I enjoy a little April Foolery now and then – see Google.com at the moment. But I had a funny revelation about some of the April Fools’ jokes out there today: they could be real. Some even already are.
For starters, consider the EyeDJ. The video is hilarious, a spot-on parody of the hype level in digital DJing at the moment. And they tune directly into the kind of breathless sense of innovation with no real purpose, with lines like “There is no need to cart around heavy turntables or expensive MIDI controllers – all you need is a computer and a webcam and you’re ready to mix with the best.” It taps directly into the reinvent-the-wheel zeitgeist in which we sometimes find ourselves and, yes, which to which I’ll admit I sometimes (often?) contribute.
But that’s the funny thing about design challenges and unusual interfaces: often the more seemingly off-the-wall, the more you learn. When Kokoromi organized a one-button game challenge, accompanied by a gallery show I helped assemble, some of the immediate feedback was that one-button games could be essential to people who require one button interaction for accessibility reasons. And sure enough, the EyeDJ is not already possible, but already implemented. EyeWriter is an in-development project using the open source C++ cousin of Processing, OpenFrameworks, which allows legendary graffiti artist TEMPTONE (Tony Quan) to overcome ALS and continue creating tags. Check out the video:
It’s clear the technology could have musical applications, too. None of us knows what our physical capabilities will be tomorrow, or next week. It’s time to start thinking about different interactions, and different humans. Compose Xenakis worked with architect Le Corbusier’s Modulor, a design unit that related the Golden Ratio and the human body. I’m a fan of both thinkers, but the problem with the Modulor is that it assumes there’s an “ideal” human proportion. In fact, we’re all different.
Don’t get me wrong – and I hope I didn’t make the EyeDJ guys feel insensitive. In fact, far from it: sometimes it’s the kind of apparently-absurd thinking you get from humor or parody that can free you from the constraints of everyday thinking.
Other “jokes” got me thinking, too. Topping the list:
TechCrunch, still sore about their Crunchpad project, suggest a DIY alternative:
They may have gotten a bit overexcited, as well, as they posted it with a dateline of March 31. A kit you can buy that converts existing laptops to touchscreens? Sign me up! In fact, it’s been done.
Touchscreens.com is one of a number of vendors. Nicely enough, you can spend a small amount of pocket change and convert even a PowerPC-based Mac. It’s single touch only, but it’s not too expensive, and you even get true stylus input, something the iPad doesn’t do.
On the multi-touch front, research and artist group NOR_/D has their own kits, called, nicely enough, TouchKit. I’ve been working to get in touch with that crew to talk more about it. They’ll set you back ($1500, $2500 is the ballpark), but, again, truth is stranger than fiction.
Generally, I love the idea of DIY touch and gestural input kits – let’s make them.
The Moog Music Moogerfooger MF-401 “Auto De-Tune” is another Moog April Fools’ classic, especially with presets like “Original Star Trek cast member attempts to make pop music.” (Ah, but which one – with Shatner, Nimoy, and TNG’s Spiner, Frakes…)
But the idea is sort of interesting, seen abstractly: tune incoming audio, then manipulate it. There’s a Pd patch in here somewhere. Go make it.
Also, I briefly thought Moog was making some sort of vocal processor, which would also have been cool.
Bonus round: In a late-night IM session with James Grahame of Retro Thing, we began to wonder what a one-knob synth might be like. (Having just done a one-button instrument, and thinking I may actually work on it more, we could have a whole suite of stuff here.)
James also has my favorite April Fools’ joke of the year. Catch it while you can.
And the grand prize for truth simply being stranger than fiction, Novation’s faux 10×8 controller, seen on Synthtopia can’t possibly compete with the absurdity of seeing the monome 512, which is apparently not an April Fools’ joke. For the current low bid of US$2800, you can get a 32 x 16 matrix of buttons. (Brian and Kelli write that “several close friends encouraged the endeavor.” I hope there was a bet involved.)
It is very, very pretty. Time to start scratching off lotto tickets.
But what April Fools’ jokes would you like to see become reality – and anyone want to take up the challenge? (Remember, Saturday midnight is the deadline for a contest to tell us your music tech dreams.)