I’m sitting in the back room of a shared workspace in Long Island City, Queens, an old industrial neighborhood that’s become a hotbed for startups and real estate developers. Tlacael Esparza sits next to me, quickly pivoting between his MacBook screen and a simple drum snare with a high-tech microphone clamped to its edge. The sounds coming from a nearby speaker often feel more like crackling electronic chaos than music but, according to Esparza, it could change the way we think about drumming and even music in general.
Sensory Percussion, which launched on Kickstarter on Wednesday, seems simple on the surface. A microphone to pick up the sounds of your drum and some software to translate it into code and spit out electronic sounds. The reality is a lot bigger, and so it the excitement around this project and the potential it has moving forward.
I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll try to explain everything as clearly as I can personally understand it, but first here are some photos to help set the stage.
Electronic drums haven’t changed much, says Esparza. They’re basically just buttons you can hit with your drumstick, without any of the subtlety that comes from the acoustic instrument. Sensory Percussion changes that by sensing exactly where you hit the drum and how. Each part of the drum (center, edges, rim) can become a button that creates a different sound or effect. The technology can even fill the space in between buttons to blend those sends with interesting results.
“You can play electronic music in a way that wasn’t possible before,”Esparza explained. Specifically, you can put those tools in the hands of a practiced drummer and let years of practice, skill and intuition take over. All of a sudden entire soundscapes open up under your drumsticks.
The software that powers Sensory Percussion uses an interface that makes it easy to control each detail. You can set things up by simply playing the drums, and then drag and drop sounds onto different spots. When it ships, the app will include pre-installed packages, but you can also plug right into Ableton, a popular digital music service, and grab whatever sounds or effects you want.
Sensory Percussion isn’t cheap. It’s really meant for professionals, not casual basement drummers, though anyone with the time and money to spare will likely enjoy the experience. You can grab the software and a single microphone on Kickstarter for $524, that’s $175 off the retail price. Extra microphones will sell for $350 each, though there are plenty of deals all the way up to a full set of four microphones for $1,179—that’s a $400 discount. All orders are set to in January 2016. That leaves plenty of time to get things done, though delays are always possible.
The decision to make a premium product instead of something cheaper and more accessible comes from a genuine belief that this is disruptive technology. “We want to have an impact on music making, not just an iPhone app that lets you tap on your desk,”Esparza joked. A few minutes later he admitted that he’s also considering releasing an iPhone app. Bigger plans for the future involve bringing Sensory Percussion to different types of instruments, including one for a guitar. For now, though, the company is focusing on getting its first product into the world.