Innovations: Robot RockIt looks like an air guitar, sounds like a real guitar, but is neither. Bang your head to a new evolution in music – the Kurv
Mick Grierson, 42
The Ideas Man
Mick Grierson, 42
In 2013, Grierson—a professor at Goldsmiths, University of London—had the idea for a “tangible interface” that would make music through a pressure-sensitive glove. In collaboration with U.K. entrepreneur Suran Goonatilake, who suggested the device should look like a guitar, the first prototype was built in just a weekend. Now, thanks to Kickstarter, the Kurv will be available to buy beginning in September.
My air-guitar game is strong. Can I play the Kurv?
“People who have never played a guitar find the Kurv pretty easy to pick up. I taught some journalists ‘Smoke on the Water’ in five seconds. They went away knowing how to play it in a way that sounded convincing.”
So it’s a guitar minus the actual guitar?
“It’s inspired by and sounds like one, and you can use skills you’ve learned from playing a guitar. But inside it are sensors that understand how you’re using your hands—like the way your fingers are stroking the instrument, and the emotions you’re showing with the tightness of your grip. Things you can’t pick up with an ordinary guitar.”
Wait! It’s a sentient musical instrument?
“Machines are getting better at understanding human activity. Say I make a Pete Townshend windmill with the pick. It recognizes what I’m doing and makes the sound of a Pete Townshend windmill. There are music systems using a Wiimote or iPhone, but they’re not intelligent. We’re closing the sci-fi gap.”
Can it invent new music?
“We’re one of the first labs in the world to use this technique to generate music. You can feed drum breaks into our technology and ask the system to create an entirely new one. You know the ‘Amen break’ [the beat commonly used in jungle and drum and bass]? Train it on that one beat and it’ll produce it perfectly. Train it on a thousand drumbeats and it will produce a new one that sounds exactly like the music that you were listening to.”
So Kurv will eventually make musicians obsolete?
“It’s not about replacing people. We want people to make the art, and the Kurv to assist them. When you say, ‘Give us something that’s a bit like this,’ the information from the Kurv goes to your smartphone and, as long as people don’t mind, it can be shared with us. So we can learn about how people play the guitar, and train the system to make sounds based on the way people move. You’re able to create a massive crowd-sourced dictionary of gestures.”
What’s next? Cyborg bands playing invisible instruments to virtual-reality crowds?
“That’s fascinating, but I’m also interested in people playing together in the same garage making entirely new music with sensors. The Kurv can help with that. For me, the Kurv is a social thing, not just personal.”