Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

mardi 17 février 2004

This is what does a trio of Australian musicians from Canberra. The musicians of the group, named Hypersense Complex, create their digital music using sensors attached to their hands. This generates sounds through a laptop network of Apple PowerBooks running a Python script. Pretty exotic, isn't? In "Music trio's sensors working overtime," PC World tells us more about the group and the hardware and software they designed.

Hypersense Complex, a trio consisting of Australian National University computer music lecturer Dr Alistair Riddell, freelance programmer Simon Burton and Web audio analyst Somaya Langley, have designed the hardware and software to perform their high-tech musicianship at venues along the eastern seaboard.
The musicians load sound samples into a laptop and play them using bendable flex sensors, worn on four fingers on each hand, connected to the computer. Dr Riddell said the sensors are programmed according to the type of music they want to make, but the right hand's sensors usually work as the control system.

You can see these sensors on a photo of the trio rehearsing in studio (Credit: Hypersense Complex).

Hypersense Complex in studio

Now, let's see in detail how the process works.

In one composition, moving the thumb to bend its sensor will cycle through available samples. Bending the index finger, or the channel control finger, determines which speaker will play the sound (the group uses about eight speakers). The middle finger allows the user to change the start position of a sample, while the fourth finger can trigger a loop.
The left hand plays the different samples (or sounds). Each sensor is assigned one sound, and moving different fingers simultaneously means up to 15 sounds can be produced, said Dr Riddell.
The data generated by the sensors is sent to a microcontroller unit (MCU) on the back of each performer's (specially-made) jacket. Dr Riddell designed the MCU to scan the sensor(s) 100 times per second, which means high quality sound. This data is then sent via USB cable to an Apple PowerBook.
The PowerBook uses a Python script Burton wrote to compile the sensor data as Open Sound Control data, a network sound protocol. This data is then sent via Ethernet cable to a second PowerBook. "We need two laptops to be connected... to distribute the processing," said Dr Riddell.

The group doesn't perform very often and uses videos as background to the experimental music. Here is what they say about their performances.

"Our performance is part composition, part innovation," said Dr Riddell. "The programming is very tricky, because Simon's not only programming the sounds, he's programming us as well."

You'll find more information on the Hypersense Complex home page. There are details on the hardware and the software used. But there are also music files to download and lots of photographs.

Sources: Steven Deare, PC World Australia, February 16, 2004; Hypersense Complex website

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