Beat Rocking Blocks

It seems that moving small bricks about on a luminous table is the current big thing in the world of alternative music performance controllers. This technology was first brought to the (mainstream) public’s attention when Bjork decided to use the ReacTable on her Volta tour, and now Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop has adapted it for their Etiquette installation. This allows anyone to activate and manipulate a variety of sounds by placing rectangular objects (each one representing a particular sound, sample or sequence) on the interface…

Once a ‘sound’ has been placed on the table, it can be modified by rotating it or changing which face is in contact with the table. Although the sounds originally used by the ReacTable were very electronic, the Etiquette installation features samples of natural acoustic instruments such as bass, brass, flute and banjo. In addition to the block manipulation factors, the table itself has a ‘mood’ which changes gradually over time. Simon Kirby explains how the interface responds:

Each block is associated with several different but related clips for each mood and rotating the block will select which of those clips is playing. When the table is in a particular mood, the sounds of the blocks work together (ie. they are in time/key etc.). When the table’s mood changes, the sounds of the blocks change gradually (as does the tempo of the piece). Eventually, all the blocks settle into a new mood where everything works together again, but in the changeover things can be quite chaotic and interesting hybrids are created which are different every time.

It uses Ableton Live, Max/MSP and ReacTIvision to work its magic, and more details can be found at CDM.


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