McDonalds Netherlands has something new on its menu: McTrax, an interactive placemat that doubles as a recording controller. If they don’t get ketchup smeared all over it first, customers can make music with the placemat, as McTrax uses conductive ink and Bluetooth to control a custom smartphone recording app. And as the inevitable promo clip shows, McTrax is both fascinating and a little cringe-inducing at the same time.
Developed by ad agency TBWA\Neboko and tech developer This Page Amsterdam, the app provides packaged audio loops, sounds, synths and effects, all controlled by the placemat via a small battery-powered circuit board that is triggered by 26 touch points on the mat itself. The controls in turn allow users to play the loops, throw on effects, alter the tempo and record voices as well via the phone.
It’s not the first time that interactive paper has been used to control music—DJ QBert turned the entire package of his 2015 LP, The Extraterrestria, into a massive paper DJ controller, with results that have a bit more indie cred than McDonalds’ effort.
But to be fair, QBert needed a Kickstarter campaign to make that happen; to be able to mass-produce a concept like this on such a broad scale, much less provide it to the public for (presumably) free, that’s something only an international corporation like the fast-food giant could pull off.
Also, there’s something to be said about how this further demystifies and democratizes the recording process, if only because it introduces people to it—and likely very young people at that. While the video is full of Millennial hipsters, I’ll bet that the vast majority of McTrax users were eight-year-olds who made a racket until mom and dad demanded their smartphones back.