Lucas Werthein lives in Brooklyn, New York, but his thoughts are never far from the rhythms of his native Brazil. A chance encounter in January allowed him to jump back into its music. Werthein, a graduate of the interactive telecommunications programme at New York University, was visiting friends back home when he met the legendary percussionist Carlinhos Brown. Brown, who comes from Salvador in Bahia, was to perform at Salvador’s Carnival in March, and wanted something to amaze the thousands in attendance. Werthein had just the idea.
He and his collaborator, Kyle McDonald, designed a full bodysuit with 10 embedded piezoelectric drum pads. “Carlinhos would hit his body to describe the sounds he was looking to reproduce,” Werthein says, “so a suit made sense.” As Brown played in front of 100 000 people, the suit – called EletroAxé, for an electronic form of the Bahian musical style – wirelessly transmitted the sounds of traditional Brazilian percussion instruments (bacurinhas, surdos), as well as a few non-traditional ones (lasers, bomb explosions).
Don’t miss the feature “Backyard Genius 2011” in the October 2011 issue of Popular Mechanics (on sale on 19 September) to read about more odd but inspiring creations.