Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bubble Drum Project

As exhibited most vividly by the group from the Clem Burke Drumming Project during a presentation at the 2010 Games For Health Conference drumming can give the player a highly intensive form of exercise.

The Bubble Drum Project was conceived to explore and experiment with an alternative "drum kit" that has been specifically designed to give a vigorous physical workout and develop prototype rhythm games that engage the player with challenging cognitive stimulation and also provide an instrument/interface to facilitate deeper musical expression that emphasizes dynamics, accents, creating polyrhythmic patterns and steady timekeeping.

One of the obvious problems with real drum kits is that they are loud. While this is fine for concert venues and club settings, they are otherwise quite impractical for playing in most spaces without disturbing others (not to mention the necessity for drummers to wear ear plugs to protect hearing.)

Alternatively, various electronic pads can be used in place of actual drums and cymbals, which then also allow the drum kit to become an input device so that individual strokes can be recorded and used as a controller for games (e.g. Activision's Guitar Hero and Harmonix's Rock Band). However, there are several factors that limit the degree to which playing these imitation drum kits can provide rigorous exercise and cognitive stimulation. For example, typically there is limited or no sensitivity to dynamic levels or accents to make the playing truly reflect musical expression. The pads themselves cannot absorb the shock of stick hits like real drum heads, so there is a lack of "feel" not to mention the possibility of wrist strain or more serious injury. Another drawback of playing typical rhythm games that utilize these pads is that a player cannot be particularly creative since the choice of notes (as well as the available selection of songs) are completely dictated by the video game companies.

The concept of using fitness balls as drums, combined with rhythmic aerobic movements, has become somewhat popular through a franchise known as Drums Alive®. Extending this approach, these fairly inexpensive and rugged exercise balls can actually become functional electronic drum pads. A surprisingly expressive musical instrument can be fashioned that can be played in such a way that it provides a good workout. Using captured accelerometer and microphone input data, it is possible to build interesting rhythm games that can accurately measure the player's timing, dynamics, endurance, pattern matching and creative rhythm making abilities. Both aural and visual feedback can be generated to give the player the feeling of musical and artistic expression while at the same time providing a good physical workout and cognitive stimulation.

At the upcoming Games For Health 2011 Conference I will be showing several innovative rhythm games that have been developed as prototypes to demonstrate the use of exercise balls that can function as drum pad controllers through the use of attached iPod touch devices, Wiimotes, and microphones.