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A wrist-worn, automatic music-maker

November 8, 2010 via The Boston Globe (Business Section)
by Mark Baard

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.

Grodin said he would like to work with an established dance company or composer, who could create original pieces incorporating the Toscanini interface.

Wii accessories Tablet incorporates doodles into gameplay It seems as if we’ve seen every type of accessory for the Wii video game console (which Nintendo recently said will not come down in price for the holidays).

The Wii works with many wireless mats, boards, and rowing machines.

You can buy guns, rifles, dumbbells, steering wheels — even a race car — with slots for the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk.

Accessories that encourage less aggressive play are rare.

But Wii players this month can look forward to a new toy, the uDraw GameTablet, from THQ Inc., which they can use for drawing and coloring and for playing Pictionary and other games.

The GameTablet looks much like any Wacom tablet: It has a 4-by-6 inch drawing area and a detachable, pressure-sensitive stylus. The Wii Remote docks in the device and provides its power.

The tablet can also detect tilt and roll movements, for controlling characters in certain games.

The GameTablet will come bundled with the game uDraw Studio (about $70), which contains art tutorials.

Players can save their doodles to an SD card for printing out their most fridge-worthy artworks.