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The Silent Drum controller

Submitted by on April 23, 2010 – 8:44 am One Comment

Jaime Oliver is a computer-based musician and inventor and has created a very unique drum-type controller. The Silent Drum project uses the membrane of a drum head to play sounds via a computer.

The drum “head” membrane itself doesn’t make any sounds, but a camera measures how its elastic surface is manipulated with mallets, hands or other implements, and a computer uses those measurements as instructions for what sounds and dynamics to generate.

The technique that Jaime developed for manipulating the membrane is pretty interesting, as it involves manipulation of the surface rather hitting it like a regular drum.

This controller began to be developed in 2006 by Jaime Oliver in collaboration with percussionist Matthew Jenkins as a percussion controller, thought to be hit by mallets within a percussion setup; hence the look of a drum and the name Silent Drum. However, through further experimentation and development, a hand technique was revealed possible.


On Feb-28 2009, the Silent Drum won the 1st prize in the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition at the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology. A composition written for the Silent Drum, “Silent Construction 1”, was finalist in the Bourges Electronic Arts Competition and has been performed in several important conferences and festivals such as the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) in Montreal, SIGGRAPH in New Orleans and the Pure Data Convention in Sao Paulo, amongst others.

The instrument opened up a whole new problem: how do you notate music for it? Oliver came up with an interesting system that lets him describe notes, events, rhythm and tempo. Take a look at an example:

Here are a couple of demos of the drum being played, in a pretty experimental style:

The instrument is open source and it is “gradually being replicated”.

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