Most of us have probably seen a video demo of the Roli Seaboard Grand (especially since it was featured in La La Land). A similar instrument is the Continuum Fingerboard. Both of them allow for note parameters to be set per note instead of for every note at once (like pitch bends, etc . . .), and provide a visceral, 3D field to play with.
Roli more recently introduced Blocks—a modular set of MIDI controllers which now includes a mini version of their Seaboard.
The next step is to create virtual instruments that don’t even require touch. It’s not necessarily better, but with VR and AR in every tech company’s sights, it’s the natural progression.
Syntact uses a camera to read your finger movements and plays back any audio (including what your hand is currently composing) in real time via an array of supersonic audio drivers that are arranged parabolically. This creates a small zone of air pressure on your hand that allows you to feel the music and how you’re altering it in real time.
Even cooler than that is the Myo Armband. Like the Roli, it’s been out for a little while, but only now have developers built up enough applications for it that it’s worthy of more attention.
Myo is a lightweight armband that uses a 9-axis sensor (gyrometer, accelerometer, magnetometer) and eight EMG (electromyography) sensors to read arm movement and the electrical impulses that are being sent to the muscles in your hand. That data is then sent to a computer via Bluetooth, where a developer has programmed a clever way to interpret it. Even though the delay is so short that it’s unimportant from a practical standpoint, the fact that a machine is reading your finger movements before your fingers even receive the signal is pretty astounding!
Leviathan is one piece of software that uses Myo to control MIDI data. It’s can be used in basically any DAW to switch between chords and alter MIDI parameters via gestures. There’s a definite need for more music app developers getting into the gesture control game.