Your stupid, low-tech t-shirts. All they do is sit there. You can’t even hook them into a computer and control instruments live. Pathetic. John Malloy points us to a project by Dr. Richard Helmer, an engineer from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Belment, Australia. By embedding “textile motion sensors” (using conductive fibers, basically, so the fabric becomes a big set of resistors), you can play a real air guitar:

Air guitar T-shirt rocks for real [BBC News]
It’s not rocket science… it’s rockin’ science [CSIRO Article; site is a little slow, probably because of BBC traffic!]

The textile end is just half the equation; the team built custom software for interpreting gestures. It even maps to both right- and left-handed wearers, so us rightie elitists can’t continue to abuse the downtrodden lefties of the world.

Don’t like guitars? They’ve played tambourine and guiro, too.

For related projects, see CDM’s wearable tag.

Any CDM readers out there who have played with conductive textiles? (Come on, NYU ITP students, I know you’re reading.)

[tags]fashion, wearable, physical-computing, sensors, hardware, guitars, oddities[/tags]

  • My name is Dr Darren Kelly.

    I am a scientist (physicist/mathematician/computing expert) and inventor.

    I am also a musician and performer (singer/keyboardist/percussionist/electro/dancer) a.k.a. "PLAY".

    I write in reference to your article featuring Dr Richard Helmer's "air guitar":

    "Air guitar T-shirt rocks for real"

    I am the developer of a gestural music "air instrument" called Drancing:

    My system uses motion sensors from triaxial accelerometers in a sensor suit

    to synthesis light and sound in real-time, and to trigger and modulate samples.

    I have been developing it for about a decade,

    and there are any number of similar gestural instruments,

    all of which have long been able to act as "air guitars",

    and nearly all of them superior in application

    of motions transducers and audio nsignal processing to Dr Helmer's.

    Although the conductive fibre technology he employs

    is perhaps novel – or at least nifty – there is in my

    considered opinion not one single musical aspect of his

    "air guitar" that is novel or even vaguely innovative

    (let alone "world first" as some media outlets are claiming).

    Indeed, whereas much older instruments like my Drancing system

    (and many others before it) use real-time synthesis of sound (and light and visuals)

    from motion signals, Dr Helmer can only trigger pre-recorded samples, which is oh-so old hat.

    Everybody involved in gestural music can do that,

    the discipline is decades old, and so are "air guitars".

    They are so old that every year somebody else invents one.

    To make it worse, in some presentations he is merely playing back triggered

    samples ALONG WITH NON TRIGGERED MUSIC PLAYBACK, which is close to cheating,

    and certainly not as convincing as instruments like Drancing which actually

    synthesis new sounds from motion signals (as well as triggering and modulating

    drum samples or – heaven forbid – pre-recorded guitar samples)

    As one online commentator already put it:

    "Of course, given that he's playing along with a backing track,

    it's quite hard to tell what noises are actually being made by the shirt,

    or how the relate to the good doctor's extravagant arm movements…"

    Hear hear. Dr Helmer seems to admit elsewhere that

    he is not a musician, which does not surprise me much.

    I have personally phoned Dr Helmer to tell

    him these things, however he unfortunately

    does not seem to want to hear the truth of it

    (preferring presumably his 15 minutes of fame).

    Indeed he had not even heard of my own work,

    and I am clearly one of Australia's pioneers

    of gestural music. And certainly I am one

    of the world's leaders in applications of

    triaxial accelerometers for the task

    (even if not funded so comfortably by the CSIRO).

    Dr Helmer had likewise not ever heard of Wayne Siegel's

    work at DIEM in Denmark, who already employed bending

    sensors and wireless data telemetry just like

    Dr Helmer very effectively over one decade ago

    for very convincing performances

    (which I witnessed on his kind invitation).

    And Dr Helmer seems to not know of the dozens of

    gestural instruments used by members of the

    online Dance-Tech community, many of which

    serve as "air guitars".

    I congratulate the CSIRO for their innovations

    in matters of textiles, however I do wish that

    Dr Helmer would tone down his outrageous claims

    about being the world's first "air guitar" inventor.

    In fact, lots of people were already the world's

    first "air guitar" inventor last century, and

    nearly all of them used sensors in shirts,

    although maybe their wires were thicker than

    Dr Helmer's fibres.

    The "air guitar" is merely a particular operation

    mode of any flexible gestural instrument, and

    I suggest that literally hundreds of media students

    and musicians have also done similar (without

    fancy conductive fibre T-shirts, just good old wire).

    What may be a "world first" is the persitent extent

    to which Dr Helmer is exploiting the CSIRO's media

    leverage and the Australian taxpayers dollar for

    self-promotion without informing himself about

    prior art,

    Dr Helmer seems to have discovered virtual reality.

    Wow. Perhaps he should – as scientist – research

    non-virtual reality a bit before his next media

    release or taxpayer-funded webcast,

    Yours Gesturally and Accelerated,

    Dr Darren Kelly (developer of Drancing)

    PS: Since I cannot afford the media coverage

    Dr Helmer is enjoying, do please forward this

    to anybody you wish, publish it whereever you like,

    or even shout it from radio station rooftops

    (at least until Dr Helmer tones it down a bit).

  • Sorry, the correct link to your story:

    Dr Helmer has literally flooded the internet with his

    claims, it is getting hard to keep up with all of the links to refute them,

    Yours Gesturally,

    Darren Kelly

    Drancing: it's just another "air instrument"

    with sensors embedded in a costume that

    can be used as an "air guitar".