Watching the bleeding edge of new musical instruments often means having to see new designs in tech demos, in proof-of-concept experiments as artists first try their hands on a new object. If you can use some imagination and see potential, that’s fine, but it’s a bit unfair to the instrument – you don’t get to see it really exploited musically.

Here’s a case that’s different: Jo Hamilton, an acclaimed up-and-coming artist from the UK, is really integrating the new AirPiano into her performance. Nor is she waiting for production: she’s got the only prototype outside of Berlin.

We saw the AirPiano in 2008; it’s the creation of Omer Yosha, an FH Potsdam interface design student. Drawing on the optical Theremin and the key layout of the Tannerin, the AirPiano creates a matrix of infrared sensors so that the keys are played in a volume of air above the instrument. (That’s a two-dimensional pitch layout, projected into the space above the instrument, as opposed to the one-dimensional projection of the Theremin.)

Here, Jo demonstrates how the instrument works (top), and also shows off her musical use in a video (which evidently suggests the AirPiano is a good choice if you’re playing in the forest). It’s quite lovely, and it’s nice to see a design in a musical context. She’s playing this instrument not only in this video, but in live gigs.

Who’s Jo Hamilton? From her press release:

Stemming from a nomadic family with roots in both Kenya and Jamaica, Jo Hamilton was brought up in a house two miles from the nearest neighbour in the wilds of northern Scotland. Her parents moved constantly in her youth, which saw her spending periods in Turkey, UAE, Kuwait, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.
Jo’s debut album Gown was produced by Jon Cotton (producer of Scott Matthew’s Ivor Novello Award-winning debut album) in her current hometown of Birmingham, and has received a sweeping range of
accolades including 3 awards at London’s recent Recharged Radio awards and a tip from US tastemaker/DJ Nic Harcourt as one of his picks for 2010.

If you’d like to know more about her music or you have questions about playing the instrument, I’ll follow up.
Jo pioneers new instrument – video out now! []