Long Island City, New York
Tlacael Esparza and his brother Tenoch both love drums. They realized that many other instruments had long ago been adapted for the digital age: the electric guitar, keyboards, and synthesizers. Even vinyl record turntables can now be hooked up to and controlled by a laptop.
Sure there are electronic drum machines, but those aren’t actually drums. The Esparza brothers wanted to be able to bang on a set of drums like they always had. So they invented a series of sensors that attach to a drum set that connects to a computer. Different parts of the drum can be assigned different sounds, and the computer can seamlessly blend them together.
“I made the initial proof of concept for Sensory Percussion in the spring of 2013 after not finding any good solutions out there in my research, and realizing that all the information needed for the kind of control I wanted to achieve was already there in the acou-stics of the drum itself. Physical objects already have all the right properties.”
Early demonstrations didn’t go well. On a tour to show off their idea, crucial bugs exposed themselves constantly, said Tlacael Esparza.
“Making these commitments to appear in public and show off what we were claiming — first at Maker Faire, then at the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, then at SXSW — is what really forced us to work through these technological problems and just figure it out. We didn’t really leave ourselves any other options.”
This venture was far from a sure thing when we started, both as a business and as a technology.
The two brothers didn’t have much money either, and they had no idea whether their technology would work well enough to sell it. “This venture was far from a sure thing when we started, both as a business and as a technology.”
The Esparzas got the help of a design firm to improve the hardware. “The stage can be a hostile environment for electronics, so it was important to us to make sure that it was both easy to setup and tear down, and could hold up against the daily abuse of a professional drummer on a busy tour schedule,” said Esparza.
The next step for Tlacael and his brother is to get professional drummers to actually use their product. “I’m most excited to see what other people create with it. I have my own ideas of how to use the system, but it’s really a flexible platform for creating with electronic sound, and so I have no idea what other people will think up.”
Sensory Percussion is just one of several new or developing products featured in our Outfitter section of the Beginnings issue of Frontier Magazine. Buy a copy at our online shop today to read the rest, along with other content found only in print.