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What is Soundbeam?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Soundbeam is a device that combines interactive musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) hardware with MIDI software that enables users to transform physical movement into sound. The device has small electronic apparatuses, similar in appearance to microphones, that emit ultrasonic waves. Much like sonar or motion detectors, the technology incorporates sensors that respond to disruptions of the wave pattern. Based on the movement that is detected, Soundbeam's preprogrammed modules produce sound in the form of recorded musical instruments.

The distance that the wave travels is adjustable and might extend anywhere from a few inches (7.6 cm) to almost 20 feet (6 m) in length. The blink of an eye or the flick of a finger produces sound from waves programmed to travel short distances. Longer waves require full body movement before the device produces an audible sound. By moving closer or further away from the transmitter, the sound changes in pitch. The programmable music hardware replicates a single note or a complex chord of various instruments.

Soundbeam, which comes equipped with numerous preprogrammed instruments and themes, produces numerous sounds. Users can change the sound effects by adding vibrato or other tonalities. Physical movement produces progressive scales or alters volume. Each Soundbeam device links with as many as four separate beams and eight different switches. The device also allows individuals to record other instruments, sounds or voices.

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Noted composer Edward Williams commissioned the technology. Robin Wood, from the United Kingdom, developed the device in 1988. Combining professional dance movement with music was Soundbeam's original purpose. Nevertheless, educators and occupational and physical therapists envisioned greater possibilities for the innovative multimedia hardware. Along with being implemented in professional fine arts performances, Soundbeam soon became part of numerous school curricula as well as being transformed into a form of music therapy for the mentally and physically disabled.

Instructors and therapists receive guidance and training to learn the multimedia software’s capabilities and functions. Students and patients require no formal musical education or skill before performing musical feats. Instructors find students readily interact with the technology, and teachers witness improved confidence and self-esteem in children. Youngsters quickly learn to compose soundtracks for recitals and plays. Soundbeam has also made a significant impact on the disabled.

Therapists discovered that the device encourages motion in persons of all ages, including those having even the most profound physical limitations. Individuals experience a sense of control and independence after equating movement with the reward of music. Typically introverted personalities blossom, and persons having limited vocal abilities can experience a unique form of self-expression. Soundbeam brings the ability to make music to a variety of people all around the world.

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