The Future of Music is Now if You Want It

<p>Our new instrument round-up.</p>

There were a lot of reasons we were always jealous of our friends who were musicians, either by training, occupation, or just the possession of an amazing voice by some stroke of heaven-sent luck. If we had to narrow it down to the two things we’ve always envied the most, they would probably be the ability to carry this magical thing (the ability to make music) around with them, ready to burst out given the right circumstances, be it a drunken karaoke party, a late night jam session, or a random instrument lying in a friend’s room; and how that ability allowed them to communicate and connect with others lucky enough to be blessed with the same skills in ways that were stranger and more fun than those available to the rest of us.

In the future it seems we will all be able to make music if we want to — a proposition that gets us abashed members of the relatively untalented and musically untrained masses genuinely amped up. Because the truth is, now, at the end of the aughts, the future of music is arriving fast, if not already here. The list of new instruments we have for your viewing and listening pleasure this afternoon are all engineered to help the rest of us stop feeling like we’re just not music producers and start having fun playing with sounds.

The first new instrument we’d like to share with you is the Reactable, Bjork’s favorite plaything to take on tour with her. The Reactable works like a sonic board game. You and your friends can gather round, move the brightly colored pieces in sync with each other, and have your own spontaneous jam session, band camp and years of tortuous music lessons not required. Even the babies in this adorable video for it above seem to be making legit sound sequences. The Reactable’s not just for Bjork and babies either. If you keep watching, you’ll see creator and France’s “Godfather of Techno” Laurent Garnier getting down with the toddlers and plastic blocks and yet somehow managing to look incredibly serious throughout the whole thing. See, music can be fun, user friendly, and simultaneously simulating to those in the know.

More of a sophisticated, futuristic listener than a wannabe composer? Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony is pretty much the coolest thing that’s crossed our desk since we started this whole project. Instead of a CD, Perich’s clear plastic CD case holds a series of interesting looking bits of hardware that together form a complete closed electronic circuit which performs a series of tracks each time you plug your headphones into it. How does it work? According to Bang on a Can, where you can order copies for yourself and all of your friends (seriously though, at $29 this is like the perfect gift for just about anyone at any occasion. We already mailed one out as a late father’s day gift.) “1-Bit Symphony utilizes on and off electrical pulses, synthesized by assembly code and routed from microchip to speaker, to manifest data as sound. The device treats electricity as a sonic medium, making an intimate connection between the materiality of hardware and the abstract logic of software.” So cool right? The video below shows how Perich’s previous project 1 Bit Music and this one work, but the sound and video quality don’t do the tracks on the new one or it’s slick appearance justice. Go to Perich’s website to hear and see them in full force (we were all bopping around the office with our headphones on), and stay tuned for our Q&A with Perich himself.

Back to bigger things, but in keeping with Perich’s DIY aesthetic, the BeatBearing allows you and your friends to make and change beats using a relatively easy to build board and copper bearing balls. Tricky to imagine? The video below shows how it works, and also how it’s easy on the eyes like an old analogue phonograph. The best part is that inventor Peter Benett plans to publish his directions on how to build one on Makezine soon.

Finally, if you wanted to get started on your transformation into a futuristic music making machine with even less effort, new Apps for iPhone and iPad are making it easier and easier to create remixes from your itunes library on the go. Create Digital Music is starting a Mobile Music + Visual Dev Hack Groupdiscussion for sharing tips and tricks while iPhone and other mobile devices catch up to demand for better in motion mixing capabilities. Check out our Q&A with iPad DJ Rana Sobhany for her fave five apps, and the video below for CDM’s onscreen demonstration of the new iPhone DJ Mixer App.

What we like most about all of these new things is the way they combine music production and play. While critically acclaimed music has yet to be made on mobile devices (which is certainly not to say it won’t be) the chance to compose in transit strikes us as a definite elevation in the types of entertainment you can have on your phone, and one more way in which technology is becoming interactive and generative, as opposed to something that is passively consumed. Speaking of generative music, apparently Apps for the iPhone that will generate music based on your location, the temperature outside, and other data around you as you move through the world are not that far off.