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Imogen Heap's Musical "Touch"

English electronic artist Imogen Heap triggers musical notes with specialty gloves.

We’re big fans of finding new ways to make music—some more notable examples being Peaches’ laser harp and Di Mainstone’s Serendiptichord—but this past Tuesday at the TEDGlobal 2011 conference a whole new mechanism entered our radar.

Imogen Heap took to the stage sporting gloves that acted as her backup musicians—kind of reminding us of what Creator Glasser did when she rigged MIDI instruments to communicate her computer-based sound for live performance.


Heap’s gloves, developed by Dr. Thomas Mitchell at the University of the West of England, took over two years to actualize, and are equipped with wireless microphones, an accelerometer, a magnetometer, a gyroscope, and other sensors. Using only body movements and hand gestures, she’s able to record loops by opening her hands, adjust the volume by either making the “shh” gesture or forming a horn with her fingers, and filter sound by bringing together or extending her arms.

Her gesticulations are then sent to a computerized music production system which analyze the signals and then play back her cues in real-time. The goal is to keep developing the gloves so she can create an entire performance with nothing but her voice and the gloves. She also hopes to use them to network with her fans by connecting the gloves with hologram technology.

It takes a reputable star to be able to wear high-tech prototypes under the scrutiny of the general public, but this is definitely not Heap’s first foray into the wearable tech scene. At the 2010 Grammy Awards she famously wore a dress (developed by creator Moritz Waldemeyer) that was rigged to her Twitter account.

According to Heap’s Twitter, an entire musical suit is in the works, but until then…. take in Heap’s new single “Propeller Seeds,” which claims to be the world’s first 3D audio song. (Wear headphones.)

Image courtesy of University of the West of England