A criticism often levelled against instruments like the Soundbeam, the Alesis Air Synth/FX (no longer available) or even the granddaddy of them all, the Theremin is that the lack of tactile feedback makes them difficult to master. They are great for improvising or playing around with but not so good when it comes to playing a particular musical composition. The Syntact from Ultrasonic Audio seems to provide a similar type of user experience as the Alesis Air Synth while also giving the user the all important tactile feedback. Have a look at the video below for an explanation of the technology and a demonstration.
It’s a nice idea and as an interface quite unique (I think, if there are others please let us know) but what is of more interest here is the mapping software it uses. The Ultrasonic Audio website explains it better than I could. Syntact™ provides an integrated mapping solution, which allows easy and playful generation of meaningful and diverse musical structures. The generation of sound is based on MIDI files provided by the user. The multi-track files can either be pre-composed by the user or any other existing MIDI tracks can be used. With different hand gestures the musician can then trigger different instruments or instrument groups, which generate output according to the pitch and time information contained in the MIDI files “played” (silently) in the background. The MIDI files therefore only define the possibility of a note taking place at a certain time, which is further conditioned by a combination of image descriptors. While the possible onset times are quantized according to a selected grid of smallest time units (e.g. sixteenth notes), the pitch can also be reorganized in real-time – through different gestures and with regard to an automatic analysis of harmonic progressions in the selected MIDI composition. The result is a musical structure where the pitch is always “right” and all the musical events are always “in time”. The hand gestures define the dynamic variations, temporal density of events and some basic harmonic alterations in the pre-selected / pre-composed piece.
This kind of concept sits somewhere between live performance and just playing pre-recorded music and could be an achievable, enjoyable and fulfilling way of a musician with a physical disability sharing their musical compositions to a live audience.