Every day at HARMAN Professional Solutions, we work with musicians and listeners to ensure that music is recorded and amplified as the artists intend. One thing we continually hear is how those who don’t play a musical instrument wish they could. The lack of childhood exposure, time to practice and, in certain cases, physical or mental limitations can be a barrier to the pleasure of making music.
HARMAN recently joined forces with Little Kids Rock to launch Jam Zone, an online resource providing free video music lessons for players and vocalists of all ages and experience levels. But, for those who find conventional instruments challenging, advances in technology have opened the door for engineers, therapists and musicians to develop instruments that can empower almost anyone to manipulate sound in tuneful ways. From the simplistic to the beautiful to the bizarre, check out these melodious outliers for musicians and non-musicians alike.
Created at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the Skoog looks like a toy for preschoolers. The soft cube, however, matched with the Skoog app or software and an iPad or computerenables it to sound like almost any instrument (and includes the ability to sample sounds). Originally developed for people with disabilities, it’s equally fun for those who have never mastered other instruments or simply enjoy experimenting with sound. Skoog enables users to explore pitch, timbre and dynamics while introducing them to recording and editing.
Ray Li and Michael Ndubuisi developed their remarkable motion-tracking electronic music gloves at Cornell University in 2014 and are raising funds to bring them to the world. The gloves allow the wearer to organize the space between their hands into invisible panels, where they can play notes, control effects, trigger or manipulate loops, and control parameters, including distortion and reverb. Watching a SoundSpace performance, it appears the user is actually shaping music between their hands. The great thing about the gloves is that they can give people who are unable to play traditional instruments the ability to create truly impressive sounds.
Instead of an actual musical instrument, the MidiWing is a tool developed to enable children and adults with physical and mental challenges to play music. The small yellow-green box is a fully chromatic, fully capable MIDI controller that allows users to connect control devices such as switches, joysticks, mice or faders, and position them according to their preference and physical capability.
MidiWing can be used with just one switch or more controls as the user desires and can be played in collaboration with another person. One mode of the MidiWing follows the note selection of a trumpet, while others simulate the layout of a trombone and a blues harmonica. One cool aspect of the MidiWing is how it has helped children who can’t otherwise participate in their school band or orchestra to join in!
Dubreq Ltd.’s original analog Stylophone pocket synthesizer went out of production more than 30 years ago. But, with the recent resurgence of interest in early synthesizers, an updated version of the British instrument is now available. All of the original details are still there, including the Stylophone’s etched metallic keys and the stylus that gives the instrument its name. The 37 note, three-octave keyboard with +/- two-octave shifter also works well when triggered by fingers.
Just about the size of a smartphone, Livid Instruments’ cheerfully illuminated Minim interfaces with its free multi-track Minim Music App and a variety programs such as Garage Band and Ableton Live and makes it easy for inexperienced players to come up with satisfying sounds. Minim allows users to tap their way into playing built-in drum, guitar and cool synthesizer sounds and can control other sounds by connecting to an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. The simple to play surface features eight expressive pads that sense the finger pressure, 3D motion control and a touch fader to control volume and effect levels.
Hydraulophones are irresistible water-based instruments, which invite pros and amateurs of every age and ability level to touch various water jets on a linear keyboard-like arrangement. Wet, wild and delightfully tactile, the Hydraulophone creates an enticing range of rich resonant sounds.
The Hydraulophone’s manufacturer, Splashtones has been installing them at parks, museums and studios in a variety of sizes and shape and has even set one up at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s (CNIB) Outdoor Classroom in Calgary.
Are you an aspiring musician with an interesting creative outlet? Share your experience in the comments.