A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey Denmark.
Still pissed about the great hoverboard deception, when Back to the Future promised us floating skateboards and reality left us with this two-wheeled lie? Sick of excessively animated knob-turns at live DJ sets, in which the artist’s desire to express themselves is restricted to their limited button-and-slider-ridden creative medium? Don’t worry. The future has you covered.
Twenty years ago, altering your vocals with Auto-Tune was considered cheating with an incomprehensible form of sorcery; today, there are entire genres and music careers that wouldn't exist without the music editing software. And because humanity is at its best when we’re dedicating our best and brightest technological minds to inventing cool swag, as we’ve seen in sci-fi and fantasy movies (seriously, watch any episode of the original Star Trek from the 60s—Silicon Valley is basically built around bringing every gadget on the Enterprise to life), you can now decide for yourself whether this "Wave" ring is more inspired by Sauron or Tony Stark.
Created by the Icelandic start-up Genki Instruments—specifically, electrical engineers Ólafur Bjarki Bogason and Daníel Grétarsson, designer Jón Helgi Hólmgeirsson, and COO Haraldur Hugosson—the Wave ring allows the person wearing it to manipulate soundscapes and visuals simply by moving their hand. The One Ring To Rule All Sound was used on a stage for the first time by the Icelandic band aYia at the music festival Icelandic airwaves. aYia doesn’t usually talk or interact with the audience between tracks, and needed a way to keep them engaged—which the Wave allowed them to do, through the manipulation of soundscapes. The ring works by connecting to MIDI controllers and similar equipment via Bluetooth and currently is still in its prototype phase, but it's expected to make its debut on the market later this year in December 2018. Those who are interesting in supporting the project and keeping up with its development can also stay informed on the company's Indiegogo page.
In the best case scenario, the Wave will revolutionize the way people interact with computers in music. In the worst case, it's still a cool ring that lets you flick your wrist and alter sound like a futuristic Iron Man conductor. After seeing it demonstrated during Iceland's Design March and the Sónar music festival earlier this month, Noisey had a chat with Genki’s Chief Design Officer, Jón Helgi Halmgeirsson (who is, among other things, known for inventing the “jonophone,” a gramophone made of paper) about his hopes and expectations for ushering in a new era of technology with the musical equivalent of The One Ring.
Noisey: Hey, Jón! What exactly is it that you’ve created here?
Jón Helgi Hólmgeirsson: Wave is a ring that lets you control sound through movement. It’s a new form of control that lets you interact more with the audience and step away from the computer. Instead of just turning and sliding buttons or using a mouse, the ring gives musicians the option to express themselves more. Sound-wise, the ring is above your instrument, so there’s also the practical aspect of you, say, being able to keep both of your hands on a keyboard, but still adjust the sound just by tilting your hand.
Sick. How does it work?
It’s made to be worn on the index finger, so you can reach the buttons on it. It senses your hand’s movements in 3D with an array of three sensors. That data is then sent to your computer or mobile via Bluetooth—and your device just interprets Wave as a normal MIDI controller. It can read three different types of hand movement: "tilt," "pan," and "roll." All three can be mapped to different parameters within your music software. "I want tilt to control reverb," for example.
So the ring can both enhance instruments, but also be the instrument.
Exactly. Or, we don’t see Wave as a new instrument, but as an enhancement. It’s not replacing anything. It’s just giving you more control. There are also buttons and a tap function, so you can set it to make drum sounds by tapping your finger lightly on any surface.
Why have you made the Wave as a ring and not a glove, for example?
When I joined [Genki Instruments], it was a month old or something. The guys [originally] had the idea to shape music through movement, so at first we were thinking it should be a wristband. But we needed people to be able to scratch their noses without it affecting the sound—so you needed to be able to turn it on and off without having to use the other hand. So it became a ring for the index finger, so you’re able to reach the buttons with your thumb. We wanted it to be non-intrusive. It doesn’t dominate your hands, so you can still use them to play your instrument or express yourself. Or just hold a beer.
What other artists are involved with the project besides aYia?
We’ve used a bunch of different bands as beta testers. There is one big name in particular that I can’t reveal yet. But it’s big.
Which artists would you like to see use your Wave ring, if you could pick anyone?
I think my top three would be would be Bon Iver, Tame Impala, and Jungle, which is one of the best live bands in the world, if you ask me. If any of them ever used Wave, I would die happy. Nils Frahm as well. Or the lead singer from Future Islands, while he’s dancing.
What type of musician do you see getting the most out of the Wave’s capabilities in their music?
Of course it’s pure speculation, but we think people with home studios will be able to get the most out of it, because it works great as a remote control when you’re in your studio. You can record, play, and do all of these things through it. DJs are maybe the obvious demographic because they’re already using computers, so Wave would be able to help them be more engaged with the crowd during their drops. But we’ve been contacted by people across all genres.
How much is Wave going to cost?
The retail price is going to be $200 USD.
Okay, I have to ask: You’ve created an almighty sound ring that lets people bend audio to their will by moving their hands. How many "The One Ring" Lord of the Rings references have you had to endure throughout the creation of Wave?
So many—more than I can count. But mostly they come from people we show it to. We’re more focused on Wave puns. "I Like the Wave You Move," for example.
Frank Sinatra—“My Wave.” Gotcha.
We’ll probably also be doing a smaller version for children at some point that'll be called MicroWave.
Maybe you should just forget the technology and focus on the puns. Can you use Wave if you’re not a musician? To just walk around at home and listen to music, for example?
I can’t promise that, but yes, in theory, if you can code the program for it. After all, it sends MIDI signals. We have been contacted by people who were interested in using it as a tool for presentations, PowerPoints for example.
What is the ideal scenario for you in five years?
We want to become Iceland’s first music tech company. And we want to make technology feel natural.