When fabric meets electronic instruments – Technology insight


In an ever increasing jungle of new gear coming out it’s quite seldom you really get amazed of what music engineers have in store for us, but this new music technologies involving fabric and textiles are actually quite intriguing.

From the rubbery membrane of the Seaboard MIDI controller to the percussive wooden skin of Expressive E’s Touché, finding ways to bring the physicality out of software has become a new frontier in music production.

Two developers at the MIT lab have created the FabricKeyboard. The keyboard is built from multi-layer fabric sensors that detect touch, proximity, electric field and pressure. Machine-sewn into the shape of a keyboard, the entire surface can be stretched, twisted or simply hovered over to create strange effects and expressive dynamics in sound. Check out the video below to see the FabricKeyboard in action.

Here’s how they describe it in detail; the FabricKeyboard is a textile-based, multi-modal, stretchable musical interface that could simultaneously detect touch, proximity, electric field, pressure, and stretch. It combines both the discrete controls of a keyboard and various continuous controls from the embedded fabric sensors. This opens up new tactile experiences and novel performances with physical and non-contact gestures, such as pressing, pulling, stretching, grasping, and twisting the keys or the fabric, as well as hovering and waving towards and against the keyboard. We’ve further explored our textile-based interfaces by developing fabric ribbon-controller and trackpad, allowing performers to add more expressive and continuous controls. The fabric keyboard brings out the vision towards seamless, self-aware, and washable media.

The guys at Responsive Environments are in general a very productive team when it comes to experimentation in the music field. Some time ago they also put together a networked synthesizer module with tightly coupled web browser and tangible interfaces.

Patchwerk connects to a pre-existing modular synthesizer using the emerging cross-platform HTML5 WebSocket standard to enable low-latency, high-bandwidth, concurrent control of analog signals by multiple users. Online users control physical outputs on a custom-designed cabinet that reflects their activity through a combination of motorized knobs and LEDs, and streams the resultant audio. In a typical installation, a composer creates a complex physical patch on the modular synth that exposes a set of analog and digital parameters (knobs, buttons, toggles, and triggers) to the web-enabled cabinet. Both physically present and online audiences can control those parameters, simultaneously seeing and hearing the results of each other’s actions. By enabling collaborative interaction with a massive analog synthesizer, Patchwerk brings a broad audience closer to a rare and historically important instrument.

Chromosonic, by Hungarian designer Judit Eszter Karpati, is an experimental electronic textile that can change color and pattern in response to touch and sound. The magic comes courtesy of temperature-sensitive dye.

CHROMOSONIC project is an electronic textile that changes color, using the Arduino open-source platform. The dynamic changes in the textile color derive from processed sound files. Silkscreen was used to cover the textile in a dye that changes with temperature. Sound makes the wires woven into the fabric heat up, changing the pattern.

The project investigates the relationship between digital world and textile arts, the ever changing boundaries between the digital and physical world.How the world of digital media becomes tangible through the textile medium. Our intention was the broadening the field of textile craft and design, bringing together different mediums and looking for new possibilities in textile design. The project mixing different areas: textile design, electronics, IT.

Yet another interesting project is ‘liquid MIDI’ by EJtech – an experimental textile interface for sonic interactions, exploring aesthetics and morphology in contemporary design. the technology is screen printed with electric paint from bare conductive directly onto a textile surface, then through an arduino micro controller communicates with the desired software, using MIDI protocol. this unique interaction with this textile interface allows the medium to become part of the message, where the interface becomes part of the process of creation itself.