Imogen Heap’s Mi.mu Gloves
Singer-songwriter Imogen Heap went through a period of writer’s block and was frustrated with not being able to produce a song that she was happy with. Most of the problem came from the difficulty of translating her musical thoughts onto the computer. Then it dawned on her – what if she could make music with her hands (literally)? Thus, she came to lead a project in making Mi.mu gloves. Through extensive research and design, they enable the user to wirelessly sculpt sound with natural human gestures, manipulating the voice and other instruments.
“I wasn’t looking for control, I was looking for freedom.” – Imogen Heap
Freedom through Design
The gloves are designed to be a compact, lightweight and self-contained system. This is an example of a shift from ‘complexification’ to ‘simplicity’ in trends of material innovation. In other words, we are now more attracted to faster, lighter, safer and smarter technologies that act as a ‘second skin’ (Küchler 2008). Contrary to most arguments on augmented technologies taking away agency from humans (Van Kranenburg 2008), the simple usage of the gloves are giving it back to the user. Music can be delicately adjusted through direct body movement that would otherwise be tedious on a 2-D computer screen.
The gloves are an example of what Küchler (2008) calls ‘wearable and affective computing’. Not only do they store and transmit information, but they also sense and affect emotions. Apart from it being much more intuitive, the designers state that performance with Mi.mu gloves is “more enjoyable to watch, making it easier for your audience to connect with what you’re doing” (Mi.mu gloves n.d.). So, the gloves in motion create an ‘augmented reality’ (Küchler 2008) that broadens the awareness of a live audience through visual and kinaesthetic cues for sound.
Developing these gloves means exploring music-making outside the constraints of formatted and linear computer panels. They consist of smart materials that arguably transcend the binary between ‘objectivity’ and ‘subjectivity’. As such quasi-objects, they provide a new language, allowing us to critique the dichotomy (Swyngedouw 1996). The key functional technologies behind the gloves include: motion tracker, haptic motors, bend sensors, LED, X-OSC and textiles. The x-OSC board is infrastructural, as it links all the technologies together and mediates the data between the body and the computer via Wi-Fi. Collectively, they demonstrate ‘ambient intelligence’ (Küchler 2008), as their attentive and interactive quality makes them capable of independent learning and self-improvement. Thus, this makes music production a more ‘4-D’ process.
Gradually, we are realizing the restrictions of our current technologies founded upon our subject-object conceptions, especially in creative tasks. This binary can be re-organized by quasi-object innovations, such as the Mi.mu gloves. Their users experience a dramatic shift in their perceptions of performance and freedom in composition. In turn, this augmented reality enriches the musical experience of both the performer and the audience. In terms of body technique, perhaps this is considered as technology-assisted dance.
The Featured Image shows Pop-singer Ariana Grande experimenting with Mi.mu gloves, courtesy Inticeonline.com.
Küchler, S. (2008) Technological Materiality: Beyond the Dualist Paradigm. Theory, Culture & Society 25(1):101-120.
Mi.mu gloves (n.d.) Why Gloves for Music? Mimugloves.com. Avaliable at: http://mimugloves.com/mimu_orig/#TheGloves/1 [accessed 7 March 2017].
Swyngedouw, E. (1996) The city as a hybrid: on nature, society and cyborg urbanization. Capitalism Nature Socialism 7: 65–80.
Van Kranenburg (2008) The Internet of Things: A Critique of Ambient Technology and the All-seeing Network of RFID. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.