Music on the move: Beat Farm creates a new soundtrack for extreme sports

Beat Farm's creation, the Jalapeño, generates music that matches an athlete's movements

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 11:44pm

For snowboarders, skateboarders and other extreme sports enthusiasts, music goes hand in hand with riding down a mountain or performing tricks in the park.

But while a steady stream of iPod-produced tunes might be a constant companion for many athletes, never before has music actually been produced from snowboards, skis and skateboards themselves - or influenced by changes in the rider’s movements.

Beat Farm, an enterprising startup, hopes to correct this. The brainchild of three American graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Integrated Product Design masters program, Beat Farm aims to intertwine music and sport in unprecedented ways. 

“The original idea revolved around how we could create a device that actually composes and mixes music for people as they ride,” says Ben Harmer, business lead for Beat Farm. “One of the things we started to pick up on when talking with snowboarders, skiers and skateboarders was that they all have a certain creativity and are ‘in the zone’ when they perform their sport. Musicians are similar, so we decided to link music and sports and try to put them together.”

“We looked at what was out there in the marketplace, what was possible from a technological perspective and how we could design a product that would not only survive in harsh conditions but also looked cool,” adds Kenneth Liew, Beat Farm’s head designer.

Harmer, Liew and John Hunchar, Beat Farm’s lead engineer, began creating handheld prototypes that generated music and contained sensors that could detect movement and alter the music accordingly in real-time. After a year and half of testing, the trio has finalised a working product, dubbed the Jalapeño. It is currently being crowdfunded via a Kickstarter campaign.

Video: Beat Farm's Kickstarter video

A small device that can be attached to a snowboard, ski, skateboard or bicycle, the Jalapeño detects turns, jumps and spins. It streams data about these motions via Bluetooth to the Beat Farm mobile app, which is currently being developed for Android platforms, with an iOS release forthcoming. 

The app alters the music that the rider is listening to as they move – jumps, for example, slow and amplify the song’s beat, while moving left and right causes the melody to fade accordingly.

“The product works by taking instrumental tracks and modulating them,” Hunchar says. “It can change vocal, bass guitar and drum tracks, putting effects on the sounds and modulating the music as a whole.”

The music generated from the Jalapeño is supplied by a group of independent and upcoming artists collaborating with Beat Farm, although users can also upload their own music library to the app.

While motion sensing and music mixing technology is nothing new, rarely have these elements been successfully combined in the realm of extreme sports. Harmer, Liew and Hunchar have filed a United States patent for the Jalapeño as a “method and system for processing human body motions into original music compositions.”

"I don't think there are a lot of devices out there that really play with sound in [this] way," says Sarah Rottenberg, associate director of the University of Pennsylvania's Integrated Product Design program. "And I don't think there are [devices] out there that...capture movement and translate movement, not just so [the athlete] knows how active [they] are, but to [give them] a better experience." 

If the Jalapeño reaches its Kickstarter funding goal of US$ 53,000 (HK$ 411,000) by February 7, then it will enter into mass production with a price point of US$ 239 (HK$ 1,853) and an expected release date in October of this year.

“Trying to condense all of our ideas down to one product has been a challenge, and startups are not as glamorous as they seem,” Hunchar says, noting that the road to Kickstarter has been an arduous one.

“But the Jalapeño is just the beginning,” Liew adds. “There are a lot of opportunities for different sports and applications in the future. Someday, we’d love to see multiple riders with Jalapeños snowboarding or skiing down a mountain at the same time, creating music as they go. It’d be almost like a ‘band’ - a Beat Farm band.”

For more information, visit the Beat Farm website or Kickstarter