Ever since I first caught a snippet of Imogen Heap in her typical heavy reverb style about 10 years ago I’ve been a fan.
Not just of her musical talent (seeing her live at Camden’s Roundhouse a couple of years ago was a particular highlight) but of her whimsical, slightly eclectic array of gestures and personality, and more recently The Gloves Project.
I wanted to write about this project when it first emerged a couple of years ago, but unless you were there (not that I was) there wasn’t really the video footage or information available to justify and explain how incredible it is.
However with the recent ambition of a Kickstarter campaign to propell these “magical, musical gloves” even further it gives me a refreshed opportunity to write a bit about it.
In 2012 Imogen appeared at a Wired conference and blew many people away using gestures from a pair of gloves to control instruments and create sounds.
A full orchestra and choir quite literally in the palm of your hands.
With the original talk from that conference in 2012 (released only last year) here is a bit of history to recap the journey that the technology has come on. If you don’t have 20 minutes to spare then skip to around the 14 minute mark to see a song performed with just the gloves.
“A lot of what I do, like adding a huge reverb to an instrument, is done by pressing a button on a keyboard. Which isn’t very exciting. You can’t even see what I’m doing. Fifty percent of the show gets hidden.”
The technology has advanced, as it does, and is now at a point to showcase to the world so back to the point in hand (no pun intended!). She is looking for support on Kickstarter to make the Mi.Mu gloves a reality for a wider audience.
Now you can “see and hear the sound, which is much more interesting than turning a pot around.”
The original performance glove (black) and the latest development (blue).
A series of prototypes used in the glove development.
The key piece of technology in each glove is the extremely versatile x-IMU board developed by x-IO Technologies. It contains an Inertial Measurement Unit and Attitude Heading Reference System, typically used in aircraft, and is mounted on the back of the hand along with an accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope and wifi transmitter. The latest version of the gloves has all of these sensors integrated into the fabric to give absolute and precise gesture control.
As well as the expected “open palm”, “point” or “fist”, each glove can track position, direction, velocity, degree of bend in fingers and the distance between fingers. Wow.
Oh, and the open glove design still allows you to play more traditional instruments whilst wearing them.
If you know any musical, creative, or electronic type people then send them over to Kickstarter. Finalising an open-source design could lead to other applications outside music for the gloves. Architects could manipulate building designs, or Product Designers could even accelerate ergonomic testing (combined with 3d printing it could be an extremely powerful tool!)