Over the years, we've seen a number of worthy attempts at turning our clothes into electronic instruments, from drum kits built into shirts and pants to a motion-activated MIDI controller concealed in a jacket. The latest addition to the wearable instrument ensemble is "Drop The Beat" from industrial design student Wesley Chau, a vest outfitted with pads for a drum kit that musicians can rearrange and reprogram to their liking.
Chau developed Drop The Beat for a course at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) as a way for musicians and DJs to add an element of performance art to their live shows. He says he was inspired by the film Home of the Brave, which showcases a 1986 concert by experimental musician Laurie Anderson – particularly one sequence in which she performs a dance where each movement appears to trigger a musical beat.
Looking similar to a bulletproof vest, Chau's wearable drum kit consists of four neoprene drum pads attached to an outer covering with velcro, allowing an artist to position them almost anywhere on the vest to suit individual performance or preference. Each drum pad has a piezo sensor embedded in it to measure any changes in pressure, allowing the wearer to hit it, press on it, or just rake their fingers across it to get a response.
The sensors connect to an Arduino controller, which converts each strike into a MIDI signal and sends it to an attached laptop running Garageband. Using the software, a musician can program exactly which sound effects are triggered by each pad and how they react to different movements.
Chau plans to the improve upon the initial Drop The Beat prototype in the future with wireless connectivity, so the wearer doesn't have to stay physically attached to a laptop and can avoid any possibility of snagging a cable while playing.
Check out the video below to see Chau and a partner demonstrate the capabilities of his Drop The Beat drum kit vest as a performance art tool.