A Refined Palate Controller
adapted by Adrian Freed from Computer Music Journal, Vol. 15, No.4,
Alternatives to keyboard controllers like Buchla's Thunder and Mathew's
Radio Baton are innovative, but they exist in very small numbers. The use
of traditional instruments as controllers shows promise, but there are still
problems with pitch extraction, the keyboard bias of the MIDI specification
and its bottleneck data rate, and the fact that it is still very difficult
to readily outfit a musician's preferred instrument, be it a Stradivarius
or a Gibson guitar, with the acoustic and positional gesture sensors that
are required to make it a refined controller.
In the hope of inspiring research and development I would like to briefly
describe some new and exciting developments in sensor technologies that
may be the basis for new generations of alternate controllers. These technologies
may also help solve some of the problems of adapting traditional acoustic
instruments to be effective controllers.
The micromechanics research group led by R.S. Muller and R. M. White at
the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center have made some astonishing advances
in the construction of mechanical structures using microfabrication techniques
derived from integrated circuit processes (Muller et al. 1990). These microdynamic
silicon structures with moving parts show promise for the design of high-performance
sensors and can be combined with on-chip circuits for the processing of
the sensor data. The Berkeley group is producing pressure sensors as well
as accelerometers with this technology. These may be used in the construction
of very small and unobtrusive musical instrument transducer systems.
With these tiny sensor technologies in mind, I would now like to make a
proposal for a controller that would sense the position of the tongue. This
may seem outrageous, but after all, the tongue can be manipulated in an
extremely refined manner. It is perhaps the most precise voluntary motor
control mechanism we have in our bodies.
I imagine that this tongue controller could be realized in the following
way. The custom-fitted sensor system would use a non invasive dental retainer.
Such retainers have been used for decades in orthodontics. On the surface
of the dental retainer there would be placed an array of silicon-based pressure
sensors that would sense the planar image of the tongue as it came into
contact with the surface. Preprocessing of this tongue image could be carried
out by the on-chip circuits in the sensors. Sensor data would be transmitted
to the outside of the mouth in a wireless manner.
One of the advantages of this tongue controller is that it leaves our other
very finely tuned manipulations, the hands, completely free, and, it is,
without a doubt, a very personal controller.
Muller, R.S. et al. 1990 Microsensors. New York: IEEE Press.