Magical musical gloves make debut at TED Edinburgh

Issue date: 08 July 2011


Imogen Heap will quite literally have an audience eating out of the palm of her hand when she takes to the stage next week at the TED conference Edinburgh, to perform with her 'magical musical gloves' which have been developed by Dr Tom Mitchell, a lecturer and researcher from the University of the West of England.

The musical gloves form the interface to a live musical production system which is controlled entirely by hand gestures. Sounds can be recorded, synthesised and manipulated live on stage by a performer using intuitive hand movements. The gloves will make their debut appearance during a four-minute musical performance by the innovative and internationally acclaimed singer on Tuesday 12 July 2011 to the attendees of the TED Global Conference.

Dr Mitchell explains, “It is really exciting to launch the gestural music system at TED this summer. The gloves comprise a high tech musical instrument that enables artists to manipulate multilayered recordings of vocals, acoustic and virtual instruments live on stage. It takes improvisation to a new level and frees the artist from interactions with electronic equipment on stage.

“Imogen and I have collaborated over a number of years on new ways of making music using cutting edge technology. This gestural music system allows a musician to create original music in every performance. The musical gloves form the conduit for the system and connect wirelessly to a laptop where the data and audio processing takes place. Hand gestures are identified and used to trigger musical processes. It will be very exciting to witness what is in effect a new instrument being used by a mainstream artist.”

Imogen will perform without any other electronic devices, she will be entirely wireless and will compose, arrange and perform all the music live using the gloves, her voice and a few acoustic instruments that she will have with her on stage.

Dr Mitchell continues, “Imogen's performance will not make use of any pre-recorded material – the gestures she makes will control the sounds that the TED attendees will hear. For example by making a grasping motion she can 'catch' the sound of her voice or any other instrument, she can then filter these sounds by clasping her hands together and then 'release' the sound again by opening her hands. She can build layers of music, point and play invisible synthesisers and drums. The creative possibilities are huge and it's really engaging to watch.”

Imogen Heap is very excited about the project and is currently planning to incorporate the gloves into her live shows which means that they will be seen by thousands of people throughout the world.

Imogen described her first experiences using the gloves: “I walked onto the rehearsal stage, gloved up, without any other equipment and began to sample, loop and apply effects to my voice, acoustic and virtual instruments. I was completely mobile and free from wires. With radio microphones attached to my wrist I can record anything that I can point my hands at. This is what I'd been dreaming of! Am so excited to get going live with the gloves. It feels so fluid to have everything on me without the need to keep flitting back to my gear on stage. I am high as kite about it. I can't thank Tom enough.”

The project is supported by Fifth Dimension Technologies (5DT) and x-IO. 5DT manufacture the gloves and x-IO make the orientation sensors. The 5DT gloves and the x-IO devices sense the positions of Imogens fingers and the orientation and movements of her hands. Dr Mitchell has developed the algorithms and software that brings these components together, recognises the performer's gestures and runs all of the audio processes.

The project was supported by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and mentored by Professor Tony Pipe from UWE. Funding came from a SPUR grant that is awarded by UWE to support young researchers during the early stages of their career.

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