"AudioCubes are wireless smart blocks for sound design, composition, live performance, music education and music app development.
They can sense your fingers and hands as well as each other's location and orientation. They have built in RGB lighting for visual feedback.
They communicate with your computer over high speed USB, and have custom high speed infrared sensors. A built in rechargeable battery keeps the cubes running wirelessly for up to 4 hours." -Taken from www.percussa.com
When Audio Cube founder and designer Bert Schiettecatte contacted Voltage-Controlled I was more than happy to pick his brains and ask a few questions about these awesome little cubes.
V-C: So, what's the real inspiration behind the audio cubes?
Bert: I grew up with a classical music education, playing the piano, taking music theory class, etc.
During high school I got into electronic music production. I bought several synths, a digital mixer, powered speakers, and I started creating electronic music in the home studio I had built. I was listening to a lot of ambient music back then, stuff like Biosphere, as well as other styles of electronic music like Aphex Twin & Orbital.
I was inspired by these bands and artists and they directly influenced the gear I had bought, which included a Korg Wavestation. Eventually I produced a record with a friend of mine and got a record deal, and then went to college to study Computer Science, where I really got into the technology of electronic musical instruments, and decided I wanted to make a career out of music technology. I then went to study at Stanford (CCRMA) where I met some amazing professors and fellow students, and really got into human-computer interaction and designing sensing systems and computer interface for musical applications.
After Stanford I decided I wanted to continue along this path, and create a musical interface that would let you take music and sound apart and put it back together in various ways, that was higher level than the existing musical interfaces out there (such as keyboards) and that would give rise to new kinds of music and sounds. I wanted to give professional artists a new way to interact with their musical information, basically, which would allow them to create new and interesting work.
My vision was also that electronic music performance could be more about the artist performing and not necessarily about the visuals projected during a live performance, more like how live performance happens in non-electronic music bands (e.g. rock bands).
V-C: The cubes seem to open up quite a few possibilities to both live performers and sound designers. Was the original concept aimed more at live performance or just an alternate way of creating new sounds?
Bert: That’s correct. Originally, AudioCubes were mostly used by live performers, because the software we had for the AudioCubes, MIDIBridge, and the original demo files that we had created, made it very easy for users of Ableton Live to get started with the AudioCubes.
Over the past years I’ve worked on new software, which really lets you use AudioCubes in every step of the process of creating sound, music and performing live. We now have files, presets, tools, etc. which makes this quite easy, such as IMPROVISOR and EVOLVOR.
(Check out http://land.percussa.com/audiocubes-improvisor and http://land.percussa.com/audiocubes-evolvor)
We also have a development kit for artists who want to make their own software, perhaps in Max/MSP or Reaktor. AudioCubes really work with anything that supports MIDI or OSC, software or hardware. See http://land.percussa.com/audiocubes-developers
V-C: I've come across quite a few unusual Midi controllers before such as the Reactable. What set's the audio cubes apart from the rest?
Bert: There is really nothing like AudioCubes out there, AudioCubes are devices that work by themselves without needing a table, projector or other infrastructure. You just get the cubes and can use them on any surface you want, like a normal electronic musical instrument.
This is quite different from Reactable, which is more like an interactive installation, consisting of a projector, camera, table, … Also, AudioCubes come with many different applications to make them integrate with your existing software very easily, and to use them at various points in your workflow easily.
I think the two systems are quite different. Regarding other MIDI controllers, I think it’s important to point out that there are controllers which are mostly hardware and don’t come with specialized software, such as knob or fader boxes, which output MIDI messages. This is very different from something like AudioCubes which comes with a suite of specialized software to let you take advantage of the totally new interaction possibilities of a new interface like AudioCubes, which comes with development kits to create your own applications, and which works at a data rate and resolution and latency beyond MIDI. AudioCubes use an USB HID connection, for example, which is much more modern than the MIDI standard.
V-C: It seems that the use of audio cubes could span out beyond application in a musical setting. Do you think that the audio cubes would benefit people in other lines of work, like lighting technicians or visual artists?
Bert: Definitely. There are already artists who are more visual, and who use the AudioCubes for installations, for example. They start with a few sets of AudioCubes and then design an installation around that, saving themselves a lot of time and money in delivering an installation. Like I mentioned before, we have tools to make this relatively easy. Besides that AudioCubes obviously also work with lighting or VJ software that supports MIDI or OSC. You can also send colour information to the AudioCubes, to let them change colours, for example.
V-C: What's next for Percussa, are you planning on developing the Audio Cubes further or are there plans for a whole new product?
Bert: I think we’re very focused on AudioCubes at the moment. We’re working on new stuff for the AudioCubes constantly, so if you are interested make sure you sign up on our website to get more information, and we’ll keep you updated through our newsletter and blog. We don’t send useless stuff on the newsletter, it’s mostly how-to’s, news about artists, occasional music reviews, … all relevant to electronic music and sound production and live performance.