Download PDF of entire paper

Hydraulophone design considerations: absement, displacement, and velocity-sensitive music keyboard in which each key is a water jet

International Multimedia Conference

Proceedings of the 14th annual ACM international conference on Multimedia

Santa Barbara, CA, USA

SESSION: Arts session 3: tools for creativity and art analysis

Pages: 519 - 528

Year of Publication: 2006



ACM: Association for Computing Machinery
SIGMULTIMEDIA: ACM Special Interest Group on Multimedia

ACM Press New York, NY, USA


We present a musical keyboard that is not only velocity-sensitive, but in fact responds to absement (presement), displacement (placement), velocity, acceleration, jerk, jounce, etc. (i.e. to all the derivatives, as well as the integral, of displacement).Moreover, unlike a piano keyboard in which the keys reach a point of maximal displacement, our keys are essentially infinite in length, and thus never reach an end to their key travel. Our infinite length keys are achieved by using water jet streams that continue to flow past the fingers of a person playing the instrument. The instrument takes the form of a pipe with a row of holes, in which water flows out of each hole, while a user is invited to play the instrument by interfering with the flow of water coming out of the holes. The instrument resembles a large flute, but, unlike a flute, there is no complicated fingering pattern. Instead, each hole (each water jet) corresponds to one note (as with a piano or pipe organ). Therefore, unlike a flute, chords can be played by blocking more than one water jet hole at the same time. Because each note corresponds to only one hole, different fingers of the musician can be inserted into, onto, around, or near several of the instrument's many water jet holes, in a variety of different ways, resulting in an ability to independently control the way in which each note in a chord sounds.Thus the hydraulophone combines the intricate embouchure control of woodwind instruments with the polyphony of keyboard instruments.Various forms of our instrument include totally acoustic, totally electronic, as well as hybrid instruments that are acoustic but also include an interface to a multimedia computer to produce a mixture of sounds that are produced by the acoustic properties of water screeching through orific plates, as well as synthesized sounds.


  1. M. B. Alonso and D. V. Keyson. MusicCube: making digital music tangible. ACM CHI, 2005.
  2. H. Ishii. Bottles: A transparent interface as a tribute to mark weiser. IEICE Transactions on Information and Systems, pages Vol. E87--D, No. 6, pp. 1299--1311, June 2004.
  3. H. Ishii and M. Kobayashi. Clearboard: A seamless media for shared drawing and conversation with eye-contact. In Proceedings of Conferenceon Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '92), pages 525--532. ACM SIGCHI, May 3-7 1992.
  4. S. Mann. "fluid streams": fountains that are keyboards with nozzle spray as keys that give rich tactile feedback and are more expressive and more fun than plastic keys. In Proceedings of the 13th annual ACM international conference on Multimedia, pages 181 -- 190, Hilton, Singapore, 2005.
  5. P. Richards. Exploratorium, organ.html, 2005.
  6. Steve Mann, Ahmedullah Sharifi, Mike Hung, and Russell Verbeeten. The hydraulophone: Instrumentation for tactile feedback from fluid streams as a new multimedia interface. ICME, 2006. Proceedings., pages 409-412, July 9-12, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2006.
  8. R. Vertegaal and T. Ungvary. Tangible bits and malleable atoms in the design of a computer music instrument. In CHI '01: CHI '01 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems, pages 311--312, New York, NY, USA, 2001. ACM Press.
Primary Classification: Additional Classification: General Terms: Keywords: