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.