SoundSpace is Making Sound Tangible

Sound is tangible. Such is the premise of Ray Li (’14)’s latest venture into entrepreneurship with SoundSpace—a gestural music interface that has the potential to revolutionize the world of electronic music. SoundSpace’s interface consists of several motion-based musical instruments, as well as the ability to record and manipulate loops of these instruments. 

A recent graduate of the Applied Engineering and Physics department, Ray is no stranger to entrepreneurship but SoundSpace is his first serious endeavor. In high school, he had a couple of projects that he ended up selling online. The first was a board game created for a critical thinking class, which he set up a website for and ended up selling approximately fifty copies of. After writing some music, he put together an album, printed it, and sold it online as well. The common thread for Ray seems to be idea creation–the main driver behind any business. 

A love of music and passion for engineering has guided Ray through several music-related independent study projects. His first endeavor was The Sabre—a cello-based instrument with a fingerboard and joystick controller. “I wanted to improve The Sabre because of how limiting it was. I was thinking about how to improve the joystick controller, and then thought why not get rid of joystick, what if there was a webcam that saw your movements instead? Then I thought, why not get rid of the instrument itself?” This thought process led him to developing The Aura—an instrument that allows the musician to control sound just by moving their hands in the air. See how The Aura works here

The Aura is one instrument in SoundSpace—a whole unit that uses a magnetic base which emits a magnetic field, gloves which detect that magnetic field, and the software which allows you to play multiple instruments and build and manipulate loops of those instruments. 

In terms of funding, SoundSpace won the $500 “Bright Idea” award from the ECE Innovation Competition and has also received a $1,000 grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts. However, the contribution that has made SoundSpace possible comes from Ascension Technology, a company that makes 3D and motion-tracking devices for medical purposes. After reaching out to the company and explaining the concept of SoundSpace, the company offered to loan Ray one of their trackers (worth $6,000). 

So, what’s in store for SoundSpace? Ray shies away from using terms like, “changing the world of music”–instead, he will tell you that he is working on creating a finished product. The next steps are to make the gloves completely wireless and develop software that can be flexible enough to enable musicians to customize it however they want, making SoundSpace an all-in-one tool for electronic musicians. “Electronic music performance is a problem; most of it is just a musician standing behind a laptop.” SoundSpace is accessible for electronic artists who don’t play instruments; since it deals with creating loops, even artists without expansive backgrounds in instrumental performance can pick up the concepts. 

Since graduating in January 2014, Ray Li has stayed on campus and is currently “betting” on SoundSpace. The first public performance of SoundSpace is scheduled for May 3rd at 7:00pm in Bailey Hall.