Electronic Musician Shows How He Uses His Prosthetic Arm to Control a Music Synthesizer with His Thoughts

The tech­no-futur­ist prophets of the late 20th cen­tu­ry, from J.G. Bal­lard to William Gib­son to Don­na Har­away, were right, it turns out, about the inti­mate phys­i­cal unions we would form with our machines. Har­away, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the His­to­ry of Con­scious­ness and Fem­i­nist Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Cruz, pro­claimed her­self a cyborg back in 1985. Whether read­ers took her ideas as metaphor or pro­lep­tic social and sci­en­tif­ic fact hard­ly mat­ters in hind­sight. Her voice was pre­dic­tive of the every­day bio­met­rics and mechan­ics that lay just around the bend.

It can seem we are a long way, cul­tur­al­ly, from the decade when Haraway’s work became required read­ing in “under­grad­u­ate cur­ricu­lum at count­less uni­ver­si­ties.” But as Hari Kun­zru wrote in 1997, “in terms of the gen­er­al shift from think­ing of indi­vid­u­als as iso­lat­ed from the ‘world’ to think­ing of them as nodes on net­works, the 1990s may well be remem­bered as the begin­ning of the cyborg era.” Three decades lat­er, net­worked implants that auto­mate med­ical data track­ing and analy­sis and reg­u­late dosages have become big busi­ness, and mil­lions feed their vitals dai­ly into fit­ness track­ers and mobile devices and upload them to servers world­wide.

So, fine, we are all cyborgs now, but the usu­al use of that word tends to put us in mind of a more dra­mat­ic meld­ing of human and machine. Here too, we find the cyborg has arrived, in the form of pros­thet­ic limbs that can be con­trolled by the brain. Psy­chol­o­gist, DJ, and elec­tron­ic musi­cian Bertolt Mey­er has such a pros­the­sis, as he demon­strates in the video above. Born with­out a low­er left arm, he received a robot­ic replace­ment that he can move by send­ing sig­nals to the mus­cles that would con­trol a nat­ur­al limb. He can rotate his hand 360 degrees and use it for all sorts of tasks.

Prob­lem is, the tech­nol­o­gy has not quite caught up with Meyer’s need for speed and pre­ci­sion in manip­u­lat­ing the tiny con­trols of his mod­u­lar syn­the­siz­ers. So Mey­er, his artist hus­band Daniel, and synth builder Chrisi of KOMA Elek­tron­ik set to work on bypass­ing man­u­al con­trol alto­geth­er, with a pros­thet­ic device that attach­es to Meyer’s arm where the hand would be, and works as a con­troller for his syn­the­siz­er. He can change para­me­ters using “the sig­nals from my body that nor­mal­ly con­trol the hand,” he writes on his YouTube page. “For me, this feels like con­trol­ling the synth with my thoughts.”

Mey­er walks us through the process of build­ing his first pro­to­types in an Inspec­tor Gad­get-meets-Kraftwerk dis­play of ana­logue inge­nu­ity. We might find our­selves won­der­ing: if a hand­ful of musi­cians, artists, and audio engi­neers can turn a pros­thet­ic robot­ic arm into a mod­u­lar synth con­troller that trans­mits brain­waves, what kind of cyber­net­ic enhancements—musical and otherwise—might be com­ing soon from major research lab­o­ra­to­ries?

What­ev­er the state of cyborg tech­nol­o­gy out­side Meyer’s garage, his bril­liant inven­tion shows us one thing: the human organ­ism can adapt to being plugged into the unlike­li­est of machines. Show­ing us how he uses the Syn­Limb to con­trol a fil­ter in one of his syn­the­siz­er banks, Mey­er says, “I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it. It’s zero effort because I’m so used to pro­duc­ing this mus­cle sig­nal.”

Advance­ments in bio­me­chan­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy have giv­en dis­abled indi­vid­u­als a sig­nif­i­cant amount of restored func­tion. And as gen­er­al­ly hap­pens with major upgrades to acces­si­bil­i­ty devices, they also show us how we might all become even more close­ly inte­grat­ed with machines in the near future.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Inge­nious Sign Lan­guage Inter­preters Are Bring­ing Music to Life for the Deaf: Visu­al­iz­ing the Sound of Rhythm, Har­mo­ny & Melody

Eve­lyn Glen­nie (a Musi­cian Who Hap­pens to Be Deaf) Shows How We Can Lis­ten to Music with Our Entire Bod­ies

Neu­rosym­pho­ny: A High-Res­o­lu­tion Look into the Brain, Set to the Music of Brain Waves

Twerk­ing, Moon­walk­ing AI Robots–They’re Now Here

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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