There’s a simple problem: sound is invisible, and sound synthesis concepts don’t have any physical reality. Knobs, faders, patch cords, keyboards, infrared sensors, touchpads, and the like all work quite nicely for synthesizing sounds. But take a closer look at Bjork’s use of the reacTable, an interactive multimedia interface that uses a camera to track the movements of blocks on a surface. They really are using it to make sounds, those sounds really are visualized in a nice new way (watch the waveforms connecting the blocks), and while the result is some swoopy synthy sounds, the interface does make making them a lot of fun.

It helps that Bjork pulls out some of her synthiest, electronicilicious-est tracks, like Pluto:

and Hyperballad:

And, of course, part of what happens is that the computer screen here has become the interface. When it works — when the visuals match the sounds, and suggest some new ways of constructing music — it really does show potential for this kind of instrument. (Even if you don’t buy into the blocks, the way the visualization itself works has a lot of promise.)

That’s the idea behind Microsoft’s Surface, too … but sometimes the gimmick can be a solution in search of a problem. Well, actually, maybe your computer of the future really will be “a big-ass table.” (Thanks,, for making me laugh so heartily.)

  • Microsoft always does well with other people's ideas. We'd probably have seen these sooner but they don't have Vista drivers yet. 😉

    We've got so much processing power, connectivity, and new options for interactivity. I can't help feeling that were on the cusp of something new and revolutionary. Microsoft may lead the way? I mean, with this thing they showed us that you can look at … road maps. Ahhhhh, the future.

    I really like Bjork and the guys involved with reac Table are doing good things for sure. The blocks look a bit like the graphics from Super Furry Animals records. That is certainly a good sign. I think I could get my head around something like Reason but in modular block form. Maybe the blocks could have been salt shakers, tea cups, and flower vases instead?

    Frankly though, I'd rather have a Moog synth and would rather hear someone performing on one as well. Just going by the end product. As far as seeing what they're doing and the concept behind it, I'm usually dancing or passed out in a garbage bin.

    Keytar is still better.

  • Ha! Well, honestly, these massive tours are tough ones to hear any one musician play, beyond whoever the front man/woman is. But I agree, I'm also about the end product… This is a good iteration, at least. The question is, what could you do that would be impossible on a Moog / with, say, the interface of a Moog Voyager. I expect you could come up with something — at least something that could be done elegantly. But it's totally reasonable to expect this will take many more iterations.

  • Fantastic… I just saw the most expensive pitch bend interface ever.

  • Manuel

    Why they use a single finger almost every time in the M. video? Also, the scroll bar is not faster than a hand ?

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