Sunday, 29 March 2009

Leave me breathless!

For many years I've looked longingly at breath controllers, such as the WX range from Yamaha, and dreamed of owning one. I don't truly know why, because I can't play any instruments with any degree of competence, but just the very idea of getting "more of me" into a sound is quite exciting to me. When Yamaha released a software version of their VL physical modelling (Sondius XG or something - SYXG100 rings a bell) the idea became even more appealing. I wondered how I could somehow fudge together something with a microphone and volume analysis to control the midi breath parameter.

Then along came the Nintendo DS, with a built-in mic. Some apps appeared (e.g. toys in Warioware) that used the strength of your blowing to increase the volume of a sound or similar. Thoughts of virtual harmonicas and flutes filled my head, but as yet remain less than fulfilled.

Next up was the iPod Touch/iPhone. Now developers really became interested in using our breath for things other than breathing! Initial gimmicks (blow out the candle, steam up a window) gave way to basic sample-based instruments with volume controlled by blowing into the mic. Bugle, Trumpet and Ocarina spring to mind, the latter being phenomenally successful (and rightly so - it sounds fantastic and is fun to play).  

Then earlier this week an app I had glossed over, due to its description not sounding appealing, leapt back onto my radar courtesy of a video of Jordan Rudess demonstrating it. The app, called Wivi Band uses some form of physical modelling to recreate wind instruments with an amazing sense of realism for a device as simple as the iPhone. The microphone uses your breath to modulate the sound, but I'm not 100% sure what it is doing. It certainly modifies the volume, and may modify other parameters (attack?) but the result is pretty cool as you'll hear from Jordan's demo video. So two boxes (physical modelling, breath control) ticked meant a quick trip to the app store for me, and a few hours of very chilled out flute and clarinet playing!

Hopefully other devs will add breath control to their apps, in addition to using the mic to, you know, record or capture sounds! Breath control into could be quite spectacular.

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