sound live. We even have the Max patch to prove it.
Lovers of experimental sound art will immediately recognize one of the Shoe-Js: it’s Daito Manabe, a bleeding-edge sound artist and alternative interface guru with a background in turntablism. I spoke to Daito, and convinced him to share the software that makes the project tick. Daito says he used flex sensors (see examples) and accelerometers to make the shoes interactive. He then processed the control signal and converted it to sound using the modular visual programming environment Max/MSP and Ableton’s Max for Live. (For another example and other resources, you can check out the article I wrote for Make Magazine issue 8, in which I stuffed flex sensors into a sock monkey and connected it via MIDI.)
What’s striking to me about the Max patch is its elegance. For all the power of these interactive environments, sometimes they’re at the best when you do something really simple. In this case, that frees up someone like Daito to focus on the performance aspect.
Here’s what Daito had to say about the project. It doesn’t hurt that the whole team does such nice work:
My patch is not interesting at all..
Ed.: I respectfully disagree; see above comment – sometimes performing a simple task is the strength of a tool like Max. -PK
I used max for serial communication between the shoes(arduino) and a macbookpro,
and max for live sound.
The serial part crashed many times,
so I separated serial part and sound part.
I use OSC and midi for communication between max and maxforlive.
For making and triggering sound,
I used simple msp patches and Ableton’s sampler
and I used some effects in Ableton live.
The effects are also controlled by the shoes.
The sound settings are a bit strange.
We didn’t need to use a loop machine
because we used Ableton live, but
everything was decided at the last minute,
so we used the loop machine for sampling and looping (i think it was roland machine)
I hope people think it is not fake
I actually like the impromptu feel. That’s usually the sort of thing the advertisers want. (Oh, look! An abandoned tunnel! Open the vodka! Text your friends! Let’s have a disco! Wow, everyone we know is a model!) Of course, in this case, some of the sense of “let’s set up some shoes and make digital music” is just as improvised as it looks. And this clip is making the rounds, because my Dad sent it to me!
Somewhere, Charlie Chaplin smiles.
See also (for coverage of this and many other wonderful things):
Be sure to check out Daito’s other work; he’s done some really beautiful sound art and interactive pieces, and his site is full of inspiring ideas:
An interview with Daito from a few years ago for Max/MSP developer Cycling ’74 reveals some of his background in turntablism.
He’s also known for body hacks, like making music with parts of his face.