Music Out of Thin Air (1996) - from the Archives

Music Out of Thin Air

The Times (UK)
Dorothy Walker 20th November 1996

A rock musician is showing children how to make instruments play with a simple gesture. Have you ever wished, as you conducted an invisible band in front of your bathroom mirror, that the sound of music would come out of thin air? For David Jackson, it does. He waves his arms and a saxophone plays. He twiddles his fingers and a piano tinkles a tune.

The musician who once worked with Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Gabriel has revamped the technology whose inventor, Leon Theremin, was born 100 years ago, and now creates his music with the Soundbeam.

This system uses an ultrasonic beam to detect movement, which it translates into sounds and tones via a midi keyboard and synthesiser. Although the original theremin could produce only the sound of a cello, created by moving between two aerials, today's Soundbeams can mix and match everything from Chopin sonatas to space movie sound effects.

Jackson's latest album, Fractal Bridge , is almost entirely music from thin air. It is the first to be composed and performed using Soundbeam. Now he is taking the technology to schools to make children more creative and to help disabled students find a unique way to express themselves.

Jackson, from Wokingham, Berkshire, works with the charity Scope to help children with cerebral palsy make music. At Meldreth Manor School in Hertfordshire, pupils are staging a series of Soundbeam concerts. The technology allows instruments to be tailor-made to suit the abilities and interests of each child.

Jackson says: "You can build an instrument specifically for a child, so there are endless crossovers into physiotherapy. For children with restricted movement, there are techniques to make even the simplest gesture expressive."

David Banes, headmaster at Meldreth Manor, says: "The impact on the pupils has been so great we have just ordered our own Soundbeam system."