BeatBearing: drum sequencing gets touchy feely

Peter Bennett demos the BeatBearing

January 23, 2009 Readily accessible electronic platforms have paved the way for some innovative music, but in the process some of the magic of physically interacting with an instrument can be lost. Belfast PhD student Peter Bennett has set out to investigate different ways in which to blend tangible interfaces with new musical instruments, and one of his creations known as the BeatBearing is drumming up a storm on YouTube.

The BeatBearing splices together a Roland TR-808 rhythm sequencer and a kind of industrial checker board on which ball bearings are placed in different configurations to control the beats. A red line moves across the transparent Perspex grid and when it encounters a ball bearing it triggers sampled percussion sounds, kind of an "updated version of the old piano-roll” according to Bennett.

The instrument featured in the YouTube clip caters four for tracks and following the big response (one million hits and plenty of web coverage), Peter has written a ‘make your own BeatBearing’ step-by-step guide to be published soon in the American magazine “MAKE” (

Peter is currently studying for a PhD in the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC) at Queens University Belfast. The working title of his thesis is "Interaction-Design Techniques for Multimodal Musical Interfaces". More samples of his work can be found here. Another that caught our eye is the AirRecord, a project that aims to augment a vinyl record with a SHAKE device (an array of accelerometers, gyro's and magnetometers developed by Stephen Hughes that communicates wirelessly with a computer). The result: a that DJ can spin records in mid-air, no turntable required.

There's also another video of the BeatBearing in action at NordiCHI'08 here.

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