MOGEES: a universal music instrument made via machine learning

This week we met Bruno Zamborlin, CEO and founder of Mogees.  

Images: Mixmag Brasil - Mogees Play

Images: Mixmag Brasil - Mogees Play

 

Mogees is a piece of tech that transforms the world into an endless musical playground. The product is grounded in hardcore product development and computing, but all of that disappears. Users are only left with an open tool and all the power. Someone said the best designs are those that 'dissolve into behaviour'. Well - this story really seems to have found one of them. 
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Mogees is the result of my PhD in Machine Learning and my passion for music.  

Mine was a joint PhD in Arts and Computational Technologies between IRCAM/Centre Pompidou in Paris and Goldsmiths, University of London. As a member of the RealTime Musical Interactions team (EAVI) at IRCAM and the Embodied AudioVisual Interaction team at Goldsmiths Digital Studios, I had the opportunity to explore new methods for gestural interaction and its applications in performing arts and the creation of new musical instruments.  

In the end, machine learning is about giving meaning to big data.  

That's how Mogees became the project of a revolutionary musical instrument. I see myself as a digital liutist, I make musical instruments. But somehow, Mogees can be seen as a meta-instrument: an instrument to make instruments.

 

Image: Hackster's Blog - Mogees Play

 

It consists of a vibration sensor that can be applied to any object. The vibrations transform into music via an app. What is special, is that our algorithm analyses vibrations generated by interacting with the object and converts them into unique fingerprints, signalling the way a gesture has been performed. That's why we say 'play the world': Mogees enables literally anybody to make music out of anything, in an extremely hands-on yet unique manner.  

In fact, that has been my inner drive (and challenge) since and during the PhD - to convert the outcomes of my academic research into reality and bringing it to the real world.  

In Academia, there is sometimes a tendency to think that the research part is the toughest and once that is sorted, that's it. That is so wrong! You can build the best piece of tech but if you don't get your UX, communications, pricing, manufacturing, financials, etc. right - then there is no application. It's just research.  

Mogees has multiple functions. Right now, we have two consumer products in the market. Mogees PRO targets professional and amateur musicians, it includes the Mogees sensor and an app for mobiles/computers. 

 

Image: Gadget Flow - Mogees Pro

 

Our second product is called Mogees PLAY and targets lifestyle gamers as well as edutainment. I would say the reason behind its popularity is that it equally combines elements of fun, the possibility of playing music as a professional but also its ability to be embedded in educational programs.

We just recently won an EU funded project, in which Mogees will be used in schools across six different countries from February 2017, for three years. Currently, I am busy setting this up. 

The journey so far has been that of a typical tech startup. We did our first crowdfunding and ended up with a 2MM investment to produce the first 10K units. Now we are focusing on product expansion and working towards new releases for this year. Of course, as all startups do, we're juggling every day, trying to stay lean and focused. Our team size keeps adjusting according to the various stages of development or the skillsets required. It's not easy trying to tap into different markets without diluting energies or resources.  

One way we try to do that is by observing our users all the time. The way they use Mogees is just the best marketing tool and source for insights; it really helps us nail down how to prioritise our efforts and investments. 

I have to say I was hoping users would appreciate the full potential of Mogees - but could never expect such variety in how each individual user interacts with it. We have musicians, dancers, teachers, kids, gamers - it has become a community really. They like the openness of it. It's an open, hands-on tool that offers an immediate reward. Because it's a very simple, no-fuss concept, users can get on with it immediately; if you think of it as a musical instrument and consider the wide variety of sounds it allows, it requires no training. Musical training is often very demanding and puts people (especially pupils) off because they feel they have to 'learn a language before they get to talk and communicate with others'. In that, Mogees really facilitates newcomers into music - which is something I am quite proud of.  

 

Christina McGuiness, music teacher - Mogees Play

 

Of course some might argue this is an 'unorthodox' way of teaching music - because it allows to learn by doing. This is quite different from more traditional approaches in which practice follows the theory. 

My musical passion and background has been a key element of the whole process. For me, to design a musical instruments without an understanding of music would be very weird!  Also, this is what makes it unique and different from other products in the market. Platforms like Guitar Hero are closer to mere interfaces of sound libraries, or a synthesizer. But they lack the tangible and interactive element. Mogees works on real vibrations. So your touch will always be different from mine and automatically creates a signature, as if you were stroking a violin cord.

Moreover, there is no instruction manual. You have to play. For some, it can feel unnerving to start from a blank sheet. But I believe this is a feature Mogees shares with any other musical instrument. Like a guitar, it does not impose a specific style of music. What song or genre or style to play is all up to you.