A trip to the BETT Show used to involve multiple levels, confusing layouts and the ability to wander off down Kensington High Street in search of food. The move to the Excel Centre in Docklands in 2013 has put everything on a single level, at the expense of that central London location.
Not the biggest fan of this airless barn of a building, I decided to shun my usual two day wander around stands in favour of a more targeted approach in just a few hours. Here’s what I managed to find.
At first glance the Skoog stand was showing nothing new, but although the brightly coloured Skoog was front and centre new products lurked in the background.
ii-Music is eye gaze software that makes use of the Skoog ‘physically modelled’ instruments. Unfortunately the eye gaze tracking kit wasn’t working when I was there but the potential for a real-time eye gaze instrument is immense.
A demo model of the wireless Skoog 2 was also available to help encourage people to sign-up for the Indiegogo fundraising campaign. With wireless and an iOS (Apple iPad) app, the new version will also retail for £100 cheaper than the wired version. The unit is black with the colour coding restricted to coloured rings on each side, which might make it more difficult for some users to differentiate. The biggest change from a playing point of view is that opposing sides can now be pressed at the same time. All being well we should see the Skoog 2.0 from the middle of the year.
More interesting from a sonic point of view was the Mogo analogue synth that really made use of the Skoogs sensitive sensing technology. Although aimed more at the pro musician, this really made the Skoog feel more like it’s own instrument. Available from September 2015.
Beamz was the talk of the show last year, with a lot of buzz around this as an accessible instrument. This year the company relocated into the SEN zone and brought with it a year’s worth of experience in the field.
Although the basic laser harp remains the same, improvements have been made to the surrounding ecosystem. A mounting plate for use with standard Rehadapt clamps, makes it much easier to get the Beamz into position for a player. Switch access has been improved with a customised version of the excellent Pretorian wireless and wired switch interfaces. The company were also showing off the Power Rock battery packs for providing power to the controller when using it with the iPad app.
Finally the Beamz Therapy Guide is an attempt to address professional users by providing songs and assessment criteria for different therapists.
Having been absent for a couple of years, Soundbeam returned to BETT this year with the familiar red beam taking centre stage. Students and teachers from Charlton Park Academy in London were on hand to demonstrate the beams and wireless switches of the Soundbeam 5.
Yes, that’s correct. Soundbeam has progressed from having a wireless box that you plug switches into, to standalone wireless switches. You can use up to eight with the Soundbeam 5, although it’ll set you back £800 +VAT for the full set.
Whilst there were no major changes to the beams and the main unit, it’s always good to remind yourself of why the Soundbeam continues to prove so popular all over the world.
Hidden away at the back of the show, and well away from the SEN area, was Musii. I came across this by accident and I wonder whether other people will have missed this stand. Rather like the Beamz last year, I had previously come across the Musii a few years before at TES North and had assumed it was another of the many interesting ideas that had disappeared.
This soft, inflatable instrument contains lights, sounds and amplification in a unit on wheels. Controlled by tablet app or by attaching a monitor and keyboard, the three cones can each play different notes and sounds. As each cone is pressed the sounds and lighting change.
The nice part of this device is that it deals with the problem of invisible beams (like Soundbeam) being difficult for many people to understand. On the downside the software looked very clunky, with the app containing settings that I think many teachers would struggle to understand. That said these are early days and software can easily be updated and improved with customer feedback.
At a cost of £2,500 plus VAT and delivery, I think the Musii will have more luck in public settings or sensory rooms rather than the classroom.
BETT has become an annual pilgrimage for many teachers and a lot of companies feel that the show can’t be missed. Unfortunately the high costs for exhibitors mean that many just can’t afford to be there. The above companies represent just a small number of people working in accessible music technology.
One pattern this year is the drop in price of this technology. Beamz and Skoog are both now firmly operating in the sub-£500 category. Soundbeam remains the premium product, which its legacy and years of research can help support. Whether the savvy teacher will spend £3,000 on a new comer like Musii remains to be seem. It certainly pays for a lot of alternative technology.