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Making music ain’t what it used to be. Technologists at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, have reengineered the music synthesizer, making its guts interchangeable and transforming the electronic instrument into a piece of performance art.
The ReacTable’s multitouch display lets users create a custom-made instrument on the fly—capable of, say, the low growl of a trumpet and the distorted whir of an electric guitar—by sliding or rotating blocks, called tangibles. The blocks’ surfaces are printed with patterns that the ReacTable is programmed to recognize as parts of a synthesizer, such as voltage-controlled and low-frequency oscillators. A video camera inside the table detects the presence of fingertips and tangibles and prompts the system to light up and generate the sounds suggested by the arrangement of the objects.