In the conversation that followed, one of the festival attendees brought Reactable to my attention -- a device that brings music interface design to another level entirely.
From the Reactable website:
The Reactable is a revolutionary new electronic musical instrument designed to create and perform the music of today and tomorrow. It combines state of the art technologies with a simple and intuitive design, which enables musicians to experiment with sound, change its structure, control its parameters and be creative in a direct and refreshing way, unlike anything you have ever known before.
The Reactable uses a so called tangible interface, where the musician controls the system by manipulating tangible objects. The instrument is based on a translucent and luminous round table, and by putting these pucks on the Reactable surface, by turning them and connecting them to each other, performers can combine different elements like synthesizers, effects, sample loops or control elements in order to create a unique and flexible composition.
As soon as any puck is placed on the surface, it is illuminated and starts to interact with the other neighboring pucks, according to their positions and proximity. These interactions are visible on the table surface which acts as a screen, giving instant feedback about what is currently going on in the Reactable turning music into something visible and tangible.
Additionally, performers can also change the behavior of the objects by touching and interacting with the table surface, and because the Reactable technology is “multi-touch”, there is not limit to the number of fingers that can be used simultaneously. As a matter of fact, the Reactable was specially designed so that it could also be used by several performers at the same time, thus opening up a whole new universe of pedagogical, entertaining and creative possibilities with its collaborative and multi-user capabilities.