Tod Machover: Technology and the Future of New Music

7. What Instrument Are You Wearing Today?

FRANK J. OTERI: Let’s talk about the Musical Jacket for a little bit. What’s the idea behind the jacket?

TOD MACHOVER: The Musical Jacket was the first stage of thinking about a musical interface or environment that would be so present that you wouldn’t even have to think of it as an instrument. It would just be around you all the time. So music that could be made through an article of clothing, music that could be made in a room, music that could be made through a piece of furniture. That led to the idea of an interface which was inexpensive, which could literally become part of your clothing. That’s when we invented this idea of thread that could measure the electricity in your fingers. We built this two years ago, the end of 1997, and, to be honest, when we first built it, it was literally a novelty. We said, “Okay, let’s see if we can do something inexpensive, part of clothing, that does something significant, that actually really does make music.” We worked with Levi-Strauss to put this together. So the big breakthrough was that the fabric worked. It led to these fabric balls, which right now I think are much more promising. It turns out that two years later, Levi-Strauss has come back to us with great interest in manufacturing these, saying, “Hmmm, MP3 on the Internet, you want to have some way of making your own music selections, you want to have that on you all the time, you want to have it updated all the time. Maybe a Musical Jacket is the perfect interface for asking for music from the Internet, accessing it when you want to, having it on your body so it’s kind of a personal trademark, playing or manipulating it at will…” So they actually want to make a whole series of these now that might not exactly be an instrument, but rather a tactile interface for downloading — or having downloaded — your own personal music. That wasn’t my idea; I wouldn’t call it the most interesting idea in the world…


Flora -- CD cover

RealPlayer  [90 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip
TOD MACHOVER: from Bug-Mudra (1989-90)
David Starobin – acoustic guitar; Oren Fader – electric guitar;
Daniel Kennedy – acoustic & electronic percussion;
Tod Machover – conductor, data glove
from the CD Tod Machover: Flora
{Bridge BCD 9020; distributed by Koch International}
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FRANK J. OTERI: It’s a great idea. It’s a great convenience idea. But at the same time, it sort of makes me feel bad, because it’s sort of like, here you’ve created a new piano for people’s homes and now they’re coming along with a radio.

TOD MACHOVER: Right. My own sense is that if I really wanted an instrument, I don’t think I’d want to wear it. The only reason why you’d want something on your lapel that looks like this is as a sort of fun, social thing. When we built this two years ago, we found that, first of all, it was great fun to show it off. People also had a lot of fun going up and playing someone else’s lapel…It was great for social mixers…

FRANK J. OTERI: And it’s easier than lugging around a cello case.

TOD MACHOVER: I think, for instance, that it would be more interesting to have something on your sleeve, an ever-present interface to squeeze and touch… Maybe its because I’m a cellist, this idea of things that you can squeeze and touch… I can’t personally see any reason why I would want a piece of musical clothing right now. For now it’s such an oversimplification, with no real subtlety in the interface, gimmicky sound… You can imagine a little bit down the line that if you really had an interface that was delicate to the touch, a kind of note-sketch system or maybe even literally one that measured every expressive subtlety of movement. One of my students, for instance, just finished a PhD dissertation on a Conducting Jacket. The idea there is to have a combination of sensors sewn into a piece of clothing that you could put on that can actually measure your movements in a pretty sophisticated way. There are things that you can put in a piece of clothing that measure the tension in your arm or sweat or angle of movement, that can be interpreted in expressive ways with the right software. You wouldn’t have to worry about wiring yourself up – everything would be embedded in the clothing – and it would measure something pretty natural about your behavior for conducting or motioning. That turns out to be something that could be very sophisticated.

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