Ring based wearables seem to be gaining some traction as input methods for all sorts of usage cases. It’s certainly easy enough to see why—wearing a piece of tech in the form of a ring is a very simple way of getting a wearable onto your person, but positions it such that you can use it whenever you need to. Now, a new product called the iRing made by IK Multimedia looks set to take that functionality and transfer it to music production, a concept which could prove to be very fruitful indeed.
Digital music production uses computer software to manipulated recorded and synthesized sounds into whatever configuration the artist wants or needs. The best music production software on the market allows users to do just about whatever they want and, as such, create whatever they want. The software itself needs to be incredibly flexible, because it might be used for any sort of music, and at any level from bedroom DJ to superstar producer. However, one of the major limiting factors of this sort of software is the way in which the user interacts with and manipulates their work. A simple mouse and keyboard set-up is, frankly, not enough—some sort of controller or other physical interface with its own set of programmable switches and knobs is almost mandatory if you want to get serious about making music with your computer.
However, the fact that this sort of device needs a lot of physical components can sometimes mean that you have to pay a fair bit of money for even a decent entry-level kit. That’s the problem that IK Multimedia are looking to solve with the iRing, and from the looks of things they might just have done so. Rather than have a board filled with expensive physical controls, the iRing is a pair of rings that you wear on each hand. Each ring has a pattern of dots on one side, one being a triangle of three dots, the other being a horizontal line. These images can be read by any front-facing camera to give the device that you’re using the iRing with some detailed information on the exact position of your hands. Individually, it can process exactly where your hands are in relation to it, and what sort of movements and gestures you are making. This allows you to control your device using the movements of your hands.
Gesture based control might not sound like such a revolutionary technology at this point in time, but the implementation in the iRing is what really makes it stand out from the crowd. It’s such a simple system that there’s really very little to go wrong—there’s not much set-up to be done, and actually using it is as simple as moving your hands around. IK Multimedia have cannily designed the iRing to be compatible with their hugely popular music apps like GrooveMaker 2 and DJ Rig, so if you have any experience with those programs already then you’ll undoubtedly take to controlling them with the iRing very quickly.
That’s not to say that new users or even people who are complete novices to this sort of software are being left behind, though. The purpose-designed iRing Music Maker is based on GrooveMaker 2, but has been retooled to welcome in new users to the possibilities of what they can do with the iRing. You’ll put together loops with your very hands, combining sounds and experimenting away until you find some that appeals to you. It’s the sort of app that’s very easy to put a few hours into without even realising if you’re into this sort of thing, and controlling it with the movements of your hands makes it feel even more natural and fun. It’s very easy to imagine getting into digital music production this way, as the app acts as a great taster session for users who don’t have much experience but want to see if this sort of thing is for them. It’s easy to get to grips with, but offers just enough scope for your own creation to really get your thinking about what you come up with. Obviously, at some point you’ll want to graduate to software with a little bit more going on, but for someone who’s just starting out this is a perfect way of dipping your toe in the water.
Of course, the designers of the iRing are well aware that this device needs to cater to the expert user as well, and they’ve done a rather good job of ensuring that. The iRing can also be used as a MIDI controller, with you being able to program the device to work to your specifications with the software that you’re most comfortable with. You can assign particular movements to particular controls, putting the device in the same ballpark as high-end MIDI controllers used by professional DJs and music producers—if you’re comfortable with using motion controls. Whether it will be adopted for use by the industry seems to be a question of personal preference. There’s nothing to say that it wouldn’t be of use in a professional capacity, but it will inevitably come down to whether individual users find that they can get the same sort of accuracy from the iRing as a traditional device.
However, if you are looking for a way into digital music production that’s very welcoming to new users and will allow you to test the waters, the iRing might well be an ideal solution. Offering a wide range of functionality in a very intuitive, user-friendly package, the device could really be used by anyone. Moving forward, the fact that IK Multimedia make a range of software that you could graduate to from the iRing specific apps means that this is the ideal first step for someone who just wants a taste of what this sort of music production has to offer. Of course, that’s not to say that the device wouldn’t be of great use to someone who would consider themselves to be an expert—and the open SDK offered by its designers will no doubt help it go from strength to strength over its lifespan. If you’re interested in getting your own iRIng, then you can purchase it directly from IK Multimedia at the price of €19.99 by buying it directly from their official online store.