The Silent Percussion Project (SPP) owes its name to a spirit that percussion practice has attained in contemporary music: the unbounded nature of its sound material, the construction of “meta- instruments” out of simple elements, the performer’s awareness of its own body, the visual and spatial character of its gestures and the way in which these gestures inform us about the sound itself.
The instruments that this research project is producing are silent because they don’t produce sound on themselves; the computer does so when watching the gestures we perform with them. On the contrary, all interfaces are as silent as possible to avoid having sounds that interfere with the sounds of the computer.
The SPP consists in building a set of computer musical instruments that use human gestures to control sounds, composing and performing with them in an attempt to re-incorporate the body in music performance practice.
The SPP is a response to the question: what kinds of musical instruments does live computer music performance need? To answer this question it researches the aesthetic qualities and language of non- live electronic music, action-perception systems and new media theory to experiment new ways of bridging between gesture and sound. In that sense, the SPP looks to address the problem of sound control by introducing new sensing techniques that take advantage of our sensorimotor capabilities.
The control of our hands and voices is a proof of the tacit knowledge and ability we have in controlling complex interdependent multidimensional systems. The instruments in the SPP build on our lifelong experience in acting and perceiving in the environment, therefore recognizing humans as embodied beings.
Computers are only recently capable of processing video signals at rates that allow for fine control of variables. As temporal and spatial resolution increases, the cost of better quality equipment continues to drop. Not considering the computer, the controllers (including the camera) cost a little over $ 200.
Using a high frame rate video camera as the main sensing technology of the project, these instruments challenge the traditional view of the musical instrument as a stable timbre that allows for variation in pitch, duration and dynamics. Quite on the contrary, they fully explore the computer’s ability to capture, synthesize and transform sounds, reaching beyond the note paradigm of traditional music.
The instruments analyze shapes made by hands and transform them into multiple streams of continuous data. These streams, or variables, are directly applied to sound control, avoiding the key paradigm. Continuous data is analyzed to extract discrete features of the signals. The variables resulting from analysis are interdependent, that is, changes in one result in changes in the others, creating complex systems that the performer learns by experimentation.
The ability of the computer medium to open the sound world has been well explored in the context of tape music and even laptop performances, but not as much with gestural interfaces. While tape composition allows for a high degree of control with abundant processing resources, it is a concern of tape music concerts that loudspeaker-only concerts usually fail to reach wider audiences. The SPP addresses this concern.
A central aspect in the construction of these instruments is that the creative process involves composing for them. This engages the composer / luthier in a dialectic relationship where aesthetic needs transform the instrument and instrumental features offer new expressive opportunities.
The SPP requires hybrid profiles, composer-performer-programmers. Instead of searching standardized controllers it builds highly personal instruments. A composition might imply a new instrument and viceversa. Open source software and web documentation is being produced to allow for their construction beyond the original creator.
The Silent Drum is an open or transparent drum with an elastic surface, which adapts to the shape of the hand that presses it. This surface is analyzed by a video camera and the data resulting from that analysis is used to control sound events.
The MANO Controller consists of a black rectangular surface, which is sensed with a video camera. The computer algorithm analyzes the image looking for hands and extracting from them the most relevant parameters, which are then used to control sound.
These instruments are open source and gradually being replicated.
WORKS: Silent Construction Series
These sound performance pieces consist of a set of concatenated environments, in the sense that they are gestural sound spaces. Each environment presents multidimensional fields of possibilities that can be explored by the performer.
Human gestures transform pre-recorded and synthetic sounds, creating a fully embodied live electronic sound world and providing the audience with a large amount of gestural information. The performer controls sound morphologies and transitions through material.
The compositional process is not strictly the design and organization of sounds, but is, or ought to be, a composition of environments or sound spaces that are brought to a concrete morphology by performance gestures. It is the design of the multiple instruments that inhabit this controller. The choice of tracking strategy and sound mappings are compositional acts. The Silent Construction pieces are composed instruments.
Although there is an overall structure that determines how the instruments change over time and therefore their performative possibilities. In the actual performance, a great deal is undetermined, sometimes as a feature of the instrument’s behavior design and always due to small or improvisatory variations in the performers gestures and choices.
Current works include:
Silent Construction 2 (2010) for MANO Controller (Pd/GEM + externals)