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Tongue Controllers

Hi everyone,

While musing through some stuff at CNMAT's homepage in Berkeley, I saw an article written recently by David Wessel
 (he was my main teacher at the IRCAM in Paris). 


David Wessel

adapted by Adrian Freed from Computer Music Journal, Vol. 15, No.4, Winter 1991

Alternatives to keyboard controllers like Buchla's Thunder and Mathew's Radio Baton are innovative, but they exist in
very small numbers. The use of traditional instruments as controllers shows promise, but there are still problems with pitch
extraction, the keyboard bias of the MIDI specification and its bottleneck data rate, and the fact that it is still very difficult
to readily outfit a musician's preferred instrument, be it a Stradivarius or a Gibson guitar, with the acoustic and positional
gesture sensors that are required to make it a refined controller.

In the hope of inspiring research and development I would like to briefly describe some new and exciting developments in
sensor technologies that may be the basis for new generations of alternate controllers. These technologies may also help
solve some of the problems of adapting traditional acoustic instruments to be effective controllers.

The micromechanics research group led by R.S. Muller and R. M. White at the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center
have made some astonishing advances in the construction of mechanical structures using microfabrication techniques
derived from integrated circuit processes (Muller et al. 1990). These microdynamic silicon structures with moving parts
show promise for the design of high-performance sensors and can be combined with on-chip circuits for the processing of
the sensor data. The Berkeley group is producing pressure sensors as well as accelerometers with this technology. These
may be used in the construction of very small and unobtrusive musical instrument transducer systems.

With these tiny sensor technologies in mind, I would now like to make a proposal for a controller that would sense the
position of the tongue. This may seem outrageous, but after all, the tongue can be manipulated in an extremely refined
manner. It is perhaps the most precise voluntary motor control mechanism we have in our bodies.

I imagine that this tongue controller could be realized in the following way. The custom-fitted sensor system would use a
non invasive dental retainer. Such retainers have been used for decades in orthodontics. On the surface of the dental
retainer there would be placed an array of silicon-based pressure sensors that would sense the planar image of the tongue
as it came into contact with the surface. Preprocessing of this tongue image could be carried out by the on-chip circuits in
the sensors. Sensor data would be transmitted to the outside of the mouth in a wireless manner.

One of the advantages of this tongue controller is that it leaves our other very finely tuned manipulations, the hands,
completely free, and, it is, without a doubt, a very personal controller.


Muller, R.S. et al. 1990 Microsensors. New York: IEEE Press. 


Interesting isn't it,