Friday, May 06, 2011

#TOUCH: "Touch-Screen Musicians Jam in Virtual Band"

Smarter drummers have always made music by tapping their fingers against tabletops. Now musicians who play the bass, drums and keyboard are getting into the act with specialized apps for large, flat-panel touch screens. Touch screens as large as 46 inches are enabling musicians to tap out melody, bass and rhythm on virtual instruments, then record the audio all without touching a mouse.

Apps are turning touchscreens into musical instruments. (Source: NextWindow)

Once hailed as a revolutionary advance in man-machine interfaces, the mouse is starting to appear long-in-the-tooth when compared with giant touch screens that enable an entire user interface to be controlled by touch. Musicians especially can benefit from touch screens that offer dedicated keys, buttons, switches, rotary dials and other controller surfaces that operate like conventional music hardware, but can be instantly configured or swapped out.

Touch screens today are mostly confined to tiny smartphones or marginally larger tablets, but the availability of large, touch-screen flat-panel displays has induced the music software industry to adapt their virtual instruments and audio recording applications to touch screens.

To prove the point, NextWindow recently put together a virtual-band stage consisting of 13 large, flat-panel touch screens—seven 46-inch touch screens and six HP All-in-One desktop touch computers—featuring every instrument usually found in a band—including bass, keyboards and drums—as well as the associated electronic mixing boards necessary to record tracks. Then they invited Megan Slankard and her band on stage to record one of her latest songs using touch-screen technology that they had never used before. After just a few hours of practice with the virtual instruments, the band recorded a virtual version of "Sails" from its album "A Little Extra Sun."
"It was really cool to see how [touch-screen technology] works and how you could use these instruments in a live setting," said Slankard. "On the touch screens in the video we play drums, keyboards and bass."

The drummer used screens dedicated to three different drum sets, including EZdrummer's "Drumkit From Hell," Latin Percussion's EZX and Fingertapp's Drums. With the virtual instruments spread out across the touch screen—looking like a window onto a photorealistic drum kit—the drummer used his sticks and fingers to tap out rhythms.

The keyboard player went virtual by tickling virtual ivories presented by two apps, Cakewalk Studio Instruments' Electric Piano and Fingertapp's Piano. Although the touch screens did not provide the tactile feedback of a real keyboard, they did offer the advantage of instant configurability and novel soundscapes.

Even the band's bassist laid down licks using a virtual bass guitar that duplicated its fretboard.

Finally, the audio engineer made the recording with a virtual mixing board from FL Studio, which includes touch-screen controls for both recording and sequencing sound.
The larger touch screens used were made by attaching NextWindow's 2700 Touch Overlay on a 46-inch LCD panel, while the 23-inch HP TouchSmart All-in-One PCs used NextWindow's 1900 Series Desktop Touch platform.
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