Play It Loud: Kurv brings some realism to the air guitar experience
Just a few short months after the first ever Russian was crowned Air Guitar World Champion, a new wireless system has launched on Kickstarter that's aimed at giving virtual musicians the chance to play music of their own creation. The patent-pending Kurv Guitar system is made up of a large pick-shaped air strummer and a handheld virtual fingerboard, and combines touch, motion and gestures to generate tunes based on player actions.
It's pretty easy to take the high ground and look upon air guitarists with a mocking eye, but take a quick look around at just about any rock concert and you'll very likely see a goodly number of otherwise "normal" music lovers rocking out with an invisible axe to their favorite band. If the crowds drawn to Finland every year for the World Championships, now in its twentieth year, is anything to go by, such activities are incredibly popular.
But, even the world-beating performances of serious pros like Kereel "Your Daddy" Blumenkrants lack a certain something – the ability to actually create chops and licks just like a real guitar player. Over the years we've seen a good many attempts to bring this missing element to air guitar playing, including the V-Pick, the Virtual Air Guitar and Air Picks. And now there's another, the Kurv Guitar.
In development since 2013, the Kurv system is made up of three components: a chunky triangular pick, a touch-enabled fingerboard that slots over the hand not being used to strum, and a companion iOS app.
"We started by looking at large surveys of people's hands," said Kurv's co-designer Tania Fauvel. "Your fingers can comfortably touch eight distinct places on your palm. In western music, there are eight notes in an octave, eight notes in a scale and eight chords in a key."
The 21 g (0.7 oz) pick is able to register player movements, and the harder an air musician strums, the louder the resulting sounds. An eight-button board weighs in a little heavier at 35 g (1.2 oz) and allows players to press fingers down to play chords or notes, and even bend invisible strings for some Albert King-like licks. Between them, the physical Kurv components sport gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers and touch/pressure sensors. Kurv users are promised over five hours of continuous play before batteries need some charging attention over micro-USB.
The pick and board pair with an iOS 8 (or later) smart device over Bluetooth 4.0, with all the air guitaring being turned into sonic magic by a companion app that includes an advanced music synthesis engine. The Kurv app comes pre-loaded with 60 popular songs to play along to, including noodling classics like Smoke on the water, All Right Now and Highway to Hell.
Naturally, being a digital instrument means that players are not necessarily limited to guitar sounds, but can potentially play air drums, an air cello or air violin, or even an air saxophone, too (the Kurv team is planning to release a development kit to allow for third party sonic creations to be made available for the system).
Bluetooth connectivity leaves the headphone jack free of course, giving Kurv players the option for plugged-in private practice or public performance via a powered speaker or instrument amp.
There are built in tutorials, with the app keeping track of how well a player is doing, and gestural tunesmiths who already have a good knowledge of playing music can use the Kurv system to compose new songs, and link up with recording software to save creations for posterity. The Kurv devices are also MIDI compatible, which allows them to be used as software controllers in such suites as Garageband, Logic Pro and Ableton Live.
But before all that can happen, the Kurv development team is raising production funds on Kickstarter to get the system into the hands of air guitar players. Three different sizes are planned, with the lowest pledge level currently shown as £120 (about US$180). If all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in September 2016. Meanwhile, have a look at the pitch video below to see what's on offer.