Noise Machine Proposal

‘Taking the instrument out of the music’

I am looking at exploring the ways that one can isolate the human element in instrumental performance by removing the instrument (literal mechanism) from the equation and looking, instead, at the human element (biological mechanism). To that end, I will seek to focus on an instrument that I love a great deal, the violin, and isolate a major part of the human element in performing thereon. I will take a violin bow, attach a multitude of sensors on it, and have a computer interpret that data to create noises that are linked to the movement of the bow. Ideally, the noises will vary depending on the speed at which the bow is moved, the light levels some sensors pick up, and the relative position of the bow. I would like it to remain silent when placed on a hook on the wall (the hook will not damage the wall) in the Ellis Gallery and create making noises the moment it is picked up.

My goal is to inspire some sort of reflection into the movements of a string player and how the factor in to performance. Many listeners and even classical afficionados will claim that the most ‘human’ element of playing a string instrument is the vibrato, but I want to challenge that assertion by focusing on the gross motor movements required in manipulating a bow. (After all, vibrato on strings does not make sound on its own, whereas moving the bow across strings does.) I would love to also use this as a pedagogical tool in my classroom in the future to demonstrate how much more significant our right hands (as string players) are than our left hands.

My influences for this project where the “Violano Virtuoso” machine we viewed briefly in class, this mechanized violin piece by an OSU art student in 2005, as well as these two performances by the Alban Berg quartet and a former colleague of mine, Wells Cunningham. I like the concept of both incorporating thoroughly alien mechanisms to the incredibly antiquated machine that is the violin bow as well as also playing on the fact that the violin and its bow are essentially anachronisms in a modern world, being developed and perfected hundreds of years before most other instruments saw major technical modernizations. I also have always loved watching string players play and enjoyed the beautiful motions of their right hands more so than the tiny, specific motions of their left hands. I have to credit Abby as well for helping develop a concrete direction for my machine and giving the spark of inspiration by ‘taking the instrument out.’

I will require whatever electronic sensors are available in the ArtFab lab, possibly an Arduino or similar interface, as well as either Max/MSP or PureData to interpret the information and create noise. I will also require a bow, hook, and some speakers as I dislike using laptop speakers. This will most likely be tethered to a laptop in the gallery though I’d love to be able to use something less bulky to generate sounds.

I plan to first create a list of what available sensors are in the fabrication lab and what sort of data they collect. Then, I want to decide which sensors to employ and where best to place the sensors on the bow to collect this data. Once this has been accomplished, I will adhere the sensors to the bow and test them to see if their locations are desirable. After I have decided on final sensors and their locations, I will develop a patch on the computer to interpret and manipulate this data. Finally, I will join the two parts of the project together via some sort of interfacing device (a la Teensy/Arduino).

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