Kinectar: “Kinect-ing” Music, Movement, and Composition

by Kira Grunenberg

Remember when you were younger, playing video games on rainy days, that it always seemed to “help” your chances of winning or high scoring if you flailed your arms from left to right with extreme intensity? Then remember when controllers got smaller and/or more sophisticated, making video games become more about truly incorporating movement than just stagnant fixation? Thus, the worlds of dance and music found an explosively popular genre in gaming – always serving as a good, re-playable backup activity at parties.

The reality that video games have indeed reached a point of development where no physical controller is needed in order to get your fantasy entertainment fix never ceases to impress and still slightly amaze me. In this particular case, I’m referring specifically to the Xbox Kinect.

What does this motion sensing device have to do with composition and serious achievements for music that goes beyond playing back pop songs with plastic “instruments?”

One individual from Melbourne, Australia, sound artist and developer, Chris Vik, has recently completed a Kinect-based software project, and the results stand impressively high. It’s true that the Kinect has previously ventured into some semblance of combining music with player creative control through titles like Child of Eden (2011), but up to now, everything official from Microsoft or its software developers, has been for non-complex, personal enjoyment – not professional/significant musical advancement. Other independent projects with the Kinect, like “Stringer,” from New York’s Music Hack Day have been successfully showcased, but demonstrate only a limited range of compositional potential.

Vik’s program, called “Kinectar,” turns the Kinect into a fully-functional MIDI-controller, activated through body movements, capable of manipulating and switching between various effects and instrument sounds. However, don’t be put off by this crude description. Kinectar is already so versatile and successful in creating intricate compositions, that Microsoft itself has recognized Vik, asking him to perform at a corporate event in Sydney, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

The technologically stunning and artistically pleasing results of one performance that Vik gave last November in Melbourne Town Hall, demonstrates Kinectar’s ability to combine the musically traditional with the digitally contemporary. Utilizing a newly MIDI-capable, nearly 100 year-old organ with his system, he performs a collaborative piece using conductor-like movements, giving the performance an added touch of artistic grace. Below you can find a video with an excerpt of the performance and an introductory explanation by Vik, (from Microsoft’s MIX 2011 Conference).

Vik was quoted in the previously mentioned Sydney Morning Herald article as being, “…excited if [he] could [have resolution sensitive enough to] smile and have a major chord or a major scale and then frown and have a minor scale.” I personally see Kinectar as being able to reach Vik’s ideal level of refinement in the future, especially if Microsoft jumps in to help more down the line. Such an advancement beyond where Vik already is could change the entire aesthetic behind collaborative performance, live music, choreography and how musicians go about crossing entertainment mediums. (Like music industry “triple-threats” weren’t an unwritten requirement already!)

Here is a tutorial video that breaks down the fundamental mechanics of how Kinectar works:

For additional information and videos, visit Kinectar’s website.

Kira is an old school music nerd with a love for all things creative; always searching for music’s common ground. She graduated with an M.A. in Performing Arts Administration from New York University. Drop her a tweet @shadowmelody1