October 27, 2015 - On the launch day of Leviathan, we sit down with Thalmic Labs and chat about all things Myo as well as our perspective on where the wearable technology is headed in the very near future.
Thalmic Labs: What have you built for Myo?
Precision Music Technology: Leviathan Gestural Music Control for Myo. It’s the first Myo app of its kind to fully allow users to create and control music using only gestures and movements. It’s taken us over a year to develop something that we truly feel comfortable performing with both on stage and in the studio - and we couldn’t be more proud of the result.
What do you use your Myo MIDI/OSC controller for?
We’ve been using the controller to perform electronic instruments and manipulate parameters in realtime. It’s really an incredible feeling the first time you play a chord sequence just with a flick of your hand in the air - or drive the distortion of a synth by making a fist. It’s something that’s hard to put into words but leaves you speechless. I laughed uncontrollably the first time I played with a working build of Leviathan. You can take it a step further and easily build chord sequences and cycle through them using gestures. And it can be used to change FX parameters - from simple things like filters and reverb, to complex macro and multi-FX control. I performed with the Myo recently with an indie-electronic project of mine at Standon Calling Festival in London last summer where every band member used it in a different way to enhance their performance - the lead singer tweaking his own vocal FX with a wave of a hand, our drummer controlling Ableton Live scenes and loops with a double tap, the guitarist and bassist both modulating their own FX settings with the roll of a fist, and I was triggering synth chord sequences and drones with wave in. It was a great opportunity to discover what boundaries needed to be pushed.
What do you envision for the future of wearable tech?
Wearable tech is the future - but it’s not so much the fact that it’s wearable - it’s the gestural part - it’s breaking down the barrier between computers and humans using gestures - things we’ve been using to communicate with each other since the beginning of humanity. Every gesture we make has an emotional trigger of some sort that is universal and undeniable. I keep joking that I want to be one of the first to have a MIDI controller chip implanted in my arm - but things like that aren’t as far off as we think. I think through wearables, computers will eventually become much more transparent in our daily lives and in the way that we communicate with each other. For the Leviathan app, we’ve carefully weighed the implications of every gesture and decided upon what translates best to creating music and communicating that to other people. Even though you’re using a Myo to trigger and effect audio, it still needs to feel intuitive and be simple enough that a child can pick it up and feel the music respond in a natural way to their gestures.
What do you envision for the future of music?
The evolution of music is a wild and beautiful thing. It’s constantly upheaving and renewing itself - shedding it’s own skin and devouring it again. No one ever thought Mumford and Sons and their heartfelt hoedowns would become a thing - but it did - because it triggered something within us. When you strip away production, instruments and genres, it all comes down to the power of communication. That being said, musicians are constantly looking for new ways to experiment with sound - and computers (software synths and sequencers) are the most inspirational tools for that at the moment. They’ve really been developed to an incredible level and musicians have become very good at learning which buttons and knobs produce the best sound. Creating music in the studio could still be much more intuitive and many music software developers are heading in that direction.
What's one tech trend that really excites you?
I like to see technology that changes the way people interact with each other, but more importantly, technology that changes the world around us for the better. Most recently I saw a video of a kid who found a simple way to clean our oceans. That’s true power.
Tell us a little about your musical background and how you got into developing an app for the Myo:
I trained classically growing up, and after a great deal of hard work, had the opportunity to play with orchestras across the world - from recording with the London Symphony Orchestra to performing in Carnegie Hall. While I was studying and living in London, I got hooked into film scores and a modern classical/electronic scene that was growing out of there. I was writing music for strings and triggering beats in clubs around London - and people were listening. It was dirty, hectic and a lot of fun. I went to work with UK songwriter Guy Chambers as a sound engineer at his studio Sleeper Sounds while still in school at the Royal Academy of Music. I had the fortune to hang with some incredible artists on a daily basis, and in the short time I was there, I was extremely lucky to have worked on a couple of number one releases that year. After a while at Sleeper Sounds I moved out to Los Angeles, where I began developing virtual instruments with a company called Output. That naturally transitioned into a desire to develop software and controllers that change the way we perform.
I met Carl Knox, Leviathan's developer, at college in New York. After school, we both headed off into different directions, even different countries. I was off in London and Carl was in the states, working in the medical device industry, and before that, studying physics at Columbia after a few years serving in the army. But now we’ve come together to create something we feel is very special - and very important for music. We’re just a small development team right now, but hopefully that will change soon.
What are you working on right now?
We’re currently testing new creative features and control for the Myo. The Myo is capable of so much and we really want to take full advantage of its possibilities, and if we’re lucky - even discover some things that weren’t previously thought possible. We haven’t managed to break it yet!