Round Slide Harp

This is the third musical instrument controller I have prepared for Maker Faire. This one combines lessons learned from the previous two: the tablo e-textile controller and the large koto/guitar hybrid from last year. What I am seeking is an instrument large enough and with a form that invites group performance, one that engages large body gestures and fine motor gestures and one that is compelling to play at a wide range of levels of musical competence from the core skills of young children (dance) to the heavily-trained gestures of skilled musicians, e.g. strums and plucks. The vertical orientation of the round harp engages casual "walk up" ad hoc groups to play together where they can see each other through the strings. The round format places the backs of performers towards onlookers freeing them the self-consciousness of observing how they are observed by the maker or other visitors.

The array of strings are bound together by a movable ring. This ring may concurrently enhance or disrupt plucking or pulling gestures on particular strings making explicit the process skilled improvisers learn of listening to others as they play shifting the rules of engagement to keep the music interesting. The ring is a playable component of the instrument in itself supporting vertical, lateral and torsional motion that is sensed and mapped in the sound synthesis software.

How easy it is to build this harp will be obvious to visitors: a handful of Gametrak controllers are connected to the synthesis software (Max/MSP) via a multiport USB hub. This configuration adds to a growing number of Gametrak based musical instrument controllers and will no doubt inspire new ones. Less obvious perhaps is how critical the mapping is between gesture and sound synthesis - indeed this instrument is a vehicle to experiment with different mappings. The emphasis of the experiments at this maker faire will be on finding and testing mappings that result in compelling, multi-part music where participants feel their gestures are really making a difference, where they feel they can't do anything "wrong", but also where the boredom of the safety of canned loops and other worn out compositional processes is avoided.

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Well the most successful mapping we tried did use the safety of loops. I carefully did the sound design so all twenty loops worked together and we simply mapped string extension to amplitude. What really made it work was John MacCallum's implementation which ramped the loops up to full speed as the string was first grabbed and ramped them down when released.