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Drumming in thin air: invisible drum kit allows player to perform anywhere


Drumming in thin air: invisible drum kit allows player to perform anywhere

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We’ve all seen someone play the air guitar. But this new invisible drum kit is certainly the first of its kind.

Called Aerodrums, it uses real-time motion-tracking technology similar to that used for motion-capture effects in movies, to accurately translate the drummer’s movements into sounds.

Retro-reflective markers on the drummer’s feet and the drum sticks are illuminated by bright lights, with a high speed camera tracking the motion. The drummer has to sit just over a metre away from the camera, “playing” the drum kit that is visualised on a computer monitor.

Himself a drummer since the age of nine, co-inventor Richard Lee says the experience is very realistic.

“It’s very velocity sensitive, so if you hit quiet you get very quiet sounds, if you hit loud, you hear loud sounds. It’s very responsive. It took a lot of research to get the latency as low as possible because that’s the thing that kind of breaks the illusion of ‘aerodrumming’. If there’s any latency at all then drummers can perceive it and it doesn’t feel right.”

The makers had toyed with the idea of Aerodrums gloves to play hand drums and even combining a virtual reality headset. But co-inventor Yann Morvan of the Vision and Visualization lab at Trinity College Dublin said their priority was to make Aerodrums a viable alternative for drummers.

“We didn’t want Aerodrums to be a fad. We wanted it to be a proper musical instrument, which is introducing air drumming as a legitimate way to drum,” he says.

Unlike a traditional drum kit, this one is small enough to carry in a bag and totally sound-free when used with headphones. So while traditional drummers may take some convincing, Aerodrums could hit the spot for those without enough space, or who want to stay on good terms with their neighbours.

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