RFID tags may have negative privacy associations when they’re used without someone’s knowledge. But embed these simple identifiers intentionally, and they can be a cheap, flexible way of tagging the world around you. Add OSC support with a free tool, and you can make anything into a basic music controller. That’s what Martin Kaltenbrunner – best known for his work on the ground-breaking ReacTable music table – has done with his own free software. It’s simple enough that you can easily make use of it, or take it as an opportunity to brush up on OSC and Pd.

This sort of odd, out-of-the-blue example is the perfect illustration of why OSC matters. Quietly, gradually, OSC is describing the world around computers in intelligent ways. In contrast to MIDI, with its resolution limits and arbitrary categories (vibrato rate?), OSC can standardize anything. What previously required advance standardization can now be truly open and even improvisational. The old way of standardizing: go in front of some sort of committee for approval. (RFID tags for music? Not likely.) The new way: go ahead and do the implementation, gather feedback, and if it works, other people will follow your specifications to ensure their stuff works with yours. In this case, Martin plans to add the RFID tagging to his TUIO2 protocol, which made what would have been just a cool one-off project (ReacTable) into a viral phenomenon of work with touch and tangible input. Martin writes:

I just released a new application, which intends to simplify the construction of tangible user interfaces based on RFID readers. Using this tool, the RFID add/remove events can be processed by any OSC
enabled application.

You can download the nfOSC tool from here:

The demo video shows the nfOSC application used together with the quite affordable touchatag RFID reader. A simple PD example patch receives OSC messages from nfOSC and starts a sample loop, when an RFID tag is detected by the reader device, the loop is stopped when the according tag is removed.

At the moment this tool just defines two simple ADD and REMOVE messages including the RFID tag IDs, but I am planning to integrate the tool into the future TUIO2 toolkit.

On its own, of course, it’s a simple hack, but I can imagine this having powerful implications when used in combination with another control method. And if you like the way the implementation works, you could use this same technique to apply to some other controller.

  • bass guy

    rfid again?

    how are we ever going to expunge the world of this orwellian tech when even musicians are having it shoved down their throats.

    i mean yeah it's a digital tech – yeah we can adapt it to music/video needs – but why?

    cool, let's wear it on our shirts; better yet under the skin and we can control our gear like the GODS.

    just because it's digital does not mean it's a great thing – especially considering the ramifications of rfid in matters of privacy.

    but like jello said:

    "give me convience or give me death"

    (actually the title of an album).

    i'm just saying.

  • usedtobe

    I think it's rad, real rad. I feel like an inch and half might be kind of a small range though, thoughts on ways to do this other than stackin the tags on the device itself?

  • ed

    looks like a waste of time to me… all these new gimmicks, all that time to create.. i'll stick to making music

  • Midi does not have "Filter cutoff" as any type of parameter in it's specification.

    Also the good thing about MIDI is that it creates a set of standards that all MIDI compatible gear has to abide by. This allows for simple communication without having to customize a interface for each device. This is something OSC in its current form lacks. Not to mention the amount of CPU usage and bandwidth OSC consumes when compared to simple serial communication.

    This is not a big deal for a modern laptop, But when your trying to squeeze every last drop of CPU horsepower out of a micro controller, It's a problem. Which the result is generally using either a beefier more expensive chip, or adding another micro controller just to convert that data into basic serial.

  • trash80: OSC does allow communication between devices. More standardization could improve this situation. And wildcard matching in patterns means that "standardization" doesn't have to be as rigid.

    You're correct about overhead, but note that even many microcontrollers are now capable of sending OSC. For everything else, that's the goal of the microOSC initiative.

    I should have used "vibrato rate" as the example, not filter cutoff; you're correct.

  • Yeah I just mean it would be great to see a strict set of standard messages for compatible gear. That way when manufactures put new hardware on the market, that "thing" can communicate with other like "things" without the user having to create some Pd/Max/Processing/etc/etc app to tie the "things" together. 😉

  • Definitely – that's a discussion well worth having. I don't think it'll take the same form as MIDI, however, and already quite a lot of interoperability is possible. That doesn't mean it shouldn't improved, of course. 😉

  • MAybe a OOP approach, where the piece of gear defines itself as a "music keyboard" -> "subtractive synthesizer" so you know it can receive note data, and things like "filter cutoff" ;D I don't know… that's a rather large and difficult topic.

  • Actually I have to admit that I am usually using OSC in a kind of device oriented and therefore reverse interpretation. Originally the actual intention of OSC was rather driven by the OSC server (e.g. a synthesizer) which is defining and listening to certain messages according to its capabilities. So actually an OSC client (such as this RFID app) should rather send messages that are specifically formatted for each musical application scenario.

    In both directions a "standardization" is of course difficult since OSC provides more data types and versatile application scenarios at the cost of the simple connectivity that MIDI provided so far.

  • I think standardization alone isn't everything. Think about the way you typically use MIDI — you usually have to assign MIDI messages to specific tasks. What OSC can do is make it easier to make those assignments seamlessly. And MIDI does illustrate which things you might need to standardize, like transport control, pitch, and other common elements – which OSC can, should, and will do.

    As for these complaints about RFID – come on. That's like saying we shouldn't use cameras because they can be misused to invade people's privacy. The one and only concern about RFID is its use in products without people's consent. When you use it yourself, it's just a tag, nothing more.

  • Geeks have being hailing OSC as a MIDI killer for like.. 10 years!

    There is a lot *talk* about the possibilities of OSC, but no "Killer App" music or software has emerged. I haven't heard anything that makes me think "WOW! I really should get on that OSC stuff. I just can't work without it."

    Musicians, want to make music.

    This is the real reason why Korg, Yamaha, Roland, Clavia, Novation, (anyone), etc have not bought into OSC in any (significant?) way. OSC is simply not necessary.

    In fact, if you took the videos as proof, I would say it was totally unnecessary, and should be avoided (totally possible).

    You're deluding yourself if you think all musicians one day will be using reactables, hacks and wii-motes. That's not the future. it's the past. I still have some lingering home that the monome/launchpad crowd will devise something beyond chimes and lame breakbeats.. but the hope is dwindling.

    For a blog, about a style of music I love.. it's so rare that I hear music that I actually like. This shit has so been done. More importantly, NONE of it is helping me.. the musician, make music any better or easier, faster, or in a more exciting way. I would say, judging by the videos, that it is the opposite effect.

  • "Killer apps" with OSC:

    ReacTable, one of the most innovative musical instruments of the last decade.

    monome, another of the most… uh, yeah.

    iPhone and iPod touch apps, which redefined the controller as software.

    SuperCollider, which uses OSC natively to redefine how advanced live synthesis and effects can be defined in code (following in the footsteps of Max/Pd, Csound)

    Other than that, OSC hasn't accomplished anything. 😉

    They aren't redefining the musical content, but then I'd say that's rather dependent on the musician and composer. Asking the protocol to do that – either OSC or MIDI – would be asking a whole lot.

    Technology demos rarely make for good music, so I hear you. More music coverage is lined up for the next few weeks, however. I actually managed to destroy a multi-page draft on 2009's music, but I'm over that and have a better plan for 2010 (as well as more backups of my writing… yes, I should know better)>

  • We shouldn't forget to mention the Jazzmutant Lemur in this listing, which was one of the first commercial controller devices to support OSC.

    And I don't think OSC was set to be a "MIDI killer", it just overcomes the major bandwidth and data resolution limitations of MIDI by providing an open message format with versatile data types.

    Taking this really simple RFID app as an example, of course I could have chosen to send note on/off events via MIDI, mapping each tag to a predefined note. OSC on the other hand allows to include the unique RFID tag UID for example, which couldn't be described by MIDI. Using tools such as Osculator it is still quite easy to map these add/remove events to MIDI notes if needed.

  • Dave M

    what i find astonishing is how everyone completely ignored the first poster's comment (bass guy).

    if indeed this kind of ignorance of ramifications continues there is really no hope anymore as the masses will be in clubs filled with chipped guests banging out gargage on their chipped instrument.

    sounds depressing (pun intended).

  • I actually share the concerns related to RFID technology. But I think one should be able to distinguish the different usage scenarios when it comes to tag persons or objects. While RFID passports, ID cards or transport tickets cause serious privacy concerns, I think there is no need to get paranoid when it comes to tag a few wooden blocks for an interactive application.

    I also have to admit that the demo video above is pretty lame, but I am currently planning the construction of an 8-step sequencer with an array of various readers, which then can be played using arbitrary tagged objects.

  • Dave M.

    hey martin,

    your point is well taken, but:

    the analogy that comes to mind was the argument for nuclear science how it would change the world for the better because of power generation and all the cool things we could do with it etc etc (just search through archive.org and you'll see what i mean).

    we all know now what the "discovery of the atom" is used for.

    and the argument that rfid won't be as large of a world changing tech as nuclear power does not float either – it already is world changing – and not for the better.

    it's not about "tagging wooden blocks" (sic), but about promoting an orwellian technology through the use of music of all things.

    i don't think it's paranoid or fear mongering to ask people to think of the moral implications of what they are bringing into the mainstream consciousness.

    i personally find it irresponsible to promote rfid in this way – basically making it palletable – schmackhaft wenn du so willst 😉 for the public….

    sorry if i've stepped on some feelings, but that's how i see it.

  • Dave M.

    oh by the way, i don't think your video is THAT lame – we get the idea what you are trying to show – that's the most important thing 🙂

  • Dave, it still seems to me that the issue with RFID is when it's used without someone's knowledge and consent. By the time you're using it on your own reader, with your own app, with your own chip, it's no longer a privacy concern. You can't really violate your own privacy.

    In fact, if you really want to understand how something like RFID can be misused or communicate that other people, wouldn't starting with a demonstration of how the technology actually works make sense?

    Take the nuclear age analogy: what made nuclear advances dangerous was that people misunderstood its dangers, and then were intentionally, widely misled.

  • Dave M.

    Sorry Peter you missed my point.

    How are you going to know when this tech is being used without your knowledge? obviously you won't.

    my whole point was that it's not a good thing to promote such a technology when the "misuse" of it is ALREADY being seen.

    by sticking money, energy and promotion (i.e. gigs) into this tech your are by your own definition helping the people, in being misled.

    even worse, your are even financing the industries that build these chips.

    and why? for a cool new kind of controller toy.

    come on you guys!

    btw peter – just found your site here through keyboard mag. wow! great work 🙂

  • Orubasarot

    ~~~*DAVE M*~~~~

    USA CDM 2010 AD

    VIP: ALX JNS #1


    (*) THIS JUST IN (*)

    —___—VIA MORSE CODE___—___






  • Dave M.

    erm, what?

    ps your keyboard is broken.

  • usedtobe

    good one orubasarot

    pretty sure the revenues from a couple of music geeks wont make any difference to the RFID cats, people doing evil things have more money than we do 😉

    i'm wondering what other artist's ideas for this tech are. wacky indiana jones pendulums? or like, put one in your sleeve so the corner of your desk only lights up when you're knob twiddling over there? i want to quit arguing and make some shiat 😉

  • Dave M.

    well, at the risk of feeding the troll:

    i was not talking about making these companies rich by buying their tech.

    i was talking about the moral aspects of supporting a system specifically designed for tracking and cataloging people; even if YOU are using it for something else.

    why attack the messenger Orubasarot and usedtobe? please feel free to debate the TOPIC.

    have musicians really become SO self-serving and ignorant of the facts – i really don't want to believe that….

    but, if moral aspects do not bother people because they are indeed just looking to make some "shiat" then i have just one word: lemming-mentality. (ok maybe that's two words)

    good luck,


  • Dave, I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask these questions.

    However, implying that anyone using a technology is therefore morally ignorant only presupposes the conclusion you've reached. (In other words, these comments amount to, "explain to us how it is that you use a technology that's inherently evil.")

    I think that's up for debate. For one thing, RFID is designed to tag things as well as people. Clearly, there are some intended uses that are not engineered as an intentional invasion of privacy.

    At the same time, it'd be ignorant to assume something has to be maliciously engineered for control or invasion of privacy in order to be dangerous. It's clear from a range of privacy issues – of which RFID is only one – that it's the *potential* for abuse of information and data that makes privacy a concern.

    So, clearly, these issues are important. Why not make use of the tech to better understand it? To me, hackers working with RFID are able to:

    * better understand themselves – and convey to others – how the technology actually works, so that it isn't just "magic"

    * highlight potential uses of a technology, including both the potential for misuse and the potential for positive uses

    I also think it's irresponsible to vilify RFID over other technologies. Today, police forces are checking people's Facebook profiles to gather criminal evidence. The threat to privacy posed by RFID tag isn't imagined, but at the same time, it's bordering on being rendered quaint by the other data collection techniques that are spreading explosively through our society.

    Oh yeah, and I have to say, I've been perfectly happy to have an RFID-powered toll road so I don't get stuck in a traffic jam caused by a coin-operated toll booth. Now, does that make me morally ignorant, or does it illustrate the tension between privacy concerns and convenience? I think the latter.

    Bottom line: this sort of art demo ought to be a chance to talk about these issues. If you instead shut down that discussion before it's begun, I think you miss an opportunity.

    Now, if it had been a loaded gun, that might be different…

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  • Rob

    THANKYOU. I've been looking for a way to use this piece of crap.