BubbleSynth Reinvents Pop Music

It looks like the next generation may never have to grow out of their playing-with-bubbles phase. And they will have BubbleSynth to thank. The brainchild of tech guru and visual effects pioneer Dan Novy, BubbleSynth uses motion detection technology to turn soap bubbles into streams of sound. Comprised of a webcam, a black backdrop, a projector, a bubble emission source, and a computer, the novel invention is currently a semi-finalist at this year’s Georgia Tech Margaret Guthman Music Instrument Competition.

Using an adept tracking system called OpenCV, BubbleSynth captures various bubble characteristics, including size and duration, and translates them into unique sound samples. For example, a longer lasting bubble triggers a different pitch than one that dies quickly. An obese bubble generates a different tone than a slim bubble. The location of bubbles is factored in as well, with their positions along an XY axis determining frequency and volume.

BubbleSynth functions around an open framework, so new sounds (SynthDefs) and tracking technologies can be ported into the system. In his demo, Dan Novy uses sound samples inspired by the 1984 film Dune, and indeed the Sci-Fi influence is well suited to BubbleSynth’s slightly eerie visuals. Nonetheless, I’m still planning on steel drum bubbles for my next Caribbean-themed party.

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There are three BubbleSynth modes to choose from: generative, direct control, and group. In generative mode, the action is automated once the bubble source has been switched on. However, in direct control mode it is up to users to create the flow of music by manually popping the bubbles. This is an intriguing prospect, but it remains to be seen whether you’d be able to create sound that approaches any kind of musical melody, riff, or motif. In group mode, users can forego the automatic bubble source and send bubbles into the tracking area with custom bubble wands.

In its current iteration, BubbleSynth is somewhat constrained by a couple of conditions, notably its reliance on a small-scope webcam and specific black backdrop. However, once the tweaks have been made to adapt it to a larger environment, it’s not hard to envision BubbleSynth helping all stripes of performers to capture the crowd.

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