In a city known for its love of the arts, software and hardware are being transformed into a digital canvas for creative folks.
Tuesday night’s New York Tech Meetup (NYTM) felt a bit like a tour through a studio populated with musicians and artisans who use technology as their chosen medium. The monthly gathering for demos included new and familiar faces, such as a former staffer from Shapeways, a team from the latest Techstars NYC class, and the return of a startup out of Nashville (see slideshow above).
From time to time, combinations of technology and the arts pop up at NYTM, but this was a much more concentrated grouping. Interval Studios, for instance, developed Variant apps, a series of interactive audiovisual artwork that changes based on how the user taps the screen. Doti Loom created an open source desktop jacquard loom, which turned up at Maker Faire New York in September. Both teams work out of the Eyebeam research studio in Brooklyn.
There was also some wearable technology on display from Jewelbots, a returning presenter at NYTM and part of the Techstars NYC fall class due to graduate this Thursday morning. CEO Sara Chipps said Jewelbots’ customizable bracelets can be set to flash certain colors when users’ friends, who also wear Jewelbots, are in the vicinity. She also said Jewelbots could encourage young women to get interested in coding. “Jewelbots use a mesh network to tell when their friends are nearby,” Chipps said, “as well as send each other secret messages in their own languages.”
She knows a little something about coding and programming. Chipps previously co-founded nonprofit Girl Develop It, which offers training in Web and software development to women. Jewelbots are open source, she said, letting users create their own features for their bracelets.
What jumped out last night, though, was the new design of Artiphon’s Instrument 1. It was two years ago this month at NYTM that this Nashville-based team presented its digital music maker, which mimics a plethora of instruments. Back then, the Instrument 1 had a hardwood body with a slot to add a mobile device. With the dramatic redesign, the concept remains the same—giving users a way to play very real-sounding guitar, piano, and violin music all through a single digital instrument—but now the Instrument 1 has a more streamlined body, and ports to connect to devices rather than nest them inside its frame.
The Instrument 1, presenter Jacob Gordon said, adapts to the way the user wants to play it. “If you’re a lefty, it will re-tune for you southpaws,” he said. The device can also be set to the user’s degree of musical experience. “This can be as simple as Guitar Hero or as complex and hard as any traditional instrument,” he said. “It scales with you as you learn and explore.”
Gordon, chief marketing officer and co-founder with Artiphon, said the company develops hardware and software to let people explore their musical creativity. Artiphon also operates out of the New Inc, a museum-led incubator in New York.
This version of the device has gotten praise from Time and Fast Company, and it looks purpose-built for cranking out tunes. However, I would be lying if I did not say I kind of miss the exotic, handcrafted appeal of the earlier version (then again, I am no a musician). Artiphon could be on to something if it can get music lovers, and perhaps the masses that fell in love with video games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, to also pick up the Instrument 1 for their jam sessions.