A Look Back at NIME 2009

I spent 4 days in Pittsburgh in early June attending the 2009 NIME conference at Carnegie Mellon University. NIME is a conference devoted entirely to new interfaces and devices for the performance of musical ideas. The conference consisted of three days of paper talks, poster sessions, demos, and performances. There was also a well-curated gallery show with a number of impressive interactive sound installations. In addition to all the talks and posters happening on campus, a number of us gathered for nightly pitchers of Yuengling and pizza at the local watering hole, the Panther Hollow Inn. I will try to summarize here what I thought were some of the highlights of NIME 2009.

During the poster sessions, where we had an informal table to share info about Max for Live and other projects, I had a chance to see some really interesting projects. One of these was Langdon C. Crawford’s scrappy-looking but impressive MIDI Airguitar controller complete with in-depth Max patch interface for music making with it. Far from being a simple guitar-style interface, Langdon and his collaborators have created a unique controller with its own share of quirks and peculiarities, and its own set of skills that must be mastered in order to use it.

Another project that caught my attention was Randy Jones’ expressive multitouch surface controller for hand percussion and other musical applications. I got to talk with Randy a great deal about the project, which began as part of his thesis work and is now being prepared for production as a USB controller device. By using a grid of capacitive sensors combined with fast DSP chip and Jitter-prototyped software, the Madrona Soundplane A tracks the location and pressure of multiple points on its smooth wood-veneer surface. This data can be used to drive a synthesis engine, such as the physical-modelling percussion synth he uses in his demos. Beyond the technical details of the controller, there is a fantastic and expressive feel to it that is similar in many ways to a hand drum. The production prototype also sports a lovely all-wood exterior, including a thin plastic-coated wood veneer touch surface. Keep an eye on the Madrona Labs website for more information on the commercial production and even DIY instructions.

Other highlights include an intricate double slide trombone-style wind controller by José Tomás Marques Henriques, an array of interesting projects from Adrian Freed and the gang at CNMAT, the announcement of OSC 2.0, and the Audio Orienteering project by Noah Feehan from MIT Media Lab. Performance highlights included Chikashi Miyama’s kinetic “Angry Sparrow” piece (see video below), our own R. Luke Dubois performing with Lesley Flanagan, and David Wessel performing a new work for the SLABS controller.

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