Space Palette - A New Instrument for Music and Visuals

Space Palette - A New Instrument for Music and Visuals

What Is It?

The Space Palette is a musical and graphical instrument invented by Tim Thompson that lets you play music and paint visuals simultaneously by waving your hands in the holes of a wood frame. No pre-recorded media, sequences, or loops are used - everything is generated in realtime by your hands. The wood frame is a reference for the player, while the Microsoft Kinect is used to detect the position of whatever hands (or objects) appear in the holes of the frame. The depth of your hands matters as much as their left/right/up/down position - it's like having multiple three-dimensional mouse pads in mid-air. Any number of hands can be used. Musically, the large holes are like piano keyboards (left-to-right) on which you play individual notes, and hand depth controls things like vibrato and filters. Visually, the large holes allow you to paint with graphical shapes (heavily processed by visual effects), and hand depth controls their size. The 12 small holes in the corners of the Space Palette are used to select different sets of sounds and graphics. Each of the 4 large holes plays a different sound and paints a different graphic, simultaneously.

What is it like to play?

Nothing can substitute for actually playing it in person, but the videos here will give you some idea for what how it works and how people react to it. These videos are from the San Jose Tech Museum in 2014, Burning Man 2014, Burning Man 2012, and Maker Faire 2013. Search YouTube for "Space Palette" to find other videos. Although my main focus for it is as a casual instrument for others to play, I occasionally perform with it, for example this performance at STEIM in Amsterdam and another open house performance. The oval version first appeared at the Sea of Dreams 2012 New Year's Eve party in San Francisco, and has been enjoyed at a number of events over the last few years. This video of people playing it at Symbiosis is particularly interesting because of the comments that were captured - "I want one in my living room" is one of the most common comments I hear, right behind "I could stay here all night". At 1:42 in that video , Sierra has just finished her own performance, and has a beautiful way of expressing what the Space Palette provides:

Sierra:Some people who are so, who don't have a connection with music necessarily - they're not a singer, they don't play an instrument...
Tim:Well, that's what this is for, those people...
Sierra:they... that.. Wow! I mean, I'm a singer, I'm a dancer, I play instruments, so I've been blessed to have that connection my whole life, but for those who can't cross that barrier, literally they're crossing that barrier right here (as she stretches her arms through the Space Palette to illustrate).

"Crossing that barrier" is such a beautiful metaphor.

Mailing List

If you want to be kept current with Space Palette developments (upcoming showings, and availability of both hardware and software for sale), sign up for the Space Palette mailing list here.


Technical details about the latest version can be found in these slides from a talk about the Space Palette. My code for visuals and music is now implemented as a FreeFrame 1.5 (OpenGL-based) plugin running inside of Resolume (which I highly recommend). Source code and a Windows executable for the core bit of software (that talks to the Microsoft Kinect, recognizes your hands within an arbitrary flat surface with holes, and sends out TUIO/OSC messages that can drive whatever you want to control) is available at


These pictures show the evolution of the Space Palette, beginning with the initial prototypes built with picture frames.

Media Coverage

One of the first was in April 2011 from Mark Mosher's ModulateThis blog. Here's another interview and article about the first version. Mark recently published an update on the most recent version of the Space Palette At Maker Faire 2013, the Space Palette was highlighted in a blog post, and won an Editor's Choice Blue Ribbon.


The 2014 version of the Space Palette is a beautiful wood version made in collaboration with Paul Sable. Many thanks to Fred Lakin for suggestions and sketches that led to the current oval frame design, and many enjoyable discussions about user interfaces and performing visuals. His book Live Graphics Nightly is inspiring and recommended. Thanks to Vivian Wenli Lin for the video recording of my STEIM performance.


My personal site describing other work is You can send email to

"Space Palette" is a trademark of Tim Thompson.