Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit - Reactable

You may remember those early synthesizers from the 1970s. They revolutionized electronic music. Now some young researchers in Spain have adapted the synth concept to the digital age. They've invented a new instrument. It's called the Reactable. The World's Gerry Hadden tells us what he saw and heard at the Reactable laboratory in Barcelona.

The Reactable is basically a light table with moveable objects that produce sounds� LIKE DRUMS�. Leaning over the Reactable's round blue-lit surface you feel half wizard, half chess master. Place an object on the surface and laser-like lights pulse across it. And the music starts.

When you move the objects the sounds change. Four young musicians - two Spanish, two Austrian - invented this thing. One of them, Martin Kaltenbrunner, explains how it works. Each object has a different drawing, or symbol, on it, he says.

A camera under the table recognizes those symbols and feeds them into a digital synthesizer.

�Each symbol represents a sound, an effect, or a control. And we can assign a symbol to a function in the synthesizer. Also it can read finger trips so we can control panels on their edge.�

Things get complicated as you put more and more objects on the Reactable's surface. T he objects begin to influence each other, their sounds mixing together like ingredients for a cake. To learn to play the Reactable, says project director Sergi Jorda, you need something between no time at all - and the rest of your life.

��Because you can do things from first minute. Not intimidating. Magical and makes people want to play it. And at same time, its something that doesn't end. Not only after first 10 minutes but after two years. We don't see the end yet. So its friendly but also very complex.�

So here's an example of that complexity. Four guys start out each with one object. Gradually they add more objects, sliding them around the table surface to tweak their sounds.
This is improv. But Reactable's creators stress it can be used as a disciplined musical instrument. So far one mega-star has taken them up on that claim.

That's Icelandic avant-guard pop singer Bjork on her current world tour. On the big screen behind her tens of thousands of fans can see the Reactable in action. This video is posted on YouTube. That's where Bjork first saw the instrument.

Reactable Co-creator Gunther Geiger says DJ's are also interested in the Reactable as a way to spice up their live shows. If you've ever gone to 'see' electronic music live, you know what Geiger's getting at.

�Every electronic music is boring to watch. And this is really a performance instrument. Somehow it makes the work visible to the audience. And interesting for the DJ's too. Because a lot of work behind the music but nobody sees it.�

There are just 7 Reactables out there. But the Reactable team has started a company to promote? Their invention. The list price: probably about $23,000.

For The World I'm Gerry Hadden in Barcelona

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