A tap to the belly button emits a frenetic beat. A pull of the zipper crescendos with electronic distortion. A touch to the forearm plays a gentle chord.
This is Showpiece, a wearable instrument created by fashion designer Ylenia Gortana and the musician Birdmask. It’s basically a MIDI sequencer sewn into a hoodie. Each panel of the jacket is a button programmed to play a certain digital beat or note. When donned by a trained musician familiar with the programming, the jacket can make real music.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen technology mix with choreography to make music–Human Electro, the Leap Motion beatboxer, this musical exoskeleton, and this Brooklyn Bridge dance troupe all come to mind.
Don’t be surprised if you keep seeing more of it. Just a few weeks back at SxSW, Sir Mix-a-Lot (yes, that Sir Mix-a-Lot) was talking about a hardware startup he wanted to found focused on wearable instruments. The reason why makes a lot of sense: Music may have gone electronic, but we’re lost a lot from live performances as a result. Watching someone huddled over a tiny keyboard MIDI sequencer makes for dull show compared to watching someone leap around stage dramatically with a guitar.
Now we have all sorts of tiny sensors, made cheap and plentiful by the smartphone market, that can be embedded into specialized apparel. Wearables might not have won us over with their fashion just yet. But if anyone can get away with wearing outlandish electronic clothing, it’s musicians.