Last updated
Max Mathews waving Radio-Baton Mathews260.jpg
Max Mathews waving Radio-Baton
Radio-Baton demonstration by Mathews on SF MusicTech Summit 2010

The Radiodrum [1] or radio-baton is a musical instrument played in three-dimensional space using two mallets (snare drum sticks with wires). It was developed at Bell Labs in the 1980s (and patented), [2] originally to be a three-dimensional computer mouse. Currently it is used as a musical instrument similar to a MIDI controller in the sense that it has no inherent sound or effect, but rather produces control signals that can be used to control sound-production (or other effect.) As such, it can be thought of as a general telepresence input device. The radiodrum works in a similar way to the theremin, which uses magnetic capacitance to locate the position of the drumsticks. The two mallets act as antennas transmitting on slightly different frequencies and the drum surface acts as a set of antennas. The combination of the antenna signals is used to derive X, Y and Z.

Musical instrument History and classification

A musical instrument is an instrument created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates to the beginnings of human culture. Early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.

Bell Labs research and scientific development company

Nokia Bell Labs is an industrial research and scientific development company owned by Finnish company Nokia. Its headquarters are located in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Other laboratories are located around the world. Bell Labs has its origins in the complex past of the Bell System.

Computer mouse pointing device

A computer mouse is a hand-held pointing device that detects two-dimensional motion relative to a surface. This motion is typically translated into the motion of a pointer on a display, which allows a smooth control of the graphical user interface. The first public demonstration of a mouse controlling a computer system was in 1968. Originally wired to a computer, many modern mice are cordless, relying on short-range radio communication with the connected system. Mice originally used a ball rolling on a surface to detect motion, but modern mice often have optical sensors that have no moving parts. In addition to moving a cursor, computer mice have one or more buttons to allow operations such as selection of a menu item on a display. Mice often also feature other elements, such as touch surfaces and "wheels", which enable additional control and dimensional input.


The radiodrum was designed by Bob Boie. Max Mathews recognized its musical potential, mainly focusing on a conducting paradigm, and developed several other versions of it. Andrew Schloss pioneered its use as a percussion device and further developed its software and hardware. The radiodrum has been used to control visual effects, and even robotic acoustic instruments like the Yamaha Disklavier and Trimpin instruments.

Max Mathews American pioneer in computer music

Max Vernon Mathews was a pioneer of computer music.

Andrew Schloss is an American musician and computer engineer.

Trimpin American artist

Trimpin is a German born kinetic sculptor, sound artist, and musician currently living in Seattle, Washington, United States.

The latest version (as of 2013) of the radiodrum was developed by Bob Boie and Andrew Schloss. In addition to X, Y and Z, there is an output for the derivative of Z, which is used to detect changes of direction of the mallets, enabling fine control over snare-drum rolls and other nuanced percussive techniques.

In addition to works by Andrew Schloss, the instrument has been used extensively by composer David A. Jaffe, with Schloss as soloist, in works including:

David Aaron Jaffe is an American composer who has written over ninety works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, and electronics. He is best known for his use of technology as an electronic-music or computer-music composer in works such as Silicon Valley Breakdown, though his non-electronic music has also been widely performed. He is also known for his development of computer music algorithmic innovations, such as the physical modeling of plucked and bowed strings, as well as for his development of music software such as the NeXT Music Kit and the Universal Audio UAD-2/Apollo.

Other works include Richard Boulanger's "Solemn Song for Evening", using the Bohlen-Pierce scale.

Richard Charles Boulanger is a composer, author, and electronic musician. He is a key figure in the development of the audio programming language Csound, and is associated with computer music gurus Max Mathews and Barry Vercoe.

See also

Related Research Articles

Electronic musical instrument musical instrument that produces its sounds using electronics

An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.

Percussion instrument Type of musical instrument that produces a sound by being hit

A percussion instrument is a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater ; struck, scraped or rubbed by hand; or struck against another similar instrument. The percussion family is believed to include the oldest musical instruments, following the human voice.

Karplus–Strong string synthesis is a method of physical modelling synthesis that loops a short waveform through a filtered delay line to simulate the sound of a hammered or plucked string or some types of percussion.

Marimba percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with mallets

The marimba is a percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with yarn or rubber mallets to produce musical tones. Resonators or pipes suspended underneath the bars amplify their sound. The bars of a chromatic marimba are arranged like the keys of a piano, with the groups of two and three accidentals raised vertically, overlapping the natural bars to aid the performer both visually and physically. This instrument is a type of idiophone, but with a more resonant and lower-pitched tessitura than the xylophone. A person who plays the marimba is called a marimbist or a marimba player.

Vibraphone musical instrument

The vibraphone is a musical instrument in the struck idiophone subfamily of the percussion family. It consists of tuned metal bars, and is usually played by holding two or four soft mallets and striking the bars. A person who plays the vibraphone is called a vibraphonist or vibraharpist.

Music technology (electronic and digital) Music technology

Electronic and digital music technology is the use of electronic or digital instruments, computers, electronic effects units, software or digital audio equipment by a musician, composer, sound engineer, DJ or record producer to make, perform or record music. The term usually refers to the use of electronic devices, electronic and digital instruments, computer hardware and computer software that is used in the performance, playback, recording, composition, sound recording and reproduction, mixing, analysis and editing of music.

Player piano piano that can play prerecorded works

A player piano is a self-playing piano, containing a pneumatic or electro-mechanical mechanism that operates the piano action via pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper, or in rare instances, metallic rolls, with more modern implementations using MIDI. The rise of the player piano grew with the rise of the mass-produced piano for the home in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sales peaked in 1924, then declined as the improvement in phonograph recordings due to electrical recording methods developed in the mid-1920s. The advent of electrical amplification in home music reproduction via radio in the same period helped cause their eventual decline in popularity, and the stock market crash of 1929 virtually wiped out production.

Mallet percussion Musical instruments that belong to the family of percussion instruments

A mallet percussion instrument is a melodic percussion instrument played in a particular fashion, with mallets. Mallet percussion includes:

MIDI controller

A MIDI controller is any hardware or software that generates and transmits Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data to MIDI-enabled devices, typically to trigger sounds and control parameters of an electronic music performance. MIDI controllers usually do not create or produce musical sounds by themselves. MIDI controllers typically have some type of interface which the performer presses, strikes, blows or touches. This action generates MIDI data, which can then be transmitted to a MIDI-compatible sound module or synthesizer using a MIDI cable. The sound module or synthesizer in turn produces a sound which is amplified through a loudspeaker.

Sound module electronic musical instrument without a human-playable interface, operated using an externally connected device, e.g. a MIDI controller

A sound module is an electronic musical instrument without a human-playable interface such as a piano-style musical keyboard. Sound modules have to be operated using an externally connected device, which is often a MIDI controller, of which the most common type is the musical keyboard. Controllers are devices that provide the human-playable interface and which may or may not produce sounds of its own. Another common way of controlling a sound module is through a sequencer, which is computer hardware or software designed to record and play back control information for sound-generating hardware. Connections between sound modules, controllers, and sequencers are generally made with MIDI, which is a standardized protocol designed for this purpose, which includes special ports (jacks) and cables.

DTX is the line of electronic MIDI drum kit and percussion sets manufactured by Yamaha Corporation. The DTX Trigger System is a custom drum module which can be used to trigger sounds with acoustic drums. A modified version of the DTX kit can be found in two drumming games: MTV Drumscape and Drummania.


A Zendrum is a hand-crafted MIDI controller that is used as a percussion instrument. The Zendrum was influenced by the "Drumitar," invented by Future Man. There are several Zendrum models that are well-suited for live performances: the Z1, ZX, EXP, ZAP series, LT and the Mallet Pro series and Melodic Finger. The Zendrum ZX and Z1 can be worn like a guitar and consists of a triangular hardwood body with 24 touch-sensitive round MIDI triggers. The EXP has 29 triggers and additional controls. The Zendrum LT can also be worn with a guitar strap, and has 25 MIDI triggers in a symmetrical layout, which provides an ambidextrous playing surface. The ZAP series is designed more for table top use or on a drum stand, with the ZAP1 having 19 triggers, and the ZAP2 having 25 triggers. The triggers are played by tapping or slapping with the fingers or hands. As a controller, the Zendrum does not make any sound by itself. It uses an electronic interface called MIDI to control synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, sound modules, computers or other electronic drum devices that generates the musical and percussive sounds. The Mallet Pro Series is laid out and played like a traditional mallet instrument, like a marimba. The Mallet Pro series has naturally resonating solid walnut bars as triggers.

Tod Machover composer

Tod Machover, is a composer and an innovator in the application of technology in music. He is the son of Wilma Machover, a pianist and Carl Machover, a computer scientist.

Mitchell Thomas Peters was a principal timpanist and percussionist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He composed well-known pieces for the marimba such as "Yellow After the Rain" and "Sea Refractions"; it is said that these works were composed because Peters felt that there was a lack of musically interesting material that would introduce his students to four-mallet marimba techniques. Several of his snare drum and timpani etude books are in common use as well.

Disklavier trademark

Disklavier is the brand name for a family of high-tech reproducing pianos made by Yamaha Corporation. The first Disklavier was introduced in the United States in 1987.

Pitched percussion instrument

A pitched percussion instrument is a percussion instrument used to produce musical notes of one or more pitches, as opposed to an unpitched percussion instrument which is used to produce sounds of indefinite pitch.

This is a partitioned list of percussion instruments showing their usage as tuned or untuned. See pitched percussion instrument for discussion of the differences between tuned and untuned percussion. The term pitched percussion is now preferred to the traditional term tuned percussion:

The Mallet Concerto is a concerto for mallet percussion instruments and chamber orchestra by the American composer Ned Rorem. It was first performed by the percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the conductor John DeMain in Madison, Wisconsin, on March 27, 2004.


  1. "Radio Drum". 1997-06-23. Retrieved 2014-02-08.
  2. "Patent US5463388 - Computer mouse or keyboard input device utilizing capacitive sensors - Google Patents". 1992-04-01. Retrieved 2014-02-08.
  3. "David A. Jaffe - Writings - A Virtual Piano Concerto". Retrieved 2014-02-08.