Friday, April 23, 2010

Make Music With Your...(Wait For It)...Shoes

Footwear has come a long way since the primitive days of just being used to, you know, cover your feet. Sure, it can make you run faster and jump higher, measure your distance and heart rate, even make phone calls. Shoes can now make music.

As this video shows, you can now transform shoes into musical instruments. It's part of a new Japanese Nike ad campaign to show off how flexible and twisty (and, therefore, comfortable?) the new Nike's Free Run+ running shoes are.

To do so, Nike invited the help of a pair of inventive Japanese sound artists (including Daito Manabe, an innovator in alternative musical interfaces) to convert the shoes into DIY interactive musical instruments that can cue and manipulate samples and sounds. In the process, they've unveiled perhaps the first line of "footware."

With a little ingenuity, and a boatload of accelerometer sensors (the things that make you able to shake your iPhone) and software (in this case Ableton Live), they discovered that they can plug the shoes into a computer and mixers. They can then create beats and trigger other sounds by flexing and bending and banging the shoes -- not totally unlike how any MIDI-controlled interface or DJ turntable works. The difference is, in the right hands, the shoes seem to display a lot of potential for subtle motion to tweak the sounds just right. It's fascinating to watch as it unfolds live.

Unfortunately, as the closing disclaimer notes, these sweet kicks won't come music-ready for the general consumer any time soon. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to continue duct-taping my vintage Discman to my worn-out sneakers.

For the programmers, gearheads and electronic-music geeks out there who are interested in how they rigged everything up, check out the blog Create Digital Music, which spoke to Manabe about the process and all those nitty-gritty technical details.

Credits: Michael Katzif, NPR

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