BY now you've probably heard about DJ QBert's new Kickstarter-funded album release that features a DJ controller in the sleeve, but who are the people behind the technology?
UK company Novalia is responsible for the capacitive touch features and has become known for its innovative and interactive projects – frequently helping to add an extra twist to marketing campaigns. An example of this was the world’s first interactive music posters, produced for New Zealand Music Month, allowing users to choose and listen to tracks as well as trigger sound effects.
This is not done with wires but with a special conductive ink that responds to electrical currents from the body. The final effect is to turn the posters themselves into instruments complete with speakers.
The QBert project was an entirely new, and trickier, proposition for Novalia. In the comments section underneath a Fact mag article boss Kate Stone called it “probably the most difficult my team and myself at Novalia have undertaken”. A major reason for this, she confirmed to Macho Zapp, was the “integration of conductive ink, capacitive touch, MIDI, Bluetooth, thin battery and making it as easy to manufacture as possible”.
Because the paper controller is designed to work via Bluetooth (with a smartphone or tablet) they had to rewrite code several times to include new updates from Apple and Bluetooth, causing numerous delays and one or two disgruntled Kickstarter contributors. To their credit, QBert and Stone have made a point of being open and honest about the delays and their commitment to releasing a quality product. “Every time we found a bug or were not happy,” she said, “we just re-wrote our code rather than patched it up and washed our hands of it.” They even lost money on shipping.
Stone is particularly hands-on – another challenge of the project was: “folding, laminating and building all of the decks myself over a weekend”. A hand-made world first – what more could you ask for?
We were intrigued to know what wonders Novalia have up their sleeves next? Following the publicity around Qbert's album it appears there will be further forays into printed MIDI which can, according to Stone, “potentially turn any surface into a MIDI controller flat or curved.”
Novalia's printed MIDI page describes how they are now planning an initial limited release of a MIDI piano keyboard, 4 x 7 array and drum pad which are all compatible with Apple MIDI protocol. This will be available via their own website or through crowdfunding.
It will take advantage of the new Apple Bluetooth protocol which works on OS X Yosemite and iOS8. Stone says the benefits of the devices are "low latency and low power running from a 1.6 mm thin battery.”
We look forward to seeing more from capacitive MIDI - anything that helps free us from our computer keyboard shackles is a good thing in our book!