Innovator and audiophile Yuri Suzuki has created an app that lets users turn anything, from Post It notes to plant pots and people, into a functioning musical instrument.
AR Music Kit, designed and developed in conjunction with his team at YS Labs and Google’s Data Arts Team, is born out of a tactile response to playful childhood nostalgia, as Yuri recalls: "when I was child always treating surroundings as musical instruments, such as tennis rackets as guitar, banging boxes as drum.”
Launched at this year’s Google I/O, the app utilises augmented reality markers (in this case a simple, designed black-and-white scheme of symbols), which when picked up in-app by the smartphone’s camera are translated into music, activating the device to play the corresponding musical note or function.
There are currently two ways to activate this action. The first is to simply cover the desired note, as if you were plucking the string of a guitar or impressing the keys of a piano. The guitar and piano constitute two of the three current music functions of the app’s interface.
The third of these, the Music Box, asks that markers simply be placed in sequence, triggering the musical notes to be played as the camera’s lens is moved across them. Patterns of markers become sequences of notes, playing music.
This do-it-yourself approach opens up the project and its actions to just about anyone who has access to a smartphone or tablet (at least one running Android 5.0 and up, for now). And, as the app is free, the cost of upkeep and use of the app is as low as paper, printing and tape, to create and attach the markers to various objects, the wall or oneself.
The creation is reminiscent of Björk’s collection of musical games and interactive digital musical instruments in her Biophilia visual studio album app suite, developed in collaboration with Scott Snibbe and M/M Paris, which toured globally as an educational programme in schools, museums and galleries and was distributed for free to Icelandic schools as an innovation in their national curriculum. Indeed, Yuri speaks to this intention to "create an extension of my musical tech educational for children”, although it can undoubtedly be enjoyed by people of all ages.
Though simplistic in its currently launched iteration, the app has plenty of scope to grow, as Yuri Suzuki tells us, “we actually developed a lot of different instruments with different interactions. Personally, I wish to develop more and expand the idea.” With the software currently made available open source on GitHub, he invites developers to get involved and contribute ideas to the ongoing project.