Art Culture Technology

Malaysia has its own version of the air guitar! And it’s in the form of a virtual kompang

If you grew up as a wealthy Malaysian kid, you may have experienced one of these…

But some of us can’t relate. 🙁 Screenshot from @heyhotmilky Twitter

As for the rest of us, we just gotta settle with this…

No, not dancing but air guitar. Gif from Gifer

But what if we tell you that you can actually play a musical instrument in the air? And we’re not only talking about any musical instrument, but we’re also talking about traditional musical instruments. We recently found a study by a group of UPM researchers that claimed…


You can play the kompang WITHOUT the actual, physical kompang

Just in case you’re not familiar with the word kompang, it’s a Malay traditional musical instrument commonly made from a goatskin. You may have seen people playing the musical instrument at Malay weddings or even at school events.

Img from The Star

Just like how you’d play the drum (minus the drum sticks ofcos), the kompang will produce a different sound when you hit it on different surfaces. Traditionally, there are two ways you can hit a kompang – one at the edge of the kompang and the other in the middle of the kompang (aka membrane).

The two sounds that can be produced by doing these are bung and pak. We found a simple guide on how to play the kompang and you can check it out here.

So, how on earth did the UPM researchers find a way to turn the physical kompang into a virtual kompang where you can literally play it in the air??? First of all, you’ll need a device called the Leap Motion Controller.

The Leap Motion Controller, which was launched in 2013, is a tiny USB device that you put on your laptop or desktop. It uses cameras with infrared light to detect your hands and fingers beside your gestures like pinching, holding, or hitting an object. You can check out how the device works here.

So far, based on what we’ve discovered online, it was used by the V-tubing community in creating their content. If you dunno what a Vtubing or Vtuber is, they’re basically a bunch of YouTuber… in Anime avatars. We’ve written about them before and you can read about them here.

But seeing how the interface of the device is pretty easy to use, it makes sense how the UPM researchers were able to map hand gestures of people playing the kompang besides producing the right sound when users hit a certain area of the kompang. The researchers pre-recorded the sound of the kompang and integrated it into the software and voila! A virtual kompang was somewhat made.

We say somewhat because the study was the first and possibly the only one conducted so far. While they mentioned a prototype in the study, we tried looking for one and even contacted them to ask about this but to no avail. :/

And despite having a prototype, the researchers acknowledged that you might not be getting the real feel of playing the virtual kompang as compared to playing the real one because they pre-recorded the sound of the kompang. Think of it like playing the piano on a piano app on your phone.

18 funky things Chinese people burn for their ancestors during Hungry Ghost festival

But all is not in vain because…


It seems like Malaysian traditional music might soon be accessible to everyone

Let’s be real – digitising musical instruments are not exactly a new thing. There have been many, MAAAANNNNYYY musical instruments virtually over the years. You name it – the piano, violin, guitar, and even drums bongos!

You can even get a cat to play the bongo for you! Gif from Fandom

While digging info for this story, we also came across many other local studies on using technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) to turn traditional musical instruments into virtual instruments besides teaching these virtual musical instruments in schools. However, unlike the UPM study, these studies typically use various apps including Google Cardboard.

Interestingly enough, we actually found one such app that can help people learn Malaysian traditional musical instruments. While it is available on Google Play with a pretty low rating, ironically…

R U KIDDING ME???? Screenshot from Google Play

Although it’s pretty odd that we weren’t able to access any of these prototypes or apps, it is still great to see that Malaysian researchers are finding ways to use technology to preserve Malaysian traditional musical instruments. We just hope that we’re able to see the virtual kompang or even these AR traditional musical instrument apps actually take off one day.

Until then, we’re just gonna get back to our air guitar practice. Who knows if we can make our Malaysian parents proud by winning the Air Guitar World Championship (OMG it’s a legit championship, gais! #TIL)?

OMG, it’s real. Gif from Kotaku

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