The FabricKeyboard is an experimental project at the intersection between engineering, design, fashion, and music. It is the first, sensor-rich, novel physical interaction medium in the form of fabric piano, developed by using both common and smart textile-based materials. Based on our multi-layer design, each key, the bulk fabric, and its extensions could detect touch, proximity, pressure, stretch, position and coupled electric field simultaneously, resulting in an expressive and deformable musical controller.
Irmandy Wicaksono (Research Assistant, MIT Media Lab)
Joseph A. Paradiso (Professor, MIT Media Lab)
Inspired by the current developments of textile sensors, stretchable nature of knitted fabrics, and vast growth of new digital music instruments, we envision a musical fabric interface with a familiar layout of an existing instrument. It allows discrete controls with conventional keystrokes and rich continuous controls with unique physical interactions enabled by the fabric (e.g., squeezing, pulling, stretching, and twisting) and non-contact gestures (e.g., hovering and waving).
The multi-layer fabric sensors in a keyboard pattern are machine-sewn in a knit fabric. The outermost layer of each key consists of a fused conductive fabric. Below this layer, there is an embedded fabric pressure sensor. The configuration includes a mesh and piezoresistive fabric in between conductive fabrics. Below the base fabric, fabric stretch sensors are attached. These sensor arrays are then connected to the circuitry through e-thread interconnects in the form of stretchable routings. We also developed fabric-based ribbon-controller and trackpad to complement the FabricKeyboard.
Supported by MIDI protocol, the FabricKeyboard can be connected to any audio synthesis or sequencer software and mapped to essentially any instrument, sound, or effects. Note that most of the expressive keyboard interfaces till date rest on a rigid and heavy structure; a keyboard made out of fabric, besides providing new interactions and tactile experiences for musical performances, can be easily folded, rolled up, and packed in our luggage like a pair of socks or a scarf.
We designed and explored several possible interactions based on our sensing modalities. This includes expanding the keys with fingers, pulling specific sides of the fabric while playing the keys, stretching the fabric, sliding on the trackpad or the ribbon-controller while playing the keys, hovering and approaching towards the surface, playing the keys with one hand while the other waves around an EMI source, and lifting, then twisting the fabric. The seamless design enables performers to fully explore the fabric and express themselves, which enhances the relationship between the physical interaction and the music, as the fabric deeply embodies the sound it resonates.
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