Audio d-touch musical building blocks bring tangibility to creating music on a computer

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The Audio d-touch system allows users to create music by moving physical blocks

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While more and more music is being created on computers with a QWERTY keyboard, researchers at the University of Southhampton are looking to bring the tangible interface one gets from actually playing an instrument to creating music on a computer. The Audio d-touch system uses a computer, a standard webcam, a printed sheet of paper and physical blocks that are moved around to determine how the computer samples and reproduces sound.

The system is based on research into tangible user interfaces (TUIs) by Dr Enrico Costanza at the University of Southhampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science. He sees TUIs as an alternative to virtual worlds with Human-Computer Interaction researchers investigating ways to move away from the online, purely digital world and rediscover the richness of our sense of touch.

"As more of our world moves into the electronic; records to MP3s, books to eBooks, we loose the satisfying richness of touching physical objects like paper and drumsticks," says Dr Costanza.

The Audio d-touch application, which is available as a free download, uses simple computer vision techniques to track the physical blocks using a webcam focused on a printed board.

"Grab a block and add a base beat, turn a block to speed up the high hat and we have a new way to generate music through controlling the computer," says Dr Costanza. "Our Audio d-touch system allows people to set up and use tangible interfaces in their own home, office or recording studio, or wherever else they like. This is the first time that anyone has developed a free application like this."

Dr Costanza developed Audio d-touch over several years and is keen for people to download the application and provide feedback so he can continue to improve it and gain insight into how tangible interfaces can be used in the real world.

All anyone needs to give it a whirl is a PC or Mac equipped with a webcam and a printer. The user then needs to create physical interactive objects to which printed visual markers recognized by Audio d-touch can be attached. The software and instructions are available as a free download from the d-touch project page. The software is also open and can be extended for applications beyond music synthesis.

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