Humanthesizer: humans painted with conductive ink to trigger sounds

Popstar Calvin Harris performed his new single on a "Humanthesizer," a group of dancers painted with body-safe conductive ink used to trigger sounds. Students at the Royal College of Art developed the material, called Bare Conductive. Creative Review has the details on the video. "Calvin Harris and the Humanthesizer"


  1. my opinion is that the actual ‘performance’ part of this video is just a playback of the studio track, probably with a little of the singer overlaid in the rehearsal space.

    Although the trigger technology works it’s simply not possible to get hired models/dancers to step so robotically in-time. hence the editing of the ‘performance’.

    I performed live dance music for years, and so my fingers have the job of playing what a computer normally would do. It’s had to get trained fingers to play exactly in time like a computer can. Sequenced music has an evident timing rigidity, an obvious exactness;like a ruler drawn line. A well trained musician performing on their instrument can come very close to this tightness, but 15 models hired for the day to jump from circle to circle?
    This performance is of a sequenced playback with a viral video accompaniment.

    I think the other video (of the rehearsal)indicates the kind of target acquisition/motor skill/timing issues that would arise when trying to slap non-standardised objects perfectly in time. Magnify those errors by 15 people and it would sound like a school band on their first practice.

    Nice viral though. Well done on that.

  2. As a trained musician I’ve got to agree with Angstrom. I think that this is an amazing idea, and I really hope that it was a real performance, but I’ve got some serious doubts. It has that “too-perfect” sequence quality.

    Still lots of fun!

  3. Maybe I’m just hyper-sensitive because I’ve been reading Sociological Images too much, but why isn’t our esteemed popstar wearing a skimpy outfit as well? Or at the very least why are we only shown his foot getting painted? whats good for the goose is good for the gander after all.

    I’m also disappointed in his blatant lack of understanding in the tech he’s using. even if it is only a gimmick. (and I agree with angstrom regarding the backing track being playback and not live triggered, therefore – gimmick and not performance) One should at least be able to use the correct terminology regarding the tech you are supposedly using.

  4. Ditto Angstrom-

    I had a similar reaction, yet I’ve seen this pimped on a ton of blogs this week without analysis. Just goes to show how much a couple gals in skimpy outfits will go to sell an idea, regardless of merit.

  5. “Honey, No– Wait– Don’t get the wrong idea– We were rehearsing. Yes, rehearsing! Yes, listen, these women are in my humanthesizer group. Why are we on the couch, partially clothed …? Look, I’m an artist! I don’t have to give an explanation for /everything/ I do. This is my music. Which is what I live for…. OK, I think we think rehearsal’s over. We’ll take this up next time at the same place. Honey, wait, don’t leave!”

  6. Ugh. I wish that, if some guy is going to make a bunch of women dance in next to nothing, he would at least have the decency to dance in next to nothing himself.

  7. This would have been impossible to do with wires because… oh wait.

    I’m glad somebody is around to pretend to make the same tired music with new and completely awkward (albeit visually appealing) interfaces. Since there isn’t really an “expressive” quality in this music, I guess it’s ok to use a whole person as one unreliable switch.

    I’m hoping the bare conductive people are getting some good press of this that will allow them to develop some interesting applications of this technology. This isn’t one of them.

  8. Calvin Harris is better looking than I had imagined. I thought he was this tall ugly gangly dude with questionable taste in music. It’s therefore a bit of a shame that in spite of this revelations the video makes him out to be a bit of a douche.

  9. Just in case anyone was worried that women’s bodies hadn’t been sufficiently objectified or utilized by Western Kultcha…. you were wrong!

    Are the bikinis part of the conductivity? Or are they producing and conducing, um, other stimuli?

  10. If Calvin Harris shows up in “Humanthesizer: Part II” video wearing a Borat-style thong swimsuit, THEN I’ll begin to take him seriously. As an artist.

  11. I gotta agree with @angstrom this was faked. Seriously several of those girls barely looked like they could hold a beat let alone dance.

  12. Yes faked. You’d have to be a trained drummer to put down a straight 4/4 kick like that. The conductive paint didn’t look all that responsive either.
    And like most dance music, the singer is constantly off pitch, just enough to annoy anyone with ears.

  13. If you substitute the Keyboard Cat music, all the hand-slapping works way better. I’m sure someone out there could sync up a nice edit. Pleeze?

  14. It’s also kind of funny that there’s white eyecandy and black vocal talent (@Toxonix I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t the best audio setup – though I wouldn’t extend it to “most dance music annoys anyone with ears”)

    It made me think favorably of that “Daft Bodies” video, with the two young gals dancing in an interesting techno way to the music, and not pretending to drive it.

  15. The women are professional dancers, right? Presumably they’re the most qualified people to keep a tight beat with their bodies. Think how really good synchronized dancers move – it’s not because they’re in sync with each other, it’s because they all can move that precisely to the same rhythm. I don’t think it’s inconceivable that these folks managed to perform that one section live.

    Definitely a gimmick though, all told. And not terribly classy.

  16. This shot around the synth-geek blogsosphere like wildfire yesterday. Which proves it was effective as far as viral-ness goes. But definitely just a gimmick.

    There is no way in hell that was them actually playing the track. The first poster is absolutely correct.

    And @dnafrequency: While I would tend to agree with you, there is a control signal involved, which is a component in synthesis (usually). But yeah, it’s a stretch. More like “Humanmidicontroller”.

  17. @zizak
    no, they are not professional dancers. From the official blurb:

    The instrument employs 15 bikini clad models

  18. There is just something wrong about a guy like this putting his hands together in that humble praying motion while standing around doing poppy dance music with sexy girls.

    I’m not even religious, but he just looks like a douche when he does it.

  19. @angstrom – The “how it was made” video goes pretty in-depth into the technology. From the video – “The pads are wired to an Arduino Mega. This interfaces with Max/MSP which enables us to sequence and quantize the music on the fly using Ableton Live.”

    I would imagine that each time a circuit is made, the next note (quantized) is played on that track. They don’t have to be in sync (though they obviously can’t be TOO off) for the whole thing to work.

  20. @Tdawwg you’re right – portraying humans as sexual is evil. They should all be wearing burqas.

  21. Funny how my synths too did only work with pretty girls in bikinis around… only this even smarter guy is liable to have gotten a grant for this.

  22. The part that bothers me the most is the text at the front that claims its the first human synth.
    Bruce Haack pioneered this in the 60s, and someone else probably did it before him as well.
    But you know, pop rip-off

  23. I used to find Calvin Harris kind of likeable (despite his music), because he seemed to have little respect for the egos and trappings of celebrity culture.

    But this just makes him look like a dick. 15 skinny women in bikinis, all giggling and looking at him rather adoringly?

    Fuck off Calvin Harris, you sexist twat.

  24. Oh, puh-leeze. It looks way too contrived to convince me, and I’m not a musician. Why wasn’t his foot producing a steady note the whole time? Where was all the peripheral music coming from? He was standing on it, wasn’t he? Sorry, there wasn’t enough hand or foot or any other body part action to produce the music on the audio track. How did the same girl’s hand produce different notes? Drums alone, those girls would have had to be jumping frenetically, not just playing Twister (right foot green).

  25. I would have enjoyed it more if this had shown average people dressed casually and genuinely enjoying the experience, instead of models pretending to have a good time.

    Unless it’s 15 girls, one humanthesizer system and one cup, there are more titillating things to see online. The kind of people who are seeking that aren’t going to pay more attention to the humanthesizer just because women in bikinis are being played like instruments.

  26. It has been said, but I have to agree. Fake. And I have to wonder why. I mean, you go through all this trouble to put it all together…why fake the results? It would have been more entertaining to hear it as it actually turned out than this canned version.

  27. Why get 15 models who clearly have no sense of rhythm when you could get 15 dancers, who actually know how to move?

  28. I agree, very contrived. And just out of curiosity; if he didn’t have snaking lines of ink wrapped around HIS breasts, legs and hips, how it is that there’s a circuit being made?

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