Seeing the Airpiano being played, one can't help but be reminded of a graceful martial artist, musical conductor or mysterious magician. The innovative interface is activated and controlled by moving a hand in mid-air above the flat display surface and within range of a sensor array matrix. Driven by custom software, the device can put a huge library of tones and sounds at a player's disposal.
Each of the eight Infrared proximity sensors spread horizontally across the surface of the Airpiano can play three notes depending on the user's vertical hand position. The sensors can also be programmed to provide up to eight control faders for altering volume, pitch, filters and so on. Custom software facilitates MIDI mapping and Open Sound Control message assignment which puts a vast soundscape at the spatial command of the player. Confirmation of user action is provided by LED lights at the surface of the instrument.
Of course, the interface has been likened to a Theremin but it has so much more to offer players. Creator Omer Yosha told Gizmag: "What makes it so different from a Theremin, besides the technology, is the concept of interaction. Playing a Theremin is hard to learn since every slight movement of the hand changes the pitch/volume of the generated sound. It also lacks visual feedback. The idea of the Airpiano is to keep things as simple as possible in order to achieve full control over the instrument."
Yosha has been working on the polyphonic Airpiano for a couple of years now and it is currently in its third prototype. It's connected to a computer or laptop via USB and also has an expression pedal connector and a programmable button that can, for example, be used to toggle between different setups. Award-winning musician Jo Hamilton is currently using a prototype in her live performances (as shown in the following video) and is helping with development by providing feedback, suggestions and details of her experiences.
A limited run of production devices will be available around September/October and interested readers are encouraged to register for updates on the Airpiano website. I don't know why but for some reason I imagine Jean-Michel Jarre being one of those signing up.