You Are The Controller

by Thomas Brett

Last week Microsoft released the Kinect controller for their XBox video game console.  The Kinect is being hailed/hyped as the next step in gaming technology as it does away with the most annoying part of the gaming experience: those little handheld controllers that serve as an interface between the player and the game.  Nintendo’s Wii got us part of the way there with their handheld controllers that respond to body movement.  So what makes Kinect on another level?  It scans the player’s body movements in real-time, making the human body the controller.  No more wires, no more joysticks, no more buttons to press, nothing to hold.  In the words of the XBox commercial: “You don’t need to know anything you don’t already know.  Or do anything you don’t already do.  All you have to do is be you.  You are the controller.”

I imagine that the Kinect technology will have resonance for many electronic musicians because musical controllers have long been something that we need to address when composing and performing music.  Pick up a music store catalog and you’ll see lots of controllers for sale, each of them offering the musician the prospect of ever better “control” over their music.  Controllers are always aiming for the kind of almost perfect transparency demonstrated by an acoustic musician at his or her instrument–with maybe only a pair of drumsticks or a violin bow or a mouthpiece or set of piano keys as the “interface” between player and expression.  In my conversations with electronic musicians over the years, one recurring theme is the tantalizing prospect of having nothing come between them and their music.  It’s the dream of having one’s physical (and possibly mental) gestures directly translated into sound, a situation where, as Kinect puts it, you are the controller.