The wearable market is generating a lot of interest at the moment. Recent announcements by Apple, and earlier announcements from Intel and others have generated numerous articles in the major publications dedicated to the tech and retail electronics markets. So what about audio wearables?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware wearables supporting audio have been around for a long time. Popular products include everything from wireless headphones, Bluetooth headsets and ear buds to hearing aids that assist the hearing impaired. Over the years we’ve seen these products evolve incrementally, but now we’re seeing new technologies being applied in new and different ways for audio wearables – including wearables for musicians.
Wearable Musical Instruments
While novelty products like playable t-shirts are fun inexpensive gifts, there are more serious wearable musical products for performers. One thing to keep in mind is that while most people refer to these products as musical instruments, in reality, they are musical instrument controllers. What’s the difference? Controllers don’t have the ability to generate sounds on their own. Instead, they’re designed to control other instruments or sound modules that provide sound generating capabilities. The advantage of wearable controllers is they can add an entirely new element to music performance.
One example is Grammy winning artist Imogen Heap. Not only is she an accomplished singer-songwriter and recording engineer, she’s also an advocate of using technology in her performances. In 2011 she was working with a team in the development of musical gloves equipped with Wi-Fi, gyroscopes, accelerometers and bend sensors that would allow her to control various aspects of her performance in real time. Using the Xbox Kinect to detect her motions or position, she has the ability to control filtering, effects and many other parameters based on her hand gestures. She also has the ability to record and trigger playback of short parts of her performance.
photo courtesy Imogen Heap
Like most tech projects, this system is built on the shoulders of others that have come before. Heap’s project was inspired by the VAMP (Vocal Augmentation and Manipulation Prosthesis) system developed in MIT’s media lab by Elly Jessop. While gloves like these are not something you can buy at your local music store, it’s probably just a matter of time before someone develops a marketable off-the-shelf system for musicians. Heap launched a Kickstarter campaign that unfortunately fell short of the goal; however they continue to move forward with development. If you’re interested in more information you may join their mailing list by e-mailing email@example.com.
David is the Technology Specialist for Mouser’s audio market segment and is responsible for identifying new technologies, products, applications and business opportunities in the automotive, consumer and pro audio markets. Prior to joining Mouser, David spent 20 years in the professional audio industry with International Music, Akai Professional and Rupert Neve Designs. Since coming to Mouser, David has driven growth strategies for some of the leading embedded processor and audio focused suppliers.
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