The Plug + Play kit uses sensors to conjure an instant one-man band, with all the light and sound enticements on stage.

Neil Merry, a recent graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, started building the Plug + Play kit after listening to BBC interviews with a producer for Radiohead and Atoms for Peace.

The problem at hand? Many electronic musicians are performing without the drama of a live band.

Merry wondered, what if he could marry live human movement with the sensationalism of light and sound--in real time?

To do so, he created four sensors: movement, intimacy, twist, and slam.

Each sensor clips onto a piece of a live set, like the microphone, a guitar, or even a singer’s foot.

The sensors communicate with music software, and the performer can program them to produce lighting and sound effects that are unique to each show.

The sensors in their portable carrying kit are an easy load-in and load-out.

By eliminating a third-party special effects crew (or introducing effects where perhaps there were none), each change in lighting or sound is even more closely synced to the action on stage.

No doubt, Plug + Play is designed for pocket-size venues and intimate performances--the best kind.

“Innovation in music and the creation of new types of sounds," Merry tells Co.Design, "is coming as much from bedroom producers creating tracks on their laptops and tablet devices as it is from musicians who have spent years learning a particular instrument."

Co.Design

An Instant One-Man Band Kit Twists and Slams The Solo Show

The Plug + Play kit is for musicians who stand alone--to deliver all the light and sound drama of a full band.

Bert, as portrayed by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, may have been the original one-man-band. His every movement synced with a horn blowing, a drum clanging, or a harmonica humming. Consider him the frontrunner to today’s electronica-enriched solo acts, like Andrew Bird or Panda Bear (Noah Lennox from Animal Collective), who can stand alone while invoking a chorus of sounds fitting of an ensemble, all with a few key pieces of technology.

But it’s no small challenge for an electronic musician to really give a compelling live performance when so much of the magic happens in the studio--"unlike a guitarist or vocalist who can command a stage and create a sense of visual drama," reasons Neil Merry, a recent graduate of London’s Royal College of Art. Merry not long ago stumbled across a BBC recording of the producer for Radiohead and Atoms for Peace that moved him to launch his own investigation. What if he could marry live human performance with the theatrical effects of light and sound, in real time?

Plug + Play was his answer. The portable kit includes four sensors that attach to any part of a live set: could be a guitar, a microphone, an arm. Each sensor then connects with standard music software to dictate a different light or sound action based on the performer’s movements, responding to up and down, left and right. Another tracking device, the "intimacy sensor," picks up on how close the performer is. The twist and slam sensors are somewhat self-explanatory. So imagine the slam sensor synced with the singer’s foot: One Chuck Berry-style duck walk would intuitively cue all the light changes. And the performer gets to choose and program each response sequence, so no two acts will be alike.

Merry’s kit is designed for small stages, which is perfectly intentional on his part. “Innovation in music and the creation of new types of sound," he says, "is coming as much from bedroom producers creating tracks on their laptops and tablet devices as it is from musicians who have spent years learning a particular instrument.” Besides, ask Bert or Bird or Bear, and it’s an intimate crowd that every one-person act dreams of entertaining.

Add New Comment

1 Comments