AF’s Weblog

May 2, 2009

Percussa Audiocubes: The Test

Audio Cubism
Percussa Audiocubes: The Test

Out of the blue, it just appeared in my office, like the megalith from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A cube: 7.5 cm long, as white and smooth as paraffin, with a pair of LEDs on four of its six sides, two ¼ inch jack inputs, a USB connector…and a button … … that I press … Let there be Light, as someone once said: the cube shines!


So what is it? A new age light to go with one’s lava lamp? Or the latest cutting-edge technology in light-therapy? Not at all; a small sticker tells me that I am in the presence of an AudioCube 1.0, a device by Percussa designed to revolutionize our approach to music. Let’s see about that…


The AudioCubes are charged in 3 hours via a USB cable for use from 3 to 5 hours …

The AudioCubes are, you guessed it, cubes that have a communication port on 4 of their sides capable of transmitting and receiving digital or analog signals, using infrared light, to and from other cubes nearby. As for using them as MIDI controllers, they can be used in two ways: in Sensor mode or Sender/Receiver modes, which involves at least two cubes. They generate two types of MIDI messages: either Note-on (triggering a note), or continuous controllers which are useful for progressively changing MIDI parameters.

Sensor Mode: In this mode the cube senses the distance to a nearby object, such as another cube or your hands: so you’ll be able, just by making gestures around the cube, to control the frequency cutoff and/or resonance of a filter, or modify the ADSR of an envelope…


Sender/Receiver Mode: this is also interesting because it’s based on interaction between cubes. How does it work? Each AudioCube has 4 sides that can send and receive infrared signals to and from other cubes. 4 sides per cube gives you 16 combinations (each can be a MIDI command such as triggering samples) with only two cubes …

Far from being merely a MIDI controller, the AudioCube is also a lo-fi instrument. This means that it has a signal generator/processor with a 32 kHz/9 bit audio resolution… the sound goes through the same infrared ports as the MIDI or through jack cables. Each cube has a ¼ inch jack input and output.

Lastly, the icing on the cake, the AudioCubes are also lights. For each cube, there are three colors (red, green and blue) whose intensity can be controlled via MIDI and a sequencer. By mixing those 3 fundamental colors you can get just about any color. Some will consider these cubes a gadget, if they’re only interested in their controller features, while others, who see all the opportunities these AudioCubes offer in a live show, will find them essential…

It works in theory. Let’s see if it also works in practice…


The Cubes are on a roll !

Inventor of AudioCubes, Bert Schiettecatte, received the Qwartz Max Mathews award of technological innovation applied to the field of music from the hands of Enki Bilal (President of the 5 ° edition) April 3, at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris.

The AudioCubes idea is excellent, but there’s still much room for improvement, both in terms of hardware and software. Of course, for around €649 for a set of 4 cubes, AudioCubes are amongst the most accessible of futuristic controllers. But it would have been nice if they had both more sensor responsiveness and accuracy on the one hand, as well as more ‘user friendly’ software on the other. But that doesn’t hinder these Percussa devices from being usable and even from causing a stir (see the box), but they will no doubt appeal more to musicians in search of original live accessories than those who really want to revolutionize their way of making music.

This brings us back to the famous debate about whether the latest inventions in the field of musical ergonomics, or even ergonomics in general, make a difference. Take the case of the Wiimote, which, after all, didn’t change anything in terms of the gamedesign of video games despite the frenzy it provoked in the media… Just like the Tenori-on, the Reactable, or Jean-Michel Jarre’s famous laser-harp, the AudioCubes are fascinating in their concept and visually attractive, but you’re never sure if you’re dealing with a ‘design’ object used for music, or a real instrument that’s also esthetically pleasing. You be the judge, but in any event Max/MSP developers will probably be paying close attention to this product, while others may just pass it by. However, the ‘AudioCube 1.0’ on each cube suggests that the story is to be continued …

The concept!
The different performance modes
Well-designed manual

Sensors lack precision
‘Lo-Fi’ audio not very interesting
Software is user-unfriendly …

To read the full detailed article see Percussa Audiocubes review

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