Four Unique Handheld Gesture-Based MIDI Controllers: OWOW’s MIDIS 2.0 (Wob, Wiggle, Drum, and Scan)
Four Unique Handheld Gesture-Based MIDI Controllers: OWOW’s MIDIS 2.0 (Wob, Wiggle, Drum, and Scan). Released 2017. https://owow.io. €109 ($125) fully assembled (per device) or €89 ($102) “card” only (per device).
OWOW’s MIDIS 2.0 offer performers and producers the chance to create MIDI and manipulate sound via hand gestures that are visible to an audience. OWOW (the Omnipresent World of Wizkids), developers based in the Netherlands, launched a successful Kickstarter a few years ago to secure funding to develop and release these handheld gesture-based alternate MIDI controllers. Now at version 2.0, they sell four unique MIDIS instruments: wob, wiggle, drum, and scan. While alternate controllers—devices that initiate MIDI data using something other than piano-style keyboards—are increasingly common, most (other than MIDI guitars or instruments like Akai’s EWI) contain knobs, sliders, and pads collected into a single book-sized, or larger, device designed to sit flat on a table, mostly beyond the audience's sight.
No greater than 3.5” long, 2.5” wide, and 0.5” high, each controller has a unique gesture-based way to generate MIDI data. The wob’s optical sensor tracks hand distance from the sensor, without touching anything, and converts these changes into MIDI data. Handheld, the wiggle generates MIDI data by manipulating one’s hand in three different ways: rotating, twisting, and rolling. Although not limited to percussion sounds, the handheld drum triggers four different velocity-sensitive MIDI events by flicking the drum instrument left, right, up, or down. Dragging the scan over visual information, such as thick dots and lines drawn on paper, transforms the visual information into the MIDI data.
Getting started was simple and straightforward; each OWOW MIDIS 2.0 initially connects to a computer via USB to charge the internal lithium battery, send MIDI data, and connect to the company’s MIDIS Utility application. The Mac/PC Utility software allows users to alter a variety of useful device-specific options and settings. The default configurations are effective, and the utility application is simple and easy to understand, designed for quick MIDI parameter alterations and personalization of a device’s functionality. MIDI channel changes, controller assignments, output function swaps from MIDI Continuous Controller to pitch, or resets of high and low range limits can be adjusted and quickly uploaded to the device via USB. Overall, I found the application effective and easy to use. The MIDIS can also send MIDI data via Bluetooth MIDI (Mac and iOS), eliminating the need for a performer to be tethered to a USB cable during performances.
Getting MIDI information transmitted to computers and tablets and assigning controls using MIDI Learn on numerous applications, such as Ableton Live (USB or Bluetooth on a Mac) or AniMoog (Bluetooth on an iOS device via BLE-MIDI) worked smoothly and consistently. With each model selling for €109 (fully assembled) or €89 [“card” version with computer-aided design (CAD) common stereolithography (STL) files for download and subsequently 3D printing], there are definitely less expensive but not as visually interesting MIDI controllers available on the market. Since each device offers unique ways for one’s gestures to manipulate MIDI data, they are attractive solutions for someone wishing to replace, or augment, the usual table box controller with more physical and visually interesting solutions. Gestures using the MIDIS 2.0 felt fluid, natural, and were easily visible to an audience.
Charles Paul Menoche teaches composition, electro-acoustic music, music technology, and directs the iPad ensemble at Central Connecticut State University. He has written works for voice, instruments, ensembles, and electro-acoustic media. His concert band piece, In the Machine, is published by Boosey and Hawkes as part of its Windependence series.