Graphics Tablets: Surprisingly Useful for Singing Synth

Most of us singing synth users are pretty familiar with using an interface that looks like this:

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The piano roll interface is used for a reason in singing synth programs; it’s intuitive because it alludes to physical musical instruments, not to mention the fact that many other music programs use a somewhat similar interface.

However, imagine this: what if you, as a user of singing synths, were performing live? Suddenly, this parallel becomes way less useful: a keyboard interface doesn’t provide the continuous pitch control that a singing voice needs. Enter the idea of chironomic singing synthesis: chironomic control offers a way to control parameters much more expressively by using an interface that allows for more nuance. From this idea, the “Cantor Digitalis” singing synthesis system was born. This system is detailed in the 2014 journal article “Drawing Melodies: Evaluation of Chironomic Singing Synthesis,” by Alessandro et al. The “Cantor Digitalis” uses a graphics tablet for control; the user can then use gestures similar to handwriting to manipulate the singing in an intuitive manner. In the article, the system is used in a singing assessment study, however I can easily imagine something like this being used for live performances in a more refined form.

My takeaway from the article is that it is fascinating and interesting to see different interfaces used for singing synthesis. Perhaps it shows that the familiar piano roll setup is not the only viable way of manipulating a singing synthesizer. Also, more amusingly, the article mentions a “glove talk” system, where a formant synthesizer is manipulated with gloves and a petal. It is, as the kid in The Wizard says about the Power Glove, “so bad.”

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