Wearable tech is all the rage these days. Every month there’s a new smartwatch or fitband coming out to streamline the integration of technology in our everyday lives. But the focus thus far has been on functionality, with few devices emerging for entertainment and, to use a broad generalization, for “the arts.” That’s why I am so impressed by SoMo, Sonic Wear’s device that turns the human body into a moving musical instrument! Today, as part of the Keep Your WiTS About You interview series, we sit down with Loretta Faveri, creator of SoMo.
Textile artist-turned-inventor Loretta Faveri is the innovator behind the SoMo, which uses sensors and accelerometers to make music when the device is in motion. Inspired by her experiences in bellydancing, she decided to create the SoMo so dancers could make their own music while dancing instead of relying on a live band!
What is SoMo? It’s a custom built board that straps to your body that tracks your movement and outputs sound using Bluetooth and a computer with custom SoMo software. The SoMo allows for a lot of customization: using the software you can change the sounds that correspond to specific movements and changes, and using the different sensors you can customize your device system to be specific to your type of dance. For example, pressure sensors under the toe and heel can be switched out for wristlets if your dance uses more arm movement.
“Body movement is the visualization of sound,” Loretta says. “I want to turn all of your bodies into musical instruments.”
SoMo has evolved from a simple lilypad Arduino sewn into a dance costume into a custom designed board with movement tracking capability and its own software. Loretta and her designers are working hard to build a communication network so troupes can use multiple SoMos together to create a bigger sound in tandem. Plans for workshops and SoMo classes are set to launch later this year, where attendees can learn to dance with the SoMo. “I want people to say ‘I’m going to my SoMo class’ in the same way they would say ‘I’m going to my Zumba class’,” Loretta says. “I don’t want the focus to be just on the device itself but more on how you can use it to ignite your creativity in collaboration with others. This entry point allows people to experience the joy of making music together through body movement.”
I can’t wait to start SoMo classes! As a bellydancer and musician, I am captivated by SoMo and am itching to use it in a routine. I got a chance to try it out, what a cool experience! It’s interesting to note the learning curve as I moved with the SoMo wristlet – it was like getting used to an extension to my body, into a nonphysical realm. Every angle of my wrist and slight movement of my arm changed the sound in the room, and the silence synchronized with lack of movement was surprisingly difficult to manipulate. Once I got the hang of it though, I was able to create some really cool combinations of sound and motion.
The photo below shows dancer Denise Mireau wearing the SoMo ankle strap with heel and toe pressure sensors.
Loretta’s journey to running a wearable tech startup is inspiring, particularly because she fell into her career by accident! A dancer and textile artist, Loretta never intended to go into technology, but when she took her first wearable tech class at OCAD, she saw an opportunity and she took it, leading to the development of the SoMo. When asked what she thinks it would take to get more women interested in careers in technology, Loretta has a positive outlook. She agrees with Wendy Powley and thinks computer science should be mandatory in schools so they can feel familiar with it and learn those skills early. “If we want more women to pursue careers in new technologies, they have to feel comfortable with it from the get go, like in elementary school. I like to think of digital electronics and code writing as making magic, so if you can teach a young girl to make magic in a way that appeals to her, then she will likely want to make more.”
I. Love. That analogy. Coding is creation, turning words and symbols into anything you want them to be. That really is modern day magic. Functions are spells, programmers are wizards, and the compiler is the magic wand. “For me,” she says, “it was the fusion of art making and digital technology that inspired me to pursue my path and perhaps it would be the same for children. Combining the two can make technology a little more accessible and less intimidating and I think that is important for girls.”
Loretta has a lot of plans for the future of SoMo, including classes for all ages and walks of life. There are so many possibilities for SoMo to augment other industries, including healthcare, teaching and therapy. For now, the best way to get involved with SoMo is to follow on Twitter and like on Facebook, where Loretta posts updates, information and invites.
Hope to see you in SoMo class later this year! :D