Through the grace of my adviser, Wendy Ju along with the hard work of my awesome classmates (Matthew Canton, Gustavo Fricke, Jason Mickelson and Kristin Neidlinger), I got to go to UIST ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Victoria, B.C. over the weekend. I left early to avoid missing class but ended up getting sick and so missed class anyway.
Closeups of our model
I ended up being the only art school student presenting a project with Microsoft's pressure sensitive keyboard. That was interesting to say the least. Sometimes people didn't quite understand what we were trying to do but everyone was super friendly and some folks were an absolute joy to talk to. Here is the pitch in its more or less final incarnation.
This is what the setup looked like although I moved the poster and after a while closed the laptop so people would focus more on the model.
"This is Fovea Digitalis, a tool to help laptop musicians maintain connection with their audience. Typically during a live laptop show, you'll see the performer standing, hunched over a laptop, sometimes looking and up and seeing the crowd but then having to go back down into the software. They can't even maintain basic eye contact with their audience because they have to break that connection every few seconds or so to keep track of what's going on with the music. What we've done is essentially turn the keyboard into an instrument, allowing the laptop musician to step away from the laptop and remain integrated into the performance. You can wear it with a strap or integrate it into a suit and the keyboard becomes part of the performance. Samples are triggered under this pink square and then the samples are modulated just by rubbing the keyboard. The music is also tied to the visuals so the audience not only sees what the performer is doing directly but is also surrounded by it as well."
At that point I'd usually show the model we created as context. As the night went on, I also added bits about what the keyboard could be in the future. Samples were limited to just the num pad by our time and my meager programming skills but samples might be mapped to the entire keyboard such that a light tap turns on the sample, a harder tap increases the amplitude and the hardest tap might run it through a filter or keep it on a loop. The precision required to both program and play the keyboard matches it much more closely to a traditional musical instrument which would allow the musician to play for the audience without breaking the persona of performance.
Closeup of the keyboard skin.
All in all, I think it was a good experience and the conference was fun. Also, meeting people behind a lot of the research I'm collecting for my thesis was invaluable. Now I just have to connect names with faces and send out emails saying "hey, remember me? I was standing around the 3d club model, holding a furry keyboard like a keytar?"
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