In 1928, Leon Theremin invented the first Theremin, which was said to be the first electronic instrument created. The Theremin is a very simple and unique instrument, which consists of two antennae that protrude from a box, and control pitch and volume. The distance your hand is from each antenna, determines the volume and pitch of the note created. Of all the thousands of instruments created, it is the only physical instrument that can be played without touching. The leap motion controller is a revolutionary device that is able to track the movement of your hands. Inside the tiny 3” x 1” prism, is two digital trackers looking for individual hands fingers and motions made by your hands such as closing fists, waving hands and many more movements. With this data, the possibilities are unlimited to what you are able to program. Our group wanted to incorporate these two very cool inventions, one old, one new, and create a combination that is superior to either of the two.
We started this studio by learning about three programs, which we would be using. Max7 is a visual programming language for media that lets you create and code anything imaginable. Abelton Live is a software music sequencer and digital audio workstation that interacts with Max7. The Leap Motion App features many musical games and using the controller opens up a new world of digital possibilities. We wanted to take advantage of the fact that the controllers could track both hands independently and wanted to create a virtual Theremin. Like any Theremin we programmed the device so one hand was volume and one was pitch. While this was a challenge at first we finally were able to create the program. First, we had to figure out the range. We didn’t want the range to be too big or else the sensitivity your hand would have to move between notes would be minuscule making it hard to play. However if the range was too small, the amount of repertoire a person would be able too perform would be very limited. We settled on a two octave C4 to C6 chromatic scale, which seemed to fit well. The next problem we found was that we ran into was that when playing a piece that involved jumps, you would hear all of the chromatic notes in-between. To fix this, we programmed a simple command which turned the midi piano notes into frequency notes, which is like a traditional theremin. While you are still able to hear the notes in-between, the slides are much less noticable and the instrumetn becomes easier to play.
The next thing we wanted to makeour Leap Theremin do, was to be able to change instruments. Fo this, we used the midi instruments provided and plugged them into our program. We included over 100 midi instruments from piano, to strings, to drum kits. Finally, we wanted to have the chance to create and play selected tunes much more accurately by choosing the instrument to only play specific notes in its range. To do this, we had first expirmented with just making the instrument play major and minor scales. Next we developed modejulation so that you would be able to change keys. Finally by anaylzing specific small songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, we were able to just select the notes in the peice and spread those six notes throughout the range of the controller. This was useful in getting a very accurate and recognizable peice played. The end result was a master program able to toggle between instruments, frequency notes, midi notes, and even programmable songs.
While this new Leap Theremin was cool in the way it sounded, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to incorporate a visual piece as this is what Max7 was best at doing. With the leap controller app came a visulal tracker showing the outline of your fingures in a stick and bubble like figure. We loved the simplicity of the look and so decided to make this our visual. When programming it in, we kept all of the colors and the looks of the tracker. We then wanted to create a background visual that reacted to the audio playing, however when we started to add it in, our program became overloaded and as a result, we encountered lag. We really did not like this as it suddenly was very hard to tell what was happening, and so we decided to just stick with the orignal visual which was stable, and had no lag. With our presentation we made the visual piece full screen to empahasize to the audience members the vertical raising of one hand and the horizontal moving of the other hand. For the preformers, the visual and audio breed really added a whole new demension to playing music.