If you like dance music, there’s a 100 percent chance you like dancing and at least a 75 percent chance you like video games. The odds you like Dance Dance Revolution are in the positive, but we’re pretty sure you’re gonna like LA-based DJ and dancer PENNYWILD’s invention no matter what.
It’s called the Penny Pad, and it’s a collaboration with finger drumming champion Coby Ashpis that uses a DDR-like dance pad that converts your foot pressure into MIDI beats. Hop on this awesome machine and step your way to your own Virtual Self tunes. Be the Aarabmuzik of feet, or whatever.
“Dance has always been a reactive expression, and I feel like it’s time dance is a generative expression,” PENNYWILD tells Billboard. “The entire concept of my upcoming EP in conjunction with the Penny Pad, is that movement breeds music. It doesn’t have to be the other way around. We don’t have to just make movement form music. We don’t have to hear a beat and start moving. I can make the music with my moves, and that becomes the music.”
Before she was a DJ, PENNYWILD (aka Melanie “Penny” Wildman) was a musical theater student traveling the world in West Side Story. A run in Berlin introduced her to Berghain and the nightlife scene, and when the run ended, she dropped out of theater school to become a full-time DJ and producer.
Standing around behind a bunch of equipment using only her hands felt awkward. She tried Native Instruments Maschine and Roland drum pads, seeking a medium in which to incorporate more of her body, but it still felt stifling. Then, she heard about Imogen Heap’s Mi.Mu Gloves, which allow music makers to manipulate sounds with hand movements, and she got to thinking.
She approached Ashpis about partnering on a dance pad MIDI controller project. The two met at a show and started collaborating on music. They practiced on GameCube equipment, and today, the Penny Pad is a working prototype. Wildman even used the proof-of-concept to create her upcoming EP.
“It’s been a very fascinating experience because writing in this fashion is so different from the standard writing process,” she says. “It’s been really cathartic for me to use, because my dance training is so accessible for me. I can freestyle (movement) at the drop of a hat, but playing the keyboard with my hands still isn’t fluid. Its been a lot easier for me to plunk out these tracks with my feet. It’s more natural to me.”
Wildman plans to drop the EP in early March, and when it comes to performing her new music, she’ll incorporate the Penny Pad as much as possible. She also hopes to send a working Penny Pad to a few thoughtful musicians with sweet dance moves to see what they may be able to produce. The next step is to make a beta version “from the ground up,” which means Penny and Ashpis can keep function, comfort and design in mind to configure the best version of the Penny Pad possible.
For now, get excited with the proof-of-concept in the video below.