DJ rigs used to require packing a considerable amount of gear. Now we have music apps for iPads and iPhones. But some of the fun drains away when you're just sliding your fingers over a cold glass screen while you're trying to groove out.
The iRing music controllers from IK Multimedia aim to get your fingers off the touchscreen and into the air. You wear the "rings," each printed with a pattern of three black dots on two different sides, between your fingers. The apps track the rings using your device's camera.
Always up to test out a new music technology, I tried on a set of the $24.99 iRings, tucking them between my fingers, and set about to make some dance music. You have to register your iRing gear with IK Multimedia before you can use them with apps. At first, I found this requirement a little annoying, but it's really about protecting the product sales. Otherwise, people would just make their own dot-patterned pieces.
I spent most of my time with the free iRing Music Maker app running on my iPad Mini Retina. It includes banks of different bass lines, grooves, lead instruments, and beats to choose from. Sounds are manipulated based on distance, rotation, and hiding movements using the iRings.
As a musician who's accustomed to steel strings and guitar picks, I had to adjust my way of thinking about how you create music in order to better meld with the iRing world. I had to embrace the electronic sounds and my initial inaccuracy with how my hand gestures impacted the beats. With practice comes more precision. I will even confess to boogieing at my desk as I manipulated the music, adding and removing loops with air-punches and hand waves.
The iRing Music Maker app is good fun for beginners. You don't have to know anything about music to start making danceable tunes. I suspect the people who will get the most out of the iRing set-up will be folks who are into using it as a MIDI controller. These advanced users can download the free iRing FX/Controller, which acts as both an effects processor and a MIDI controller. This particular use of the iRing is out of my musical wheelhouse, but electronic musicians could end up finding it both entertaining and useful.