Being an international music superstar means you can tour with whatever fun toys you like. In the case of Bjork’s new Volta tour, that means the JazzMutant Lemur multi-touch interface and, even more fun, the fantastic reacTable, a research project involving projection and multiple objects for a tangible interactive table experience! CDM reader Mike Cohen smuggled this video out of a recent Bjork performance:

It really does work nicely in action, in terms of expressing to the audience what the performer is doing, and making nice eye candy, to boot.

More details on Bjork’s futuristic touring rig:
multitouched bjork [Byron Scullin blog]

And, of course, a big report from Boing Boing celebrity Xeni Jardin, which I’m way behind on linking as it posted 4/28:
Coachella: Björk’s wild sound machines, and report from the turf [Boing Boing]

It’s funny, but despite endless blog coverage of devices like the reacTable, some dating back before the creation of CDM, it sometimes takes a celebrity like Bjork for other people to notice the instrument. Then again, many electronic instruments have been popularized over the years by big names (Moog gear by Keith Emerson and Wendy Carlos, Fairlight CMI by Peter Gabriel, etc., etc., in a list too long to recount). So, perhaps this is something big for tangible interfaces. I noticed blocks were big at ITP last night. I think these devices just have a long way to go in terms of general accessibility and expressiveness, at least for mass music making; most importantly, they have to work on those two points in ways that can be reproduced by lots of people, if not in a commercial product, in a DIY implementation. But it’ll be interesting to watch, as always. And Bjork certainly demonstrates how to rock the instrument.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Awesome that you posted about this Peter. I wanted to inform you about this, but I was pretty sure that you were going to end up posting something on this anyways. The Reactable is an amazing instrument, I'd kill to own one. I wonder how heavy it is, and what kinds of I/O it has … it's such a crazy futuristic device.

    It looks like they've incorporated it really well into her set, and I wonder how long they've been playing with it. As it's not exactly a pick up and play instrument … it takes a little work to get the good stuff, such as any synth I guess.

    I'm freaking excited that she's touring with this thing. I really wish that I could catch a show, but she's not playing in Portland sadly. Oh how I wish she'd play here …

  • dead_red_eyes

    By the way Peter, what happened to the post about Radiohead and Bjork on here Earlier?

  • anon

    These things are so cool. But then so is the space shuttle, and I can't afford one of them either.

    It'll take at least a few years before these things are within reach of even the best of semi-pro musicians, and by then we'll be disinterested because we'll be seeing direct brain control on the way… I say skip it and go straight to the good stuff.

  • acrylik

    I wonder how much she payed the guys to get her a working table. theres no way they would have parted with the visual synthesizer software or audio synthesizer. they must have set it up for her. probably got the star treatment too. hmmm… i suppose everyone has their price. Well, im frikken glad it was bjork and not some other mainstream schmuck!

  • how much would one of these really cost to make yourself? Camera, projector, acrylic table, blocks and then hook it to a laptop

    minus the laptop i feel like it couldn't be more than like $2500…probably less

  • The ReacTable tracking software is actually available online. And the physical parts are more or less payable. The crucial part is (as always) in the way the tracked "fiducials" are used in a meaningful creative context (triggering loops, controllng effects, mutual feedback, …)

    Other tangible interfaces of that sort that might be interesting for digital music creation:

    – Audiopad by MIT ( )

    – Jeff Han's work on FTIR ( )

  • Machines

    The whole touch-screen stuff still fascinates and excites me. Maybe it's just my inner Star Trek geek peeking out. Peter, any further news as to when Dexter is going to be making its appearance? There doesn't seem to have been any updates on the device since 'messe.

  • wunsoong

    I was there at Coachella… it was VERY annoying that the cameraman spent so much time focusing on the Lemur. It was cool seeing the Reactable as well, but i would have been nice seeing Bjork on the screens since I was so far back in the crowd.

    Anyways, props to Bjork for incorporating the newest in music tech into her sets, but I swear to god it didn't seem like the Lemur and Reactable were actually controlling anything. I would see the guy riding the faders continuously, but did not hear any noticeable change in the music. Same with the Reactable. The guy had a good 8-10 modules on the table at one point and was twisting and moving the modules like a madman, but no audible changes in the music.

    I mean the music consisted of Bjork, brass section, backup vocals, synths, rhythm. The only things the Reactable or Lemur would be controlling are the synths or rhythm. But there was also a guy banging on a drum set, and a couple guys behind some synths.

    The cameraman should a quick glimpse of another guy controlling Ableton Live on a laptop which was probably triggering the beats…

    So yea.. I'm pretty sure the Reactable and Lemur were just for show.

  • dead_red_eyes

    wunsoong, I can clearly tell what the guy in doing above with the reactable … if you can't then you might have hearing issues. I hardly doubt they would tour with that stuff not hooked up to anything … that doesn't make any sense at all whatsoever. Bjork doesn't pull shit like that.

  • wunsoong

    weird.. i noticed the blips and bleeps in the video but not live in concert. maybe i was too focused on trying to catch glimpses of bjork.

    but honestly, it really didn't seem like the Lemur was controlling anything as I watched it live. When you see somebody riding multiple faders, you would expect the volume, tone, cutoff or some aspect of a sound to be altered accordingly. Maybe whatever the Lemur was controlling was so low in the mix that i couldn't tell.

    Sometimes you'll see a band or musical group with a dj that isn't an integral part of the song. He'll be cutting like crazy but you can barely hear it b/c hes so low in the mix.

  • Also worth mentioning on the ReacTable is that there's now a free library available for Processing:

    …which could explain why so many pieces suddenly cropped up at NYU's spring show this week. 🙂

    But these are good things, because it allows people to expand on the concept. I guess my point about Bjork lucking out on the fancy toys is that, in the case of reacTable, she could get someone else to set it up for her. Of course, a lot of us enjoy building things, so no hard feelings there.

  • Yeah, sounds like someone doing things that are lost in the mix. Unfortunately, that's kind of what tends to happen on these big tours, too …

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  • dead_red_eyes

    Indeed … getting your sound just right is a hard thing to do. That's why I was UBER impressed with the first show on the recent Cornelius tour … it was really tight.

    My guess is that the guy on the lemur was probably controlling textural stuff … or maybe it sounded good on his monitors, but it wasn't pushed that loud thru the house mix.

    I sounded like a bitch up there on the above post, sorry. I get all defensive with Bjork cause I'm such a fanboy … haha!

  • justman

    I dj-ed at her first concert on the volta tour in iceland.

    That´s Mark Bell from LFO controlling her beats and playing the lemur. And yes, it is hooked up. 🙂

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  • I was at coachella too…that was my video as a matter of fact. I definitely noticed the changes in audio with the lemurs and the reacTable, though other people I've showed the video have said otherwise regarding the reacTable. The reacTable seems to be controlling more of the noise than any beats or melody. Pluto is a fairly chaotic song at times.

  • I don't envy anybody trying to get the balance right on these things. Of course, it does seem that the sonic bits that interest me that the engineer tends to bury. On one band I was covering for Keyboard, a big venue outside Nashville, the engineer promised he'd push the level on the keyboards a bit just for me and the player. 😉

    It's funny, because we talk a lot on this site about how things look to the audience in terms of telling that there's something happening live … but the sound is really key, too. (Well, as you'd expect!)

  • I was also there. I thought that showing so much of the Lemur and the Reactable type thing was akin to showing somebody playing with a mixer for a whole show. Would anyone show a mixer for most of a show?

    From where I was it seemed like the Lemurs were controlling filters and envelopes, the table was more obvious what was going on. Hard to make it obvious what you are doing when controlling samples, but the table method is definitely better than sitting behind a laptop. Even if you can't tell what the people are doing, they're at least not hiding or checking their email. Seems that tablet pcs could do something similar for most performers.

    I'm sure if you were closer or farther away it would seem more or less like these devices were actually doing anything.

  • Its a start.

    This technology offers a very flexible way to control multiple parameters in a dynamic way. It just seems that nobody has found a way to apply it to anything in a musical sense yet.

    I think the real place for these controls will be with visual artists controlling video manipulations.

  • Machines

    So I'll take the lack of response on the Dexter as a "nobody knows anything yet."

  • That's correct. The Messe announcement was all TBD.

  • Machines

    Thanks, Peter. Investigation on their site still says something about a Spring release, so I'm hoping it's not that far around the corner. Hopefully their sense of time isn't like NI's…LOL!

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