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Introducing Orbit: Collaborative Music Control In Clubs

DJ TechTools’ latest musical experiment offers an alternative to main room dj attractions, by inviting party goers to experience the joys of controlling music in a collaborative fashion. Built for Richie Hawtin’s Enter party this summer in Ibiza, 12 independent touch wheels on a large circular table allow people to play one instrument in an evolving “dj mix” running through Ableton Live.  In today’s article, we finally reveal the background of Orbit, and take you behind the scenes of it’s development.

This summer, party revelers from around the globe will make a well-travelled trek to the Mecca of dance music, Ibiza. Some will be met by a small surprise waiting on an upper floor of the iconic Space night club. Every Thursday night, beneath the stars and under the roaring sound of passing jumbo jets – the curious will discover that there is no DJ at the helm of that room. Instead, anyone can join in, and together with strangers around them take control of the sound track. Dubbed “Orbit”, this audacious project was designed and created here at DJ TechTools, and today I am proud to finally tell you all about it.

At the outset of this project, we had a lot of questions and no idea if anything would actually work but I hoped this funny little table would do two simple things:

CONNECT PEOPLE THROUGH MUSIC

ENTER.WEEK3 by Igor Ribnik-308

Playing music with friends can be one of the most fun, and connecting activities humans engage in, but very few get the opportunity to experience that process with creative barriers being so high. Just like sitting down at a table, and talking or laughing over food, there is something special about standing around in a circle and playing together as a group. Nightclubs are becoming increasingly disconnected with higher dj booths and larger VIP sections, so we wondered what would happen if you created a space where people could come together and play music in an un-expected environment.

The table intentionally avoids any touch screens or small controls so anyone can play the music by ear and focus on looking at those around them. Traditional instruments evolved to be very simple, and don’t require a lot of visual attention – freeing up the player to engage, smile and connect in the moment. Many have described Orbit in a variety of ways, but the most simple might be the best: it’s the modern electronic drum circle.

OPEN THE DOOR TO CREATIVITY

CNTRL_ORBIT_LISTENING

Almost everyone has some interest in playing an instrument – especially those that go out and dance to electronic music. Since most clubs and venues are very consumption oriented, we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to participate creatively in the night and discover the joys of controlling music. The hope is that this might peak the interest of a few creative individuals and possibly set them in the direction or production, djing, or music creation. Each night, Orbit asks the question:

What would happen if you allowed people to control the music in a night club? Would they have fun, be inspired and choose to dive deeper into music? 

There have been many excellent interactive music installations over the years including the Reactable and Moldover’s JamBox series of instruments. With Orbit we were faced with the challenge of not only creating an interactive musical instrument, but also engineering the soundtrack to a nightclub room. The mix needs to evolve, sound good, and be easy to play – all at the same time.

THE INTERFACE CONCEPT

Orbit- Hands

Orbit is equipped with 12 large jog wheels, not unlike like those found on all modern DJ controllers. Each touch-sensitive wheel plays one instrument in the “mix”. When pressed, the instrument plays, and when turned it changes the instrument’s tone or rhythm in very noticeable ways. The hi hat for example changes patterns from 1/4 to 1/8 and 1/16 with tasty reverb swells in the upper register. The actual hi hat sample you hear, and patterns played change over time as parts ebb and flow into each other just like a dj mix with each changing song.

All of the original parts from popular dance tracks like DubFire’s “RoadKill” , including kick, snare, hats, and bass are playable, allowing the group to re-create, edit and de-construct songs as they come up in the mix.

We decided on jog wheels to keep the instrument dead simple and robust. This gave it the highest chance of surviving 14 weeks of parties in Ibiza, while also providing a commonly understood interface that almost anyone enjoys manipulating. Drum pads, knobs and sliders tend to break and require some degree of musical skill or knowledge to operate well. The wheels spin endlessly, and are very high resolution –  so they offer a broad palette of sound control for everyone from the professional dj, to a casual party attendee.

THE ENTER. BACKDROP

Enter_SPace_Ibiza

Every Thursday night in Ibiza this summer, a very dedicated team transform the iconic Space night club into a totally sensory experience dubbed ENTER. From completely re-decorating the rooms, to inventing new drinks, and pushing sound to the limits, no expense is spared to fulfill their mission:

“ENTER. will be a point of entry into new experiences: from new music and DJs through to technology and the Sake we introduce people to.” – Richie Hawtin

This mentality was the perfect backdrop to experiment with a new model of musical interaction and invite party goers to explore playing music together.

THE CONTROLLER

Orbit--Product

For the technically-minded, Orbit is basically a giant custom MIDI controller with 12 jog wheels, 6 USB interfaces, and some pretty impressive visual feedback provided through over 1000 LEDs. The jog wheels are sending high-resolution position data to Ableton Live, and displaying that position through the ring of LEDs around each wheel. When touched, the wheel “reveals” that part and the LEDs immediately in front of the wheel pulse in time with the rhythm of that part, thanks to a clever MaxMSP plugin written by Jeff Lubow at CNMAT.

Wheel-Close-Up

Our lead engineer and man behind the Midi Fighter, Michael Mitchell, re-purposed 6 VCI-100 jog wheels and then built custom circuit boards and firmware to seamlessly integrate them into Ableton Live. The table itself has space age origins, built using cutting edge aluminum bonding techniques by Ohio Design in San Francisco. Here is a deeper look into the process of the controller’s creation in San Francisco:

THE MIX

ORBIT-SESSION

Not unlike a DJ mix, Orbit is running an extended blend of over a dozen “songs” in Ableton Live. Instead of stereo MP3s, each song is made up of 12 individual parts taken from stems that various artists provided for this installation. Throughout the night, people get to literally remix tracks from Dubfire, DJ Tennis, Plastikman, Chris Liebing and many others. The wheels mute, un-mute and deconstruct each channel through some very creative Ableton live effect racks.

Technically, how we allow people to play music turned out to be the biggest challenge of the project. There were three requirements:

  1. People needed to sound good no matter what – if not they walk away and give up.
  2. Putting music over speakers meant hours of music – and that meant easy music integration
  3. The thing needs to be stable, so CPU usage has to be reasonable. (no convolution reverbs!)

It was a tough journey, throughout which we had to throw away 3 different models of musical control (and months of work) after testing and discovering many assumptions were dead wrong. Our own Lenny Kiser helped out in the first 2 months in building out the original Ableton session. Now in week 5, everything is very dialed in and the mix sounds amazing. More content is added every week, and each day we change little things to make each part more playable and fun. It’s been a crazy hard job – but well worth it in the end as you see the smiles of genuine surprise when people realize that they are actually controlling the music and it’s a blast to play with complete strangers around them.

DOWNLOAD PRESS PHOTOS HERE 

CHECK OUT ORBIT YOURSELF AT ENTER THIS SUMMER 

THANKS TO REDBULL MUSIC ACADEMY FOR THEIR SUPPORT OF THIS PROJECT

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  • RUDDY

    Any update on this? I was just thinking about it today so i thought i would ask

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  • zooropa

    Our friends here in Czech Republic made something similar, but more complicated http://bambooelement.cz/bambufonomat-1

  • SN8

    Blam-o! Well done Ian & company, leveled up

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  • Bluegrass DJ

    I saw this on ENTER last night on be-at TV. it looked really cool but i couldn’t tell what each person was doing. Is there a video that showcases how it actually works in practice? The two official videos have background music playing over them so you never really see the most important part, how the table actually works.

    At one point a woman got the hang of it and started teaching everyone else on the table which i thought was cool. but i still couldn’t tell what they were doing.

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  • germsi

    mold over anyone? had something similar for years…

  • noxxi

    just curious, but how did you account for drink spillages? is it a “no fucking way” or is the table designed to not get destroyed by liquids? particularly around the jog wheels.

  • Bobby Dealz

    What would the price be? I really like the concept, reminds me of the Reactable. I’d love to have one but they are really expensive.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0h-RhyopUmc

  • Pedro

    I’ve already seen this idea, at least it’s something really similar, it’s called Reactable. You can watch on youtube Julio Navas playings with it.

  • Kenny Schachat

    In addition to the awesome technology showcase, I think the key brilliance here with Orbit is how it facilitates and encourages interaction with the other people while they’re all playing together. The jog wheels free the players visual attention and the round table design encourages the interaction. Super impressive on all levels.

    Future club event: Nights Of The Round Table ;-).

    Orbit 2.0 has a rotating table, and the DJ’s new role is controlling it, giving rise to a new generation of Turntablists. Ok, I’ll stop now…

  • Rafael Marques

    You guys just reached a whole new level. I’m just back from Ibiza and orbit is amazing. Watching the behind the scenes just made me realize the amount of effort and intelligence behind it’s creation. You guys have my highest respect. You already did, but now you’re like masters.

  • Greg Sol

    Congrat @Ean Golden ! Nice work, huge idea! 😉

  • What are you gonna do with all that VCIs that you have now laying around, and no jogs?

    • Awesomer

      This.

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  • Anthony Woodruffe

    How strange that people can have such a negative and overt objection to such and interesting concept. Some immediately think this is to replace the DJ although it isn’t, however; so what if it did? As more concepts hit the market it gives options to choose from. Roll back 30 years and your choice was a guy with 2 decks, 20 years we had records and CDs, and 10 years ago we saw the instalment of Timecode. It’s only been the last 5 years where Controllerism is becoming a big part of the club scene however there is still room for vinyl and CD. Nothing is actually being phased out it’s just an evolution of more choice.

    • Kenny Schachat

      You’ve hit on an interesting point. I recently head from a musician friend who was lamenting the fact that he’s recently lost a few very lucrative gigs playing live music for corporate parties after being replaced by DJs. The lesson there is that there is no guarantee that our current niche will last indefinitely.

      I’ve been DJing for over 20 years but I’m aware that It’s likely that the day will come when DJing will fall out of favor and when it happens, it’s also likely that it will happen very quickly. The answer? Diversify: learn to produce music, add live performance to your gigs, learn to code, become a promoter/entrepreneur or invent a new niche .

  • Sara Simms

    This looks pretty rad! So does the Enter. backdrop 🙂

  • seb nz

    Even if it doesn’t take off, it’s great to see innovations like this in the electronic music scene. It’s what will keep the scene fresh, and also give it an edge over traditional forms of music such as bands.

  • i would go to Ibiza to play with this… as a drummer for 20 years touring the better 3/4 of the world for 15…. being able to interact with other people is what i truly miss about djing and performing… live creation will forever be what holds music together.

  • Sasha Solo

    Nice use of those Vestax jog wheels 🙂

  • The Orbit really is a gorgeous jambox, the sleek design & LEDs really stand out. I can’t wait to try it when it returns from Ibiza! In the meantime, get your hands on 16 other interactive music installations at the LoveTech-curated REBOOT:music exhibition The Tech Museum of Innovation!: http://www.thetech.org/special-exhibitions/rebootmusic-exhibition
    But only until August 17th.
    Checkout the video preview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzNrpZ0ibSg
    And more jamboxes here: http://jamboxes.net/

  • ????

    where is grandmaster jay??

  • chris

    yeah: bringing peoples together as human.
    must give an Acid Jazz Classic tune on this

    http://youtu.be/F2927aptNFM

  • André et Michèle

    Been waiting to hear more about this after seeing it in the ENTER photos, cheers!

  • Mad Zach

    wow! too cool guys 🙂 great work team dj techtools, keep pushing new experiments in sound

  • Tommy Boy

    Its a cute novelty piece. I’ve had turntables forever. The most people do is try to do the scratch, weekee weekee, sound. Once you step in and try to teach them beyond that they become disinterested in a heartbeat. One of the biggest draws to want to become a DJ is being the center of attention. Nothing worse then your wannabe DJ buddy stepping on your groove to add an EFX or switch up the song. We all know that guy. So I can imagine a dozen people trying to mangle a beat all at once. Quote Ean: “I just had an idea that it would be amazing” “I just wanted to bring people together as people” lol

  • Cristian Carvajal

    Excelente!.. una buena manera de hacer interaccion entre la gente y los Dj’s

  • chris

    looks awesome. sounds nice.
    (is it real that most of the peoples seeing only black or white. i prefer dark king-blue, or cognac, or cream ….)

  • Graham Thorne

    Love it!

  • Goncalo Martins

    Ideas need to be implemented and tested and encouraged. Congrats to Dj Tech Tools. You never know how this idea is actually going to interact with people! We might imagine the product to be used in one way and there are minds out there that just give another use to it that might be actually a turn over in DJing and interaction with the crowd.
    Now personally I think this idea right now works best for small crowds and events! Imagine 500 people fighting to just touch it! You will have what 20 seconds to play and then moves on to the next person! The interaction will be hard!
    Then a more controversial point: if it is to be used in current parties of dub step or electro house, then to make more noise… it is ok 🙂 kidding

  • TS

    1:59 dat booty jiggle…

  • Jacques G

    What you did here was brought the tradition of tribal drum circles into a contemporary club context. Perhaps it won’t create the paradigm shift you hope for, but I can see these Orbit devices installed in secondary rooms where people can take a break from the dancefloor and shift their energy into a more interactive experience. Nice work @eangolden:disqus

    • Thanks Jacques! You hit the nail on the head. The intention was never to “replace the dj” but instead provide a different, positive way for people to interact in a nightclub atmosphere.

  • Nice concept, and I really liked the use of VCI-100 Jog Wheels (correct me if Im wrong :))

    Heres an idea: What i see in this video is the Orbit is almost like a gigantic Midi Fighter Twister… How about making an experimental unit out of the Twister that gived each of the 16 knobs to each person around the table. Then mapping them similar to this video. Id call it the Midi Fighter Party Edition 🙂

    • that’s a funny point – we use the twisters to test and mockup the orbit in studios when producing music. It’s sort of hard to bring in the control room 🙂

  • tony corless

    Sorry not interested Gimmick!

  • Robert Wulfman

    The control mechanism seems inspired from the Jog wheel FX from the DJTT editions of the VCI controllers

  • Cody

    Pretty dope as a one-off club attraction. Obviously it’s not going to revolutionize the way we go clubbing but I admire the ingenuity and engineering that went into the project. All the pretty lights! Hawtin’s parties are pretty revolutionary.

  • Moldover

    Glad to see DJTT is taking steps to become the first company to productize a jambox. Nice work Ean et al. Viva collaborative-controllerism!

  • Eins

    Cool music under the video!

    • james

      yeah – i’d like to know what that track is!

  • DJ…Yup that’s my real name

    Does anybody else see a bunch of frat boys and stupid drunk girls walking in the club and spill beer and do other horrific things to this beautiful machine?

    • Unfortunately this was one of the images in my head too… :/

    • people have been surprisingly cool and respectful. You would be amazed. only a few drinks spilled accidentally in 5 weeks and everyone is very curious and generally open minded.

  • Wow, I like it. so let me get this straight. it’s foolproofed so that no matter what the people do with the jog wheels, everything is on beat and sounds good? so they touch the wheel, which turns on the clip, and then the jog is an effect parameter?? if that’s true, then it’s really amazing. making the crowd part of the experience is obviously the next step in clubbing, and if you’ve figured out a way for that to happen that sounds good too, well, MHOTY…

  • Clay Ford

    PLEASE!!! MORE VIDEOS!!!! I understand that each jog controls a different element of the music, but I’d like to see how let’s say…a tom or hat pattern is made. Does it have a pad you can tap or something? This is so interesting!

    • Here is a video from Enter that just got published. A real “live” video would be good to show everyone how it really works.

      • Clay Ford

        Thanks boss!

        • Sean Y

          It seems to be made up from many pre made loops (donated from artists) that change at regular music phrase intervals. 12 loops are played at once and the users change the loops by turning the jog wheels. Example, my jog wheel is attached to the hi hat sound -> if I turn it to the left the hat sample plays every 1/4 beat if I turn to the right it changes to every 1/8 beat, then 1/16 ect. OR my jog plays the kick drum, rotate to the left and I get a kick on the 1 and the 3, rotate right and this changes to a 4 to the floor, more to the right and now it’s playing a hiphop sounding break beat… ect ect. So there is no way for people to make thier own rhythms / prgrammed beats while playing but more that they change the loops like a live loop artist.. Your stuck with certain beats and patterns and samples, until the ableton set changes to the next phrase (say 16 bars in) then the music changes somehow and you are playing new samples with new patterns….

          Wheew. long text. Looks like fun, but I feel a bit sad at how people feel discouraged if the music they make doesn’t sound great as soon as they pick it up. So to get them into it they need a much more ‘canned’ (pre-made) and controlled experiance. :/ I guess that might beat having to deal with THAT ONE PERSON at a drum jam that *thinks* they sound awesome, esp when they play REALLY LOUD!… ;p

          Anyway, I would totally love to play with this all the same, I’d just likely get bored really quick and pass it to the hipster that’s standing right behind me and talking too loud. I’m not bitter, really.

          • Sean Y

            Oh, and I forgot to ask if you would please post a video of people actually playing with the thing and the sounds they are making. Like a > 2 min clip (the more the better) without it cutting or having people talk over it… Ean’s talking way to loud behind me while I’m trying to play this thing! 🙂 Thank you!! Really sweet go at this idea!

          • Clay Ford

            Great explanation! Thanks man!

  • Wane Manuel

    I guess the world forgot about Reactable.

  • Holiday

    Seems interesting, a novelty. Perhaps as a DJ collaborative tool. Personally I think the music should be in the hands of the DJ and the crowd should be…Well dancing, right? I mean, there is a reason clubs have DJs as oppose jukeboxes.

    • i think anything that excites the crowd to want to be somewhere, and discourages them from looking at their phones, is a great thing

  • mikefunk

    Cool Idea. You will make tons of money for new projects from clubs on this. I want DJTT Traktor controller next!

  • Stewe

    Great work Michael and everybody for making this concept in to reality.

  • Bob Hodbod

    I’m sure there will be a few modern art galleries that would be interested in getting their hands on Orbit once the Ibiza Season’s over.

    • I hope so! Orbit is looking for a suitable home once the summer is over.

  • Talon Michael Steinhauer

    I’ve recently been very interested in the Reactable and the look of the Orbit is what caught my eye. But WOW! This is so much more than a controller. I totally get this concept. I’ve been an advocate about the connection that is the soul of electronic music forever. This just reinforces that belief.

  • engin

    waste of time & money & energy this is just a dj toy. Musical interaction just means to me minding the dj’s business.this is not an invention or breakthrough on anything just mapped encoders give them 6 macbooks with ableton on it.The musical result will just be the same…

    • Fatlimey

      Disagree. Experimental pieces push companies to make new contacts to solve unique problems, try new ideas and leaves them stronger and with more skills. Yes, these interactive tables have been done before but they’ve never sounded good, always a collaborative cacophony. If DJTT have made a device that sounds good enough to hook up to the main speakers of a club room while remaining substantially interactive, they’ve succeed where many have failed before.

      • That’s correct! Thanks for pointing it out Robin. The big challenge was to make sure this table sounded amazing and was good enough to plug into a room with up to 500 people. That required starting from square one three times until we got a model that worked.

        • The-Equipment-Angler

          Can this table be angled towards the crowd? Like this the crowd can see what magic is being done. Oh and the first picture looks really dope (I like this armless shirt)! They almost look like a crime gang so tuff!!! Oh and yeah custom-devices and Midi have been invented only yesteryear…so this is really a standout.

          • The-Equipment-Angler

            C2C (coup de cross) is angling their equipment towards the crowd. They and Birdy Nam Nam are pioneers who combine skills (with turntables) and technologie. But this is due to their turntablist approach. This clip above is more like the DJ-Crew “Impy’s Pizza” who were throwing slices of pizza into the crowd. But still “extremly” impressive…as long as the crowd keeps consuming the necessairy goods that peoples consume at such venues/parties/scenes…

        • engin

          Thanks for the comments, The time will proof I am wrong then. Hope it won’t end up like pacemaker (which everyone thought thats a great idea.. )

          • Sean Y

            wasn’t the pacemaker good? Just really stupid expensive? That was the portable DJ device that let you practice on the bus and all, yeah?

    • Toontown

      I bet you’re a blast at parties… Couldn’t disagree with you more. Certainly not a “breakthrough” concept but I’m sure there is plenty to set it apart from the others. You can bet 99% of the club-goers had never seen or experienced anything like it before. It’s supposed to be fun, and if was endorsed by Hawtin you know it’s got the goods.

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  • CUSP

    That looks a lot like Moldover’s shared experience interface.

    • your controllers are a great inspiration to us all 🙂

      • CUSP

        You mean Moldover’s controllers? He makes some really interesting stuff.

        • some guy

          are you his boyfriend or something? relax bro