Watching the bleeding edge of new musical instruments often means having to see new designs in tech demos, in proof-of-concept experiments as artists first try their hands on a new object. If you can use some imagination and see potential, that’s fine, but it’s a bit unfair to the instrument – you don’t get to see it really exploited musically.

Here’s a case that’s different: Jo Hamilton, an acclaimed up-and-coming artist from the UK, is really integrating the new AirPiano into her performance. Nor is she waiting for production: she’s got the only prototype outside of Berlin.

We saw the AirPiano in 2008; it’s the creation of Omer Yosha, an FH Potsdam interface design student. Drawing on the optical Theremin and the key layout of the Tannerin, the AirPiano creates a matrix of infrared sensors so that the keys are played in a volume of air above the instrument. (That’s a two-dimensional pitch layout, projected into the space above the instrument, as opposed to the one-dimensional projection of the Theremin.)

Here, Jo demonstrates how the instrument works (top), and also shows off her musical use in a video (which evidently suggests the AirPiano is a good choice if you’re playing in the forest). It’s quite lovely, and it’s nice to see a design in a musical context. She’s playing this instrument not only in this video, but in live gigs.

Who’s Jo Hamilton? From her press release:

Stemming from a nomadic family with roots in both Kenya and Jamaica, Jo Hamilton was brought up in a house two miles from the nearest neighbour in the wilds of northern Scotland. Her parents moved constantly in her youth, which saw her spending periods in Turkey, UAE, Kuwait, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
Jo’s debut album Gown was produced by Jon Cotton (producer of Scott Matthew’s Ivor Novello Award-winning debut album) in her current hometown of Birmingham, and has received a sweeping range of
accolades including 3 awards at London’s recent Recharged Radio awards and a tip from US tastemaker/DJ Nic Harcourt as one of his picks for 2010.

If you’d like to know more about her music or you have questions about playing the instrument, I’ll follow up.

http://airpiano.de/
Jo pioneers new instrument – video out now! [johamilton.com]

  • Mark

    If you want to be totally original you could even connect it to an Elka Synthex

  • Chili

    Interesting. I think your title is correct in dubbing it a controller. I don't know if I'd go as far to say it's an instrument. And Air Piano is a terrible product name IMO. A piano's timbre is percussive. I can imagine playing anything percussive on this instrument would be frustrating due to latency and also the lack of physical contact. Perhaps a name like "Aria" would be more fitting.

    Also it would be cool if it had a sound modeling VST that was designed around it's playability with constraints in the programming that creates sounds that are ideal for that type of controller. i.e. slow attack, long release etc…

    It reminds me a little bit of Beamz in that it seems half baked and there is no emphasis on the software that makes the "magic" happen.
    http://vimeo.com/13085676

    ps – Jo has a beautiful voice!

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

    Actually, it's getting cheaper and easier to do embedded computers. I don't know whether building the computer *into* the object makes them more or less an instrument, but nomenclature aside, it'll be fun to use.

  • Chili

    Clipboard FAIL. http://bit.ly/efc3m

    the last link was cool but completely unrelated.

  • Jeff

    Looks like she is using MainStage 2 as her performance app.

  • TechLo

    Well, the music was quite lovely. Whether she out-Heaped Imogen with her use of technology — I wouldn't know, lol.

  • flunki
  • vinayk

    Interesting instrument – Looks really nice for live performance.

    But I will have to agree with the comment about Jo's lovely voice – Just bought the download album in Apple Lossless.

  • Emu

    I appreciate the demo but this video is in serious need of audio level balancing.

  • Shelley

    try this link to see a video with better sound…it is because the player is not HD version

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTp5MFgzqZk&fm

  • Polite

    Her choice of the various loops and pads on the different sensors was quite inspiring, and is making me think a bit differently about sound triggering in a live environment. I very much enjoyed the semi-percussive part in the middle of the song. Very impressive.

    I'd love to see a breakdown of how she set up the patch for the first song.

  • http://www.thresholdhouse.com Peter Christopherson

    Her music sounds nice, but she looks like one of Kraftwerk doing the robot dance in 1977, and for a new controller only to have a 24 note-at-a-time range on such a big thing, with no precision or tactile feedback, or velocity, or style, or…

    She's doing well, and is making the most of it (her programming as other commenters have mentioned is excellent! But IMHO the AirPiano is more of an AirTurkey.

  • http://www.lazytrap.com Aaron

    It's an elegant looking controller and looks great in a live enviroment. I personally have no interest but I would be impressed seeing someone using it live making good music (as is apparently the case with Jo).

    As far as it's limitations.. who cares. A mononome is a nondescript box of buttons and I've heard more shit come from it's users than good. A padkontrol, etc. or MPC is just a series of 16/32/24/etc sample triggers and little else and I've see/heard awesome things out of them. A midi keyboard is just a midi keyboard and its still one of, if not the most expressive controller in existence.

    Too many haters. With the thousands of customized controllers around nowadays you'd think the wanking would eventually subside.

  • Attic

    The height she is able to move her hands with those sensors is just like the old roland Dbeam. I used five samplers with Dbeam for a live show and linked into ableton. I would use them to trigger samples and the length of abletons pingpong delay and it is very much like conducting. If you have an old dbeam around adjust its settings to maximum height and link it to controls in ableton you will be nicely surprised at how intuitive it can be.

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