“Look, [darling significant other], it’ll even be totally at home in our modern decor!” Photos courtesy the artist.

The desire to be a little different in a band might drive someone to choose a custom guitar, or maybe, you know, change their hair.

For some, it drives them to build a giant flying saucer they can play like an instrument by waving their hands. No, MIDI controller, don’t destroy Earth. Klaatu barada nikto. That’s the case with Helsinki-born artist Tommi Koskinen, now doing this as part of an MA thesis in the Media Lab of Aalto University.

Another strange gestural controller? Yes. But this flying saucer might just land a bit closer to home. This is just the first prototype; eventually, the developer promises a kit and open source code. And the whole thing can easily work with software and hardware – here, he’s using Ableton Live (though anything that receives MIDI data will work).

So, what is this thing?

  • Five ultrasonic sensors – that is, distance sensors based on ultrasonic echo location (a typical range-finding sensor)
  • Send MIDI notes, using gestures to send notes with controller data. (This is a bit like the Theremin arrangement – and like any touch-less arrangement lacks tangible feedback – but with more axes of data. And unlike the Theremin, it’s tuned to scaled octaves so you send fixed notes, as on a piano.)
  • Send controller data.
  • LEDs for feedback on modes.
  • MIDI out. USB class compliance (for USB MIDI).
  • Built around Arduino Mega 2560

Planned for the future:

Presets that you can store and recall
Sustain pedal support
MIDI IN for arpeggio clock sync
Arpeggiator patterns
LFO CC curves
Quick switching of presets by sending MIDI commands to the device

In the meantime, yes, Tommi does play this in his two bands:

Here’s a live performance from the latter, Phantom:

Basso Live: Phantom 16.11.2012 from Basso Media on Vimeo.

Techcrunch has a nice write-up, beyond our normal solar system of music tech planets:
Control Music Synthesizers With Gestures Through This Arduino-Based Saucer Called ‘The UFO’

And yes, UFO stands for Ultrasonic Frequency cOntroller.

Via Benjamin at DE:BUG (Deutsch).

More info, some cute concept sketches, and sign-up for a mailing list to be notified when the kit is ready: