The Microsoft Kinect is the gadget du jour for music hacking.
And these hacks seem to have wowed other sites and the mainstream tech press.
Nevertheless, we find ourselves wondering if the Microsoft Kinect is fundamentally useless as a musical tool.
Using a limited resolution sensor (640 x 480 pixel) with a relatively slow sampling rate (30 fps) means that the Kinect captures a fraction of the information that an older, simpler and cheaper “touchless” analog technology – the theremin – is capable of.
Here’s an example of a Kinect theremin:
While this is a clever hack – it also highlights the handicaps of limited resolution and a low sampling rate.
The limited resolution means that there’s a practical limit to the number of steps of control that the Kinect can afford. This shows up as stairstepping and “jitteriness” in the Kinect theremin demo.
More critical for musicians, though, is the Kinect’s latency. The frame rate alone of the Kinect is going to create 35-40 milliseconds of latency, In practice, though, the latency appears to be much higher, closer to 1/10th of a second.
Is The Microsoft Kinect Useless As A Musical Tool?
So is the Kinect useless as a platform for developing music apps?
The platform’s limitations mean that trying to imitate traditional musical instruments with the Kinect is probably going to be unproductive. The video demos for apps that take this approach seem to bear this out.
Nevertheless – there’s probably a lot of rich territory to mine with the Kinect, for developers that look beyond the obvious.
One area that may be rich for exploration is the idea of gestural music sequencing.
Morton Subotnick was exploring the idea of synthesizing music based on gestures 40 years ago. There are lots of more recent examples, including John Keston’s work with creating generative music based on gestures with his Gestural Music Sequencer.
Another area that offers potential is using the Kinect for virtual grid sequencing.
This video of NIN in action with Echoplex shows that latency is a problem that can be worked around, with very cool results.
What do you think of the potential of the Microsoft Kinect as a musical tool?
Do you think it’s useless – or only useful as a toy? Or do you think there’s more potential to the platform than is obvious? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
And if you know of interesting examples of the Kinect’s musical application, leave a link below. We’re interested in seeing more examples, whether they prove us right – or wrong.