Classroom Music review of Soundbeam 5

Classroom Music review of Soundbeam 5
Soundbeam 5
From £2,695
(desktop version from £1,695)
The system comes with 30 built-in soundsets,
which means it is usable in the classroom
straight away. There are 15 varied improvisations
ranging from ‘funky house’ to ‘tabla’; nine
‘environment’ soundsets including ‘space’ and
‘jungle’ and six well-known tunes such as Old
MacDonald and Air on a G String. I found the
tunes quite challenging to perform effectively
and would have liked some more contemporary
examples, but the concept is a good one.
The provided soundsets make use of in-built
note sequences and sampled sounds,
all of which can be used and modified as
appropriate. A great feature is the ease with
which the soundsets can now be previewed just
by pressing a button. Each sound attributed to
a switch or beam can be previewed separately
on the main unit, which makes adjustments of
the MIDI sounds quicker and experimentation
Classroom Music I spring term 1 I 2010/11
modification which allows much more freedom
in the working/performing space. The switches
can also be individually programmed – it is now
much easier to monitor the volume levels and
finer details of individual switches and beams,
as the mixer function can be viewed in the
display. To give the players more control, a
switch can be set up to select different sound
sets, and another can control key changes.
Sounds and editing: sampling works well using a
microphone or other sound source. The samples
can be edited directly on the main unit, although
I personally prefer to edit them on a computer
using a card reader. Soundbeam 5 comes
with a 2GB card providing an alphabetically
organised sample library including rhythm loops,
and room for the user’s own recordings. Whole
performances on beams and switches can
also be recorded and stored. For those willing
Pam Ayling
Soundbeam 5 is the latest version of the
‘invisible, expanding keyboard in space’
originally developed for dancers but with
countless potential uses throughout education.
It is a MIDI controller that uses ultrasonic beams
and switches to turn movement into sound.
Widely used in special education because of
its accessibility, it is a tool which can engage
students from pre-school onwards because it
enables sound-making on so many levels. For
instance, a student with very restricted mobility
can activate almost any sound using any part of
their body, or a group of performing arts students
could use the system to work with sound and
images generated by a computer as they explore
movement and dance. A student who cannot hold
a saxophone can improvise using the saxophone
sound in the sensor along with other musicians
playing more conventional instruments.
I was very keen to put Soundbeam 5 through
its paces. Practical use of the previous
systems in many different educational contexts
has inevitably left me wishing for some
modifications and I was pleased to find many
have been implemented in the new version.
The most far-reaching change is that the main unit
now has an internal, integrated sound chip which
removes the need to connect to an external MIDI
instrument. It is named Soundbeam 5 because it
has five functions: synthesiser, sampler, amplifier,
drum machine and soundbeam, requiring only
the connection of speakers and sensors. This
simplifies use considerably; but at the same
time the dual MIDI in/out ports and the USB
connector in the back of the unit allow expansion.
In addition, the system can make use of external
MIDI equipment and computer software such as
Cubase, Reason and ArKaos.
reviews_soundbeam .indd 28
much more straightforward. There are plenty
of empty soundsets for the user to program,
and Soundbeam are developing themed addon packs which will be really useful. These,
together with software upgrades and extra
sounds, will be easily downloadable thanks
to the USB connection.
The design of the controller unit is well thought
out. The yellow wheel of Soundbeam 2 has
been replaced by clearly coloured and labelled
buttons. The display is slightly larger and the
function buttons intuitive to use. The sensor
and range buttons form a mini keyboard layout,
which makes inputting user note sequences
much easier.
Up to four beams can be attached to the unit
and each can be assigned notes, chords or
sounds as required. The range of the beams,
how they react to movement, how many notes or
chords they make available and their pitch can
all be programmed by the user. The optional
switchbox, which allows the use of up to eight
switches, is now wireless – another practical
to delve into more complicated aspects of MIDI,
fine-tuning of sounds is available for such things
as panning and chorus effects.
Soundbeam 5 is an excellent tool with a wealth
of features and practical applications across
the curriculum and beyond. Its capabilities
can be extended in many ways as the user
becomes more confident and perhaps slightly
addicted (!) to what it can offer.
Overall:     
Best new features: integrated sound chip
and sampler, wireless switchbox, preview.
Ease of use: logical and open-ended; the
manual is rather basic, but may be soon
Most useful for: many types of performing,
integration of the arts, inclusion.
Pam Ayling works for Sheffield Music Service
as a peripatetic and uses technology to help
students who have a wide range of special
needs access music-making.
23/11/2010 17:27:19
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