Players of bowed string instruments have long wrestled with making music technology respond to the nuances of techniques they've spent years acquiring. The end of their quest will be found at booth 6227 in Hall A of the upcoming Winter NAMM exhibition, where Keith McMillen Instruments will be showing K-Bow.
K-Bow is a Bluetooth-enabled sensor bow that detects and translates bow technique and movement into control signals capable of producing an unprecedented level of expression from synthesizers, audio processors, or any other computer-based art form.
Musician/inventor Keith McMillen, creator of the world-standard Zeta violin and numerous other pioneering innovations, has been advancing the cause of string players in music technology for nearly 30 years. Laurie Anderson, Boyd Tinsley (Dave Matthews Band), Mark O'Connor, Jean Luc Ponty, and the Kronos Quartet are only a few of the renowned players who use McMillen's instruments.
While drums and keyboards fit in well with the simple event paradigm of MIDI, stringed instruments, and, in particular, bowed instruments do not. This has effectively shunted string players off to a frustrating technological backwater in which they have been constrained to watch the promise of computer musical instruments largely pass them by.
K-Bow, along with StringPort, KMI's other new product, represent the fulfillment of McMillen's long-held dream to liberate string players from this musical confinement. The advent of K-Bow and StringPort transform computer interaction from an obstacle to music into the primary road to new means of expression for string players going forward.
K-Bow uses multiple sensors embedded in its custom Kevlar/carbon fiber stick to determine numerous performance parameters, including: motion on the X,Y and Z axes; grip pressure; hair tension; tilt angle; and the position of the bow relative to the instrument. K-Bow is available for violin, viola, cello, and bass.
All of this data can be applied using an included software suite that extracts gestural information from the data received from the bow, and uses it to process or control the sound from a violin, synthesizer, drum machine, or parameters of any intelligent device, whether related to music and audio or not. K-Bow opens the door to a vast range of creative ideas: bow direction might trigger drum sounds, or K-Bow might conduct a virtual rhythm section.
Bundled with K-Bow are K-Tone (an advanced signal processor), modulation routing, and an intuitive multitrack live recording looper. K-Bow's performance data can also be sent to other music software.
The K-Bow software suite contains a special neural network that can be trained to recognize performance gestures specific to the performer. This makes possible applications such as controlling lighting by the playing of a specific passage, or selecting a track or software function by making a designated motion through the air with K-Bow.
Naturally, all commands generated by K-Bow also can be sent to a MIDI interface or as OSC (Open Sound Control) messages to control external devices. The software is open and compatible with Max/MSP and other authoring tools so it can be expanded by third parties and knowledgeable users.
K-Bow is designed to leverage, rather than impede, the player's technique. The weight and feel of K-Bow are that of a fine violin bow, yet the bow contains a sophisticated array of sensors and electronics, as well as a tiny radio transceiver that sends the sensor data to a Mac or Windows-based computer hundreds of times a second. Far from requiring the use of a special violin controller, K-Bow can be used with any instrument, enabling players to use K-Bow with their familiar instruments.
K-Bow's internal electronics are powered by a lithium battery that works for a full day before requiring recharging through a standard USB connector.
K-Bow will ship in Q1 of 2009 with complete systems priced at less than $4,000. K-Bow will be available directly from Keith McMillen Instruments, which can be found online at www.keithmcmillen.com.
A portion of the profits from the sale of K-Bow will go to the BEAM Foundation (http://www.beamfoundation.org), a nonprofit corporation founded by McMillen to spark a new Western classical music movement based on the technologies and aesthetics of the 21st century.
Winter NAMM will be held January 15-18 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.