Wave - Design, function & use

[The following article was written early on in the development phase of Wave in December 2016. As with all living projects Wave has evolved over time and changed from the ideas presented in this article. However, the core philosophy remains the same and it’s always nice to look back and see the progress that has been made]

Its name is Wave and it’s a gesture controller designed for musicans. You know, Wave as in waving=movement and waves=soundwaves. Clever, right? Wave is the first product from the Icelandic startup Genki Instruments which I am the creative director of. In this article I am going to explain its functionality and therefor how one might find it useful.

Sketch of Wave

Sketch of Wave

Wave is designed for musicians, to enhance their productivity and expression in different scenarios across the field of music. Instead of creating a completely new musical instrument we are designing a device that augments the instruments and equipment the musician already uses.


Just add Wave

Wave is a wearable that fits like a ring on the index finger. It connects via bluetooth to a computer where it can remotely control a vast spectrum of parameters that can be customised by the user, based on his requirements. The device has 2 buttons ( A & B ), that can be reached by the hand’s thumb, which activate a chosen interaction. The third button ( C ), changes the layer of the device, changing the functions of buttons A and B — doubling, and then tripling their functionality.


Latest 3D sketch/rendering of aesthetics and function of Wave.

Latest 3D sketch/rendering of aesthetics and function of Wave.

It’s main and most impressive function is not being a remote control (thankfully) but actually being a gesture controller. While you have buttons to hit, which can be nice, it’s just a liiiittle bit nicer that when hitting those buttons you are actually activating parameters which you then control with the movement of your hand. The buttons are just there to broaden the functionality of the device.

When a parameter has been activated, with the touch of a button, you can control it with different movements, by rotating Wave horizontally, vertically, or by rolling it side to side. As the device is situated on the index finger you don’t need to move the whole hand to control the parameter. Moving only the index finger is enough, which means that the control movements can range from small finger tweaks to big-arc arm-waves based entirely on the user’s requirement.

Here a parameter is tweaked from 1 to 100 (lo to hi) within the arc colored red.

Here a parameter is tweaked from 1 to 100 (lo to hi) within the arc colored red.

Wave can also be used for triggering sound samples, which allows you to hit your hand out in the air, shake it or to tap your finger on absolutely anything to activate a sample. It’s the sudden shock of the sensor that counts. You can also use it as a virtual drum-set where you activate different drum-samples by hitting your hand — or for a more accurate experience, a drum stick — within a classified, but customisable area, determined by the rotational degree of your wrist.

Based on how you rotate Wave while hitting, different samples are triggered. Although 180° are showed in the figure, samples could be arranged 360° around the user.

Based on how you rotate Wave while hitting, different samples are triggered. Although 180° are showed in the figure, samples could be arranged 360° around the user.

Coming back to the buttons I mentioned earlier, each button can be associated with more than one interaction. You can have one button activating both horizontal movement and the tap trigger and have another one cycling through different sound samples.

Basically if you are a beginner we will make it easy for you to start playing around, giving you predetermined presets that make the use of Wave super simple. On the other hand, if you are a pro, you can mix and match and tweak everything to your liking, which then can be saved as presets for future use.

Based on how you rotate Wave while hitting, different samples are triggered. Although 180° are showed in the figure, samples could be arranged 360° around the user.

Based on how you rotate Wave while hitting, different samples are triggered. Although 180° are showed in the figure, samples could be arranged 360° around the user.

The thought behind Wave is that it’s completely customisable to cater to the different needs of its users. For that to work it comes with a VST plug-in you open in your favourite music software (Ableton, Pro Tools, etc). From there you can decide what you control. If you are using it to activate certain commands, using movements to control any mappable parameters, triggering samples or all of it at once. In the plugin everything can be tweaked, from the range of the controlled parameter to the sensitivity of the sensor’s movement. Wave will be Bluetooth MIDI compatable. Additionally we are developing both a EU-Rack Receiver Module and a MIDI Receiver Module to expand the situations Wave can be used in, as much as possible.

Lastly, we are working on implementing haptic feedback into Wave for the user to not only hear but also feel what he is manipulating which we think could be a tremendous addition, enhancing the experience of the user to new hights.

Diversity of Wave receivers being developed.

Diversity of Wave receivers being developed.

So it’s thought of as an enhancing-device. If you’re working in the studio, Wave can be used to record modulations and control the recording session from afar and if you’re playing an instrument you can trigger samples and tweak the sound’s parameters without taking your hands off the instrument. Just add Wave.


Situations of use

Let’s take a few examples.

  • Note that the videos attached are not necessarily the same scenarios as described. That is only to broaden your idea of Wave’s functionality and use situations. If you’re in a hurry you can skip straight to the videos. I won’t be super mad.

Scenario 1: Using Wave with a keyboard

You are playing a MIDI keyboard connected to your computer. You are using Ableton Live as your sound source. A nice 80’s sounding synthesizer. On your right index finger you are wearing Wave which is connected wirelessly to your computer. Through the Wave-plugin you have made the following specifications;

When Button-A is hit, activate the parameter “Amount of Reverb” in Ableton Live’s 80’s synth. “Amount of Reverb” is then controlled with Vertical Movement.

You are playing your Stranger-Things-80's-sounding key on the MIDI keyboard with both of your hands occupied. You release your right hand’s thumb and hit Button-A. While you keep on playing you tilt your right hand forward slowly and hear the Reverb’s Amount increase precisely in relation to your tilting. You hit Button-A again to deactivate the movement-control and leave the parameter increased to where you left it.

— — —

  • In this particular scenario the movement part is like transforming your hand into a mod-wheel or a slider that you can control without taking your hands up from the keys.

— — —

Using vertical movement to control a Low Pass Filter.

A prototype of Wave showing an example of Movement-Control while playing the keyboard.

Scenario 2: Home recording

Up to this point it has irritated you to record electric guitar in your bedroom. You prefer playing your guitar standing up. In the past you have always had to bend over the computer between takes to reach the mouse/keyboard in order to make the next recording ready, having your guitarneck slamming into anything in sight. You figured out the hard way that keeping glass vases close to the computer while recording is not a good idea. Normally you would need to hit record, take the guitarpick out of your mouth, move away from the computer and start playing. Afterwards bending over the computer again to stop the recording.

This time you have Wave to make your life easier. You’re using Wave with Pro Tools where you’re going to record a few tracks of electric guitar. You are feeling a bit experimental as well so you want to try recording the movement of your strumming hand to add effects to the modulation afterwards. The perfect Wah-Wah effect. You’ve set up a click-track and through the Wave-plugin you have made the following specifications;

LAYER1: When Button-A is hit you activate CREATE NEW TRACK. When Button-B is hit you activate STOP+RETURN TO START OF SESSION.

LAYER2: When Button-A is hit you activate PLAY and REC. When Button-B is hit you CREATE NEW TRACK and activate horizontal Movement.

You put on your sweet-looking Fender Telecaster while the computer screen shows the Pro Tools session. Standing comfortably 2 meters from the screen, you’re ready to start recording. With your guitarpick squeezed tightly between your index- and middlefinger you use your thumb to hit Button-A to create a new track. You then hit Button-B. The track is now at the beginning. You hit Button-C to change from LAYER1 to LAYER2. You hit Button-B to record the up & down rhythm-movement of your hand onto yet another track for being able to manipulate the modulation afterwards. You have made everything ready. You hit Button-A. The recording starts. You move your thumb gently onto the guitarpick and count the beats from the playing click-track. 1–2–3–4. You start playing.

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  • In this scenario you could easily have filled all of the three modes. Having buttons control other commands such as DELETE, SOLO, MUTE and movements directly connected to effects you would control while playing.

  • You could also have had all of the commands on one button, using the Cycle interaction, where you could toggle one button over and over again, cycling through the line of commands. 1st click ON & CREATE NEW TRACK, 2nd click STOP & RETURN TO START OF SESSION, 3rd click PLAY & REC and so on.

— — —

Controlling a record session and recording modulation to a recording afterwards by rolling the hand.


Scenario 3: Virtual drumpad

All of a sudden you’re in extreme need of a drum pad. For some fantastic reason you have come across Wave. It’s not an actual drum pad but it allows you to do the same thing. Even better, you don’t need to hit on anything in particular, plus it’s super portable.

Wave is connected to your computer into Ableton Live and in the Wave-plugin you have made the following specifications;

When Button-A is hit you activate the Hit Trigger. 
From -90° to -45° you’ll activate sample: “CrashCymbal”. 
From -45° to 0° you’ll activate sample: “TomHi”. 
From 0° to +45° you’ll activate sample: “Snare”. 
From +45° to +90° you’ll activate sample: “HiHatClosed”.

Zero degrees being straight in front of you, you have specified 4 different samples to be triggered based on where you hit your hand within the rotational degree of your wrist. -90° being to your true right and +90° to your true left. You play a beat by hitting on four different surfaces arranged in front of you. It’s amaaaazing. This experience leaves you tingling with excitement. You feel you can do anything. To add to the experience you decide to buy another Wave for your other hand. Now you have an electric drum-kit in your hands. Even while sitting on the couch watching TV.

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  • In this scenario you could have had much more samples triggered, even more than one sample within the same space or having samples overlap on some places but not everywhere. Although this scenario focused on drum samples this function allows for all sorts of sample triggering.

  • As mentioned before, samples could be arranged the whole 360° around the sensors null-point.

  • Also notice that this triggering function only took up one activation button, Button-A. You still have Button-B left for activating something else, plus changing the layers gives you 4 extra activation commands.

— — —

Triggering 3 different sound samples based on the rotational degree of the wrist.

Triggering a sample and manipulating it through horizontal movement.

Scenario 4: Live session — Automated activation

For a live session you want Wave to be able to do different things for different songs. For this you can set up a specific Live Session. What this means is that you can time specific activations within the session’s timeframe.

In the Wave-plugin you have made the following specifications;

On minute 1:03 in Session-1 Vertical Movement is activated. The movement is connected to “Reverb-Amount”.
On minute 1:20 in Session-1 this movement-control is deactivated.
On minute 1:46 in Session-1 a Hit Trigger with four drum samples is activated.
On minute 2:00 a recording is activated on a track with input from Wave.
On minute 2:10 the recording stops and begins to loop.

You start playback of your live session and you’re playing a simple catchy lead line on your keyboard when minute 1:03 comes. You are ready as you’ve practiced this many times before. Without hesitation you step away from the keyboard and start doing cartwheels around the stage, changing the amount of reverb in every round you go. On minute 1:20 you take a break from rotating around the stage leaving the amount of reverb at the same level it was before you started. Just before minute 1:46 comes up you pick up a drum stick. You hit four times out in the air, triggering a snare-sample, as to count into what happens next. Then, at minute 2:00, by hitting the drum stick on a nearby table, where you’ve located 4 different pots and pans. At minute 2:10 it starts to loop over the rest of the session and you go back to your keyboard. What a performance!

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  • This way you can practice the whole live session with the right movements to both have control over the details and to enhance the performance of your show. Just imagine having a dancer on stage wearing Wave! Plus with automated activations you don’t need to bother with hitting any buttons which makes everything slightly easier.

— — —

Triggering samples by tapping on a table. Cycling through different samples with one of Wave’s buttons. Controlling effects with vertical movement.

Scenario 5: Theremin/Instrument

Although I stated in the beginning of this article that Wave is not an instrument but an enhancing device, used to augment digital devices the musician already uses, there is no hindrance for it to be used as an instrument.

You want to try the theremin but don’t want to buy one? That’s no problem. You have Wave, the answer to all of your problems. Even better, you have two Waves.

In the Wave-plugin you have made the following specifications;

WAVE1 (right hand): When Button-A is hit, activate the parameter “Volume” in Ableton Live’s Sinus-Wave sample. “Volume” is controlled with the Roll Movement.

WAVE2 (left hand): When Button-A is hit, activate the parameter “Pitch” in Ableton Live’s Sinus-Wave sample. “Pitch” is controlled with the Vertical Movement.

Ableton Live is sending out a constant sinus wave. You activate both Waves on each of your index finger and start playing, changing the amplitute and pitch of the sound with slight tweaks of your hands, making it look like you’re playing an invisible instrument.

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  • Ofcourse this is not exactly the same as playing the Theremin, but it could come pretty close. Plus the possibilities here are endless. Just have a constant sound playing (Any sound! Doesn’t have to be the alien theremin sound! Imagine playing a soft synth like that!) from your sound source and you can tweak it around and play different notes with the movement of your hand.

— — —

Enhancing your claps with digital claps.

An early prototype of Wave. Musicians controlling their music with the vertical and roll movement.

These were just a few examples. Basically Wave can do what you need it to do within the music software you want to use it with. It doesn’t do everything, but it does a lot. Mainly it adds a new interesting approach to controlling your setup. It adds to the productivity of your work and experimentation just as it adds to the visibility of your performance.


Design decisions

One of the things we’ve been trying to do since the start of this project is to minimise the size of the device. This has been quite hard based on the position of it. The index finger. The surface is just so incredibly small.

It didn’t start there though. In the beginning the approach we had was similar to most other common wearables, focusing on the wrist, thinking of some sort of a bracelet. From there we quickly made our way up to the back of the hand. Moving your hand versus moving the whole of your arm is a no-brainer when you’re trying to create a movement-controller. It should allow for small detailed parameter adjustments so the back of your hand is a much better option then the arm.

A few early sketches of Wave. We’ve come a long way..

A few early sketches of Wave. We’ve come a long way..

With a device on the back of your hand you still run into problems. Yes, the movement is more precise, but how do you decide what you are controlling? How do you interact with something on the back of your hand? Is the parameter you’re controlling always on and therefor changes everytime you move your hand the slightest (how do you wipe sweat from your forehead?) or can you somehow turn it off and on? We wanted the user to have more power over the device than to have whatever was activated on forever. So, our solution was: Adding a button.

Hitting a button on the back of your hand requires you to use both hands. One holding the device, the other one hitting it. That makes relatively little sense. Imagine a keyboard scenario. Playing with both hands, you take one hand off to hit the back of your other hand. It certainly messes with the flow.

This is why the buttons we have on Wave are on the side of the index finger. So the thumb on the same hand as the device is on can hit them. The thumb is the only finger that allows for hitting someplace on your hand without disturbing the other fingers. Just try it.

Put your hand down on a table with only the fingertips touching the table, like you were playing a tune on a keyboard. Now try to use one finger to hit an imaginary button somewhere on the same hand naturally without taking any of the other fingers up from the imaginary keys.

Possibly you could use the index finger for something similar but the control you have over your thumb is simply more accurate in this setting — hitting the side of your index finger.

I was afraid of positioning the device on the finger though. Making a ring. It sounds like such a statement. Ring = Jewellery. But then, why not embrace it. The thing about designing something for the finger is that it HAS to be small. If it’s just a little bit too big it becomes awkward. Bulky. Also, if it wouldn’t have been a ring it would have required a device strapped on the back of the hand with some sort of an external button strapped to the finger. Wayyy too complicated. Just look at some of the sketches above.

Wave Sketch Rendering — Wearable/Jewellery.

Wave Sketch Rendering — Wearable/Jewellery.

So. The conclusion was a ring. After trying out different ring-designs for the index finger I soon saw that I could add more than one button, easily expanding the functionality of Wave in a very simple way.

Why only have two buttons plus an extra button to change their functionality? Why not have 6 buttons? You might be thinking at this point. Good question. Look at your index-finger. It doesn’t have very much surface area does it? If it does, then just think about your skinny friend <add-name>. S/He’s supposed to be able to use Wave as well. Hitting six individual buttons with only your thumb on the small area of your index finger would just be too imprecise. That, or the device would become much bigger than it needs to be.

Making Wave into a ring makes the device less intrusive compared to a device placed on the back of the hand. It becomes smaller, and it doesn’t interrupt you while you are playing instruments or working on the computer. It just sits there on the index finger. My only worry is that people will forget they are wearing it and go wash their hands without taking it off. I can’t promise it to be fully waterproof. Sweat at concerts is another thing.

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Another important design decision was that we wanted to make one device that would fit both the left and right hand of the user. You’re not supposed to have to buy two separate ones, one for the right hand and another for the left. You should be able to switch it up as you like and/or buy two identical ones if you want (of course one is still quite enough!). To be able to do that the design needs to be mirrored. What that means is that it functions exactly the same wether you place Wave on your right index finger or your left one. Only thing you have to do is to reset the sensor when you decide to switch hands for it to work correctly.

A mirrored design that works just as well if you use it on the left hand as on the right one.

A mirrored design that works just as well if you use it on the left hand as on the right one.

One of the requirements I set for this product was that it would be fit for everyone. One size fits all. Imagine you had a keyboard and you wanted to lend it to your fellow musician but he couldn’t use it because the keys were wayyyy too big. Finger sizes are relatively different from person to person which is another reason I wanted the device to be small. So it would fit the smallest finger as well as the biggest one. To fit every finger’s thickness it simply has an adjustable elastic strap.

Wave is charged through a micro-USB port. Later we will maybe add a charging station. We’ll see. The battery lasts quite long. Around 10 hours in constant use. Which we think is fantastic. A whole day of doing soundchecks and performances or simply working in the studio. Nothing more irritating than something that drains battery so quickly that you spend more time charging it than using it. Through the micro-USB users will also be able to update the hardware. After release our intention is to give out updates to users for both software and hardware to improve the accuracy and experience of the device.

Lastly (wrap it up goddammit!) the packaging will be the device’s “gig-bag”. A small soft-bag for the device and charging cable to make it simple enough to travel with and slightly harder to loose.

Final words (finally?)

This article was just as much for you to get a glimpse into the world of Genki Instruments as for me to gather my thoughts in writing. I hope you enjoyed it. For me it was necessary. Wave is work in progress, ever evolving so what you read here could still, and probably will to some degree, change.

Wave is set to launch next year.

Genki Instruments