Novel percussion instrument co-developed by ECE professor Sidney Fels to debut at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver

A unique presentation at this year’s SIGGRAPH—the world’s leading computer graphics conference which opens next week in Vancouver—may well inspire future digital content creators and multimedia artists.

Engineer and musician Victor Zappi will play a short rock/electronic piece on August 10 as part of his presentation on the Hyper Drumhead – a futuristic percussion instrument that he co-developed with Sidney Fels, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UBC.

The Hyper Drumhead is like a virtual drum set—no drumsticks are required.

“The Hyper Drumhead is a virtual percussion surface that you can excite by touch. You draw shapes on the touch screen surface and you modify them to change the timbre and create all sorts of unique sound effects,” says Fels, an expert known for his work on new interfaces for musical expression and 3D displays.

To play the instrument, a musician can choose to load pre-recorded sound files into a connected computer, or he can inject live inputs such as vocals or guitar. Each audio source is assigned to a specific area on the screen. Changing the dimensions of the shape changes the pitch or other aspects of the music, and the musician can remix and layer different tracks to create a complete music piece.

Click here to view a demo of the Hyper Drumhead

Conceptually, the technology is not too different from physical drum sets, where the shape and size of the drum largely determines the sound, with larger drums creating warmer tones and smaller drums producing brighter, sharper tones. But what makes it different is that the computer does a simulation of the physics of the movement of sound across the virtual drumhead. This allows any type of surface and sound to be explored.

An early version of the Hyper Drumhead won first place in 2018 at the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, a worldwide competition aimed at discovering new ideas in musical instruments.

“There is a learning curve, but it’s quite intuitive. Even people who have no musical training can learn to play the Hyper Drumhead,” says Zappi, who’s currently an assistant professor in the College of Arts, Media and Design at Northeastern University.

SIGGRAPH, the most important conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques where companies such as Disney Research, Nvidia and Facebook Reality Labs present their work, runs August 8 through 11.

EDITORS: Victor Zappi and Sidney Fels are available to speak to media about their invention. For more information, contact

Dr. Sidney Fels
Dr. Victor Zappi