Reactable - modular (audio) synthesis for everyone (at once!)
By Tim Hanlon
October 29, 2006
October 30, 2006 Reactable is a collaborative, tabletop modular synthesizer developed at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. The team set out to develop an instrument that was intuitive enough for beginners to jump in without a manual, yet deep enough for musicians to use on stage. Ambitiously, they included the ability for multiple users to play the device simultaneously (both in person and remotely). The result just oozes the "I want one" factor, and has to be seen to be believed. The pictures simply cannot do this justice - check out the amazing videos of the device in use.
Modular synths have typically been fairly intimidating beasts, looking more like antique phone switchboards than instruments, where something as simple as adding a filter to a sound requires plugging multiple patch cables into various parts of a Frankenstein-like interface - a decidedly left-brain activity that lacks appeal outside the affluent synth-nerd bracket.
The Reactable's approach uses a projector to display the interface on a translucent table - the instrument is then "played" by physically placing various blocks on the table's surface. A camera tracks the position and orientation of the blocks on the table, and translates this into the structure and parameters of the synthesizer. The prior example of adding a filter is now achieved by dropping a block on the table, and a sound that would look like spaghetti on a classic modular now looks more like a mind-map - pulsing with visual feedback, and just begging to be tweaked.
The pictures simply cannot do this justice - check out the amazing videos of the device in use.