Steve Mann, Chris Aimone, et al of the University of Toronto have developed a system for using streams of water to play a musical instrument. They describe the results in theoretical terms for the academic community, referring to ancient Greek water organs and the ability to have greater tactile feedback than other alternative instruments. But let’s get to the bottom line: this is a fun water toy that is not only tactile, but wet. You can play the instrument by manipulating streams of water directly:

The “FUNtain” (hydraulophone) is an interactive multimedia fountain that responds when people block, one or more of the water jets, or touch, restrict, or interact with the jets. In particular, it can function as an extremely expressive musical instrument in which each jet of the fountain is a soft key that can be pressed in infinitely many ways to obtain fine control of note volume, pitch, and timbre.

I find that people overuse the term “infinitely”, but it does look like an expressive and open-ended instrument, not to mention one that’s going to be fun to play on a summer day. (And ironically, they introduce it in Canada, not Florida.) The good news: they’re going beyond their earlier, simpler water fountains, which produce sound acoustically, to outfit their water instruments with a MIDI interface. That’ll make this the world’s wettest MIDI controller.

Keyboards made from rows of water jets, sprays, and nozzles as direct user-interfaces to water-based, fountain-based, and underwater musical instruments [Paper; that’s the actual title, not an abstract, though it could be an abstract!]

Abstract of presentation to International Conference on Multimedia & Expo

FUNtains, with gallery, which include more acoustic instruments as well as these digital interfaces

Steve Mann’s page / with the latest on this and many other projects

For a somewhat less-direct water interface (using camera and sound tracking of water), see the MOcean project, which was just shown here in New York.

Thanks to Matt Fellers for this one, who sums it up neatly: “Crazy Canadians…”