A wrist-worn, automatic music-maker

November 8, 2010

Prototypes A true artist can make music out of anything. It’s been said that Brian Eno sometimes picked up junk on Canal Street in New York to use in his recordings if he liked the sound the found objects made when banged together.

Other artists, such as Robby Grodin and Lindsey Mysse, also like to make instruments out of computer hardware: in this case, a $50 watch with an accelerometer, purchased from Texas Instruments and wirelessly connected to a PC.

The system, called the Toscanini Interface, is one of a number of wireless “gestural interfaces’’ that use Bluetooth or RFID (one actually works with chips implanted in the hands of the performer) to trigger computer-generated sounds and other events.

Toscanini uses freeware created by Grodin, a Northeastern University music technology and computer science undergrad, and Mysse, a Boston-based freelance developer, to convert the X, Y, Z movements of the motion-detecting watch into sound.

Streams of data from the interaction between the watch and the PC control the volume, pitch, and the types of sound that the artist can play and record.

Grodin and Mysse are creating their software in part with Max/MSP, which musicians can use to create their own electronic music instruments. (The software, Grodin said, is designed to make it easier for musicians who are not coders to develop new tools.)

Created first for Music Hack Day Boston (boston.musichackday.org) last month, Grodin and Mysse are mulling a commercial version of Toscanini, with original hardware and software. Grodin says he and Mysse are also working on a refined version of Toscanini that would provide an automated accompaniment for a pianist wearing the accelerometer.

DJs using the interface will also be able to remix music samples automatically, “like scratching with three turntables, instead of just two,’’ said Grodin.

Article by Mark Baard of Boston.com