Quick Bytes: virtual instruments

One area that we could spend a lot of time on in this class, but which will be limited to this post, is the realm of instrument construction. Of course, the history of music is filled with the introduction of new instruments and musicians who are ready to exploit the new possibilities an instrument provides, both technical and sonic (e.g. pianoforte, saxophone, celeste, theremin, etc.).

Recently, however, there has been an explosion of new sonic possibilities made possible by digital and analog synthesis. Many programs allow users to create their own instruments, often coupled with MIDI files. Logic, a program by Apple, contains Sculpture, an interface designed for playful instrument creation. Other musicians, such as Mark Applebaum, use technology to create new physical sound-sculpture instruments.

One article published today talks about new developments in user interface technology, and includes an instrument that is quite the buzz in the music technology world, the Reactable. It’s better to watch one of the YouTube videos or other demos than to try to describe how it works, but I saw a concert by Bjork where she had a member of her ensemble playing one, and it was pretty impressive. Several videos depict the instrument in use, including this one that I think is probably the best for showcasing Reactable.

As Dr. Sam Reese says, “there are usually 10 ways that any technology can be used, and nine of them might be boring or pointless, but one of them can really change a students’ educational experience.” Finding that one way, or helping students to discover musicmaking with technology that is infused with meaning and purpose, is why we are here.

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