Ye’s Stem Player has soft skin and all the lights
At some 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 recalls. “So when we’re making technology, maybe it needs to be shaped in our image. ”
The end product, the Stem Player, which Kano made in partnership with Ye, has no finger holes. But it is not conventional. It’s a weird musical gadget that lets you listen to and manipulate music in real time – and while the holes haven’t created, it fits easily in one of your hands.
Kano’s device doesn’t have a display, which means you listen to and play along with music using a few buttons and four touch-sensitive “stalks” on the device. Together they can be used to manipulate the “stems” (different aspects of a track like vocals or drums) of songs on Ye’s album. Donna, which is preloaded on the device. Or, thanks to machine learning, it can pull off the same trick with any album you put on it.
The Stem Player was formed in a few years. Klein says he and Ye started working together before the release of Jesus is king, which was released in 2019. They apparently hammered the idea of ”what was then called an album device” into Ye’s Lamborghini. (You saw Klein walking around to buy some falafel and told him to get in the car.) Things gathered around the exit of Donda so that they can launch it at the same time as the album.
Turn on the Stem Player and you are greeted with a gentle vibration and four colored lights appearing on each of the rods. Press the button in the middle to play music – when I did it while writing this the drum beats on “Hurricane” and the rising voice of The Weeknd filled my desk. But if I want to hear correct The Weeknd, all I have to do is “slide” the lights down three of the stems like pushing sliders on a soundboard to make the other aspects of the song disappear.
You are also not limited to handling one rod at a time. I used four fingers to adjust all the stems simultaneously, and the Stem Player followed everything I did. (Although I definitely made the song sound much worse.) You can also create loops and add effects in real time.
The device is comfortable to hold and fun to play. It’s also soft to the touch, which sets it apart from the many other metal and plastic gadgets I interact with on a daily basis. Klein tells me the exterior is a “unique blend” of “a lot of different polymers”, and I believe it – the Stem Player is unlike anything I’ve ever held. (More than once, I found myself playing without doing anything with one hand while I was at my desk.)
Since everything is at your fingertips, it’s easy to play along with the songs while you listen to them. Adding effects and creating loops is less intuitive – had to look for a tutorial to find out how. But playing with the rods is pretty fun 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 will give you that feeling of well-being and control, which I think many miss. screens based devices today, ”Klein said.
Having said that, I didn’t feel pressured to listen to an entire album with the Stem Player in hand. Music for me is largely a background activity; I often put on music during housework or during a run, which isn’t exactly the best time to play with the Stem Player. But I would never claim to be a music producer – my experience with music consists largely of years of marching band – so for someone who enjoys making their own music, the Stem Player could be a mind blowing tool.
“At the end of the day, there were so many possible directions, and one thing Ye always appreciates and almost coaches me, gives me great direction is getting things done,” Klein said. “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. Really, it’s abandoned.