Australia’s Ethno Tekh: Music Performance To Xbox Kinect’s Beat

Meet Chris Vik. He created and performs live with a Kinect app that lets you dance to create music, and he’s good enough to give it away for free. This is his story.

Who are you and where do you work?
I’m Chris Vik, and I’m a Melbourne-based performer, musician and developer at Ethno Tekh, a startup dealing with interactive installations and performances.

Why do we know you? What have you created?
My tool, Kinectar, takes inputs from the Kinect, OSC and MIDI, and lets me setup conditions to control music live with my movements. I released a bunch of videos where I’d use the Kinect with my software to do stuff like perform electronic music, play a massive pipe organ and collaborate with dancers. I ended up having heaps of interest in what I was doing, so I released Kinectar into the wild for free to see what people would do with it.

It started in April 2011, after I saw people “hacking” the Kinect to perform a huge variation of applications. I had this particular idea about how I could use it to make music which I hadn’t seen anyone do yet, so I bought one. Since then, well…that’s what I’ve been doing.

I started by building a tool for me to use for my performances. It began as a basic concept, letting me set up conditions to trigger MIDI notes using the data from the Kinect. I kept on expanding the tool as I’d perform and find its limits, so I’d just keep adding more features.

Now I’ve teamed up with a game/visual developer, Brad Hammond, and started Ethno Tekh. Recently we did a very cool gig for Microsoft’s TechEd 2012, where Brad built a 3D game-style interface for me to perform my Kinect music with.

What platforms do you develop for?
Since we’re a creative/artistic applications startup more than a software company, our tools are mostly aimed at Windows systems, which is what we run our installations and performances off. But we’re trying our best to release everything cross-platform, it just takes a little longer for us to release the OS X stuff.

We’re also looking at putting together some creative apps for iOS and Android down the track, but that won’t be until we’ve got the business a bit more stable and can afford to hire people to help out.

What are you working on right now?
We’re very busy fellows at the moment. As well as a new version of Kinectar we’re also in the process of releasing our own Kinect skeleton tracker called Ethno Tracker. Brad is slowly building a very cool generative visual synthesiser called Splash. It lets you draw abstract 3D objects live that react to music.

I’m also a performer, so we’re also working on a half-hour live audio/visual stage performance for early-November which we hope to tour with soon. The performance at TechEd was only the start of that particular aspect of Ethno Tekh, where we combine visual interfaces with interactive music creation.

Since we’re building all the tools ourselves (mostly in Max/MSP/M4L and Unity3D), we’re putting a lot of time into our back-end communication framework and event system. Because of this we can use it in all the installation and performances projects we have in the future, saving us a lot of time and having something original that suits our project style perfectly.

And finally to keep the money flowing, we’re also working on some interactive installations for advertising and store-fronts. They’re great because they pay the bills, plus the projects align nicely with Ethno Tekh’s direction.

What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles?
I think they’ve allowed a ton of innovation in small, useful and entertaining applications. The rise of tables and touch devices go part and parcel with app stores; and considering our interest in using technology for our art, we haven’t overlooked the potential of creating some interesting touch device apps down the track.

What’s your favorite app that you didn’t create?
TouchOSC. Although you can’t currently upload custom templates on the Android version, it was actually the first thing that introduce me to Open Sound Control. So I have a special place in my heart for it.

What phone do you use? Why?
At the moment I’m using the HTC Velocity. Although my Desire served me well, the Velocity was a great upgrade. I go for the Android phones because I’m a tinkerer and I love the idea of open platforms. Apple’s philosophy doesn’t encourage sharing or innovation, and I prefer to stay away from that kind of thing.

What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?
Well I’m really from the creative side of the development fence; my past is mostly filled with making music and playing with technology. I used to love programming in my teens but didn’t end up finding a reason to pursue it. When I started making tools for me to make music with, I really started feeling the passion in what I was doing. I really believe that if you can combine your different passions into a single project, you have a much better chance at following your idea through AND enjoying what you do. Everyone has a different combination of skills and interests, that’s what innovates and gets noticed.

Read more about Chris’ performances on his blog.

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