At one point in development, Kano Computing’s new music creation device was going to have finger holes. “’God created man; man is God’s greatest technology, ‘”explained Ye, the artist. formerly known as Kanye West, as Kano CEO and co-founder Alex Klein remembers. “So when we create technology, maybe it needs to be shaped in our image.”
The final product, the Stem Player, which Kano made in association with Ye, has no finger holes. But it is unconventional. It is a strange music device that allows you to listen to music and manipulate it in real time, and although the holes did not exist, it easily fits in one of your hands.
The Kano device has no screen, which means you listen and play with music using just a few buttons and four touch-sensitive “stems” on the device. Together, they can be used to manipulate the “stems” (different aspects of a track such as vocals or drums) of the songs on Ye’s album. Donda, which is preloaded on the device. Or, thanks to machine learning, it can perform the same trick with any album you put on it.
The Stem reproducer they got together for a few years. Klein says he and Ye started working together before the release of Jesus is king, which came out in 2019. Apparently one day they came up with the idea for “what was then called an album device” in Ye’s Lamborghini. (You saw Klein walking to buy falafel and told him to get in the car.) Things merged around the launch of Donda so they could release it along with the album.
Turn on the Stem Player and you will be greeted with a gentle vibration and four colored lights appearing on each of the stems. Press the button in the middle to play music; when I did as I was writing this, the drum was pounding on “Hurricane” and The Weeknd’s soaring voice filled my office. But if I want to hear alone The Weeknd, all I have to do is “slide” the lights down three of the stems like I’m pressing the sliders on a soundboard to dim the other aspects of the song.
You are also not limited to handling one stem at a time. I’ve used four fingers to adjust all the stems simultaneously, and the Stem Player kept up with everything I did. (Although I definitely made the song sound a lot worse.) You can also create loops and add effects in real time.
The device is pleasant to hold and fun to play. It is also soft to the touch, which sets it apart from the many other metal and plastic devices that I interact with every day. Klein tells me that the exterior is a “unique blend” made of “many different polymers,” and I believe him: the Stem Player doesn’t feel like anything he’s ever owned. (More than once, I’ve found myself playing idly with it in one hand while at my desk.)
Since everything is at your fingertips, it’s easy to play along with songs while listening to them. Adding effects and looping is less intuitive – I had to find a tutorial on how to do it. But playing with the stems is quite entertaining on its own.
“We wanted it to be a device that you pick up, you feel it, you see the lights, you feel the vibrations and it gives you this sense of well-being and control, which I think is missing from many screens. devices based on current technology, ”said Klein.
That said, I haven’t been drawn to listening to an entire album with the Stem Player in hand. For me, music is very much a background activity; I often play music while doing housework or while running, which are not ideal times to also play with the Stem Player. But he would never claim to be a music producer; my musical experience consists largely of years of marching band – so for someone who likes to make their own music, Stem Player could be an incredibly amazing tool.
“At the end of the day, there were so many directions I could take, and one thing that Ye always values and almost teaches me, gives me good direction, is getting things done,” said Klein. “Finish things, turn them off. There are always things you can do to tweak and change them. A great work of art is never finished. It really is abandoned. ”