Research fellow sets the tempo for innovation in live music

Dr Andrew Robertson playing a drum-set.

18 February 2016


Far from recreating the synth-heavy, electro-pop of the 1980s, the digital revolution is having an unexpectedly popular effect on the live music scene. With more bands turning to computer software to enhance their live tracks, audiences are being treated to richer and more complex performances than have ever been seen before. Offered by manufacturer Ableton, ‘Live’ is one piece of musical software that has taken centre stage, offering artists a palette of synthetic drum beats, orchestral samples and audio effects to create and produce music live on stage. With backing tracks being created and played in real-time; it’s then down to the band’s drummer to rigidly follow the beat set by Live, using a click-track to stay in time with the synthetic rhythms.

Now, freeing drummers from the confinement of a computer-generated tempo, comes BeatSeeker, Dr Andrew Robertson’s intelligent, interactive, musical performance system. Funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, Robertson was awarded a research fellowship at Queen Mary, University of London, specialising in developing innovative, real-time music systems. The end product, BeatSeeker, was commercialised and launched by Ableton in the summer of last year, and has been letting drummers play to their own rhythm ever since.BeatSeeker, a device created for use alongside Live, works by detecting the BPM, or number of beats per minute, of any rhythmic audio signal, and matches Live to its tempo. Reversing the roles enforced by Live, the drummer has the option to lock Live to the current BPM, allowing for a solo to be played without affecting the backing; or force it to sync to a changing rhythm, set by the drummer. Controlled by just a single switch, the drummer is able to effortlessly switch between tempos, remaining in control of the temp at all times.

Initially designed for use with live drums, the BeatSeeker technology can also be used by DJs, synchronising Live created clips or backing tracks with their decks. Linking up with one of the most popular pieces of software for live music performance, the research that has led to BeatSeeker demonstrates a new standard in innovation in music, and paves the way for more interaction with technology in performances of the future.

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