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The Hand-Cranked, Antique MIDI Sequencer (High-Res Images, Details)

Music, ephemeral and fleeting, to many of us wants tangible embodiment, some physical sense of the tug we feel from its unseen vibrations. We’ve regularly featured the image of the circle as a sequence; even as music software prefers left-to-right piano rolls and scores and tracks, it’s a logical shape. Here, Finnish sound artist Martin Bircher looks to a last-century invention to build a mechanical expression of the sequencer. From an antique music box, comes MIDI, as in the video above. And if that’s too discordant for you, have a look at the original video below. Even in comparison to …

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Tetrafol, Sound Object by monome + machineproject + Fol Chen, in Videos, Sounds, and Interview

LA-based bang Fol Chen (Asthmatic Kitty records) wanted to go beyond the computer as the playback and manipulation device for their music. So they worked with collaborators to invent a solution. In a new video, sounds, and an interview, we can share some of how this came into being. Built with the monome creators (Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain) and LA research and experimentation center Machine Project, the Tetrafol is a custom, pyramidal sound device. The object warps Fol Chen’s music using gestural manipulation of playback, but can also use your own samples. And with open-source circuit and firmware, the …

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Tangible Music: The Reactable and Interactive Instrument Design, in Videos

Dig into humanity’s past, and alongside the earliest tools, you’ll find some of the earliest instruments. Designing objects for expression seems to be an essential part of civilization. Martin Kaltenbrunner, a co-designer of the Reactable tangible music interface, is also a professor in Interface Culture at the Linz University of Arts in Austria. There, in the land of Mozart and Haydn, he works with students to explore what interface design is. So, when I got to spend some time with Martin in New York in September, I was interested in more than just the flashy coolness of the Reactable, the …

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Tactile Touch: Evo Keyboard to Marry Touch Expression, Conventional Keys

A new design launching this week should appeal to keyboardists who want both more expressive touch control and a keyboard – without sacrificing one or the other. Yes, yes, multi-touch on tablets does indeed give your fingers access to continuous control for added expression and pitch. But there’s a reason keyboards evolved keys: tangible feedback about where pitches are, and the ability to control dynamics with pressure (itself with additional mechanical tangible feedback) just isn’t matched by touchscreens. We’ll be looking on an ongoing basis at how you can take the flexibility of those touchscreens and match them with more …

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QuNeo Trades Tablets for Discrete, Pressure-Sensitive, Colorful Sensors, in Crowd-Sourced Touch Project

Between conventional knobs and hardware controls and “magical” tablets, might we yet see real action in a third category of controller? Keith McMillen Instruments, makers of the SoftStep foot controller and K-Bow controller, are now venturing into fingertip territory. The QuNeo is a “crowd-sourced” project with apparently some open components, available now in preorder form on Kickstarter. We’ve seen touch controllers that, in terms of basic form factor, followed similar design directions as the QuNeo but that didn’t take off. M-Audio (then Midiman) got only as far as the prototype phase with the Surface One; Stanton’s SCS series went into …

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A Handmade Children’s Book, a 7″ Vinyl Record, and Tangible, Handmade Music

In the midst of all this talk of intangible digital intellectual property and arcane licensing and Internet policy, there’s something comforting about thinking of music and art as something you make with your hands and give to someone. It was a discussion of that – even in the context of technology – that first led me to the discussion of “Handmade Music.” (Tip of the hat to my friend, Etsy’s Matt Stinchcomb, with whom this discussion has crossed the Atlantic from Brooklyn to Berlin.) Via Cool Hunting, here’s an old-fashioned way of making a music object. The music is on …

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(Finished) Conversation on Reactable – Tangible and Mobile – and Interactive Music Design

It’s finished … but Dubspot will have follow-up video of the event soon. Streaming live from Dubspot in New York, Martin Kaltenbrunner and I are talking about interface design and music, in the context of his Reactable tangible interface. Join us, ask some questions, and stay tuned for more video after the session is done. For his part, Martin has the enviable title of “Professor for Interface Culture.” Tune in now and he’s making music with blocks. I’ll be talking to him, and talking about performing without a computer, with Reactable Mobile running on Android, MIDI out of an iPad, …

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Not a Turntable, Not a Knob: A New Inertial Sensor Music Controller, as Artists Explore

The appeal of new controllers is melding gesture and sound, metaphor – in tangible form – and musical idea. So before talking about this controller, have a listen to the sounds it produces in the hands of one user, even if another user might do something very different. In a demonstration by Richard Devine, sparse percussive sounds reminiscent of early sonic experiments by the likes of Varese echo in clusters of water-like drops and echoing rumbles. (Richard is perhaps better known for dense, sometimes raucously relentless walls of sound; this formally more contemplative, which I really enjoy, even if it’s …

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Loops as Sketches of Guitar Pedals, in Multitouch Table Music Design

Working in open source code for any platform, Brazilian artist and developer Jeraman has produced a charming project that imagines musical interfaces in dynamic, whimsically-simple sketches. Like doodled knobs, cartoons of guitar pedals, interactive devices on the touchscreen control musical activity. And because it’s open, cross-platform code, everything from a computer-powered multitouch table to an Android tablet could get in on the fun. Jeraman explains:

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As a Wooden Tangible Sequencer Plays Bach, Meditations on Encoding Music

You may have seen it already as it makes its viral rounds, but an advertising video for Japanese mobile giant NTT Docomo is a poetic model of how musical events are encoded, whether through means tangible or digital. A track of pitches makes a wooden ball into a mallet, traversing a track as it is driven by gravity. The keys of that track become a xylophone, the traversal of space sequencing notes in time, and you hear Bach Cantata 147, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” While there’s a clever take on a trill, the only disappointment is that we don’t …

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