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TEDGlobal: Imogen Heap’s Musical Gloves Manipulate Sound With Hand Gestures

TEDGlobal: Imogen Heap’s Musical Gloves Manipulate Sound With Hand Gestures
technology

During her performance today at TEDGlobal, singer Imogen Heap debuted high tech musical gloves, manipulating sounds and her voice with hand gestures only.

Kyana Gordon
  • 12 july 2011

Today, during her performance at the TEDGlobal Conference in Edinburgh, the singer/songwriter, Imogen Heap demonstrated a pair of magical, musical gloves that had audience members literally eating out of the palm of her hands. The high tech gloves connect an interface to a live musical production system controlled entirely with hand gestures. Developed by Dr. Thomas Mitchell, a lecturer and researcher at the University of the West of England, the gloves are like something out of the movie, Minority Report, since sounds can be recorded, synthesized and manipulated live on stage by Heap using intuitive hand movements. Dr. Mitchell explains:

It is really exciting to launch the gestural music system at TED this summer. It takes improvisation to a new level and frees the artist from interactions with electronic equipment on stage. Imogen’s performance will not make use of any pre-recorded material – the gestures she makes will control the sounds that the TED attendees will hear. For example by making a grasping motion she can ‘catch’ the sound of her voice or any other instrument, she can then filter these sounds by clasping her hands together and then ‘release’ the sound again by opening her hands. She can build layers of music, point and play invisible synthesisers and drums. The creative possibilities are huge and it’s really engaging to watch.

The gloves, comprised of sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes can detect the movements of the performer’s finger joints and the orientation of the hands in space, with microphones attaching to the wrist to capture sound. With the help of a laptop and advanced software, all sound is analyzed for audio processing. Heap is no stranger to technology and has collaborated with Dr. Mitchell over the last few years.  She described her first experiences using the gloves:

I walked onto the rehearsal stage, gloved up, without any other equipment and began to sample, loop and apply effects to my voice, acoustic and virtual instruments. I was completely mobile and free from wires. With radio microphones attached to my wrist I can record anything that I can point my hands at. This is what I’d been dreaming of!

Still much an ongoing research project, it will take years before it reaches store shelves, if ever. Regardless, we can’t wait to watch the TED video in a few days.

Images by James Duncan Davidson / TED.

TED Global 2011

Imogen Heap

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