Music for Flesh II

  • Marco Donnarumma - Music for Flesh 2011
  • Marco Donnarumma - Music for Flesh 2011
  • Marco Donnarumma - Music for Flesh 2011

“The world’s most innovative new musical instrument”
Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, Atlanta, US

Music for Flesh II (2011) is a an interactive performance for enhanced body. The piece creates a seamless mediation between human bioacoustics and algorithmic composition using the Xth Sense, a biophysical musical instrument I originally created in 2010 and still perform with today.

I stand in a dark room, hit with two spotlights. When the visitors enter the room the performance begins. During my performance muscle movements and blood flow produce subcutaneous mechanical oscillations, which are nothing but low frequency sound waves. Two microphone sensors capture the sonic matter created by my limbs and send it to a computer.

The computer develops an understanding of my kinetic behaviour by *listening* to the friction of my flesh. Specific gesture, force levels and patterns are identified in real time by the computer; then, according to this information, it manipulates algorithmically the sound of my flesh and diffuses it through an octophonic system.

The computer learns about and interact with the performance: for instance, strong and wide movements repeated for longer than 30 seconds prompt the computer to increase the sound loudness and density of the processed output; a repeated excitement of the left bicep causes a rich vibrato; an abrupt contraction of the right forearm moves the sound across the right side of the sonic field.

By enabling a computer to sense and interact with the muscular sonic potential of human tissues, the work approaches the biological body as a means for computational artistry.

Below you can view a live recording of the performance at The University of Edinburgh, UK, March 2011.

The neural and biological signals that drive the performer’s actions become analogous expressive matter, for they emerge as a tangible haunting soundscape. The border between physical and virtual body is blurred and dissolved; by harvesting pure kinetic energy from corporeal sounds, incarnated gesture and concrete vibrations, the piece actualizes before the audience eyes a visceral and cognitively challenging territory.

The work defines a temporary cognitive time-zone in which the physical space of the performance is augmented, stretched, enlightened, obscured, dominated by a real time reconstruction of the human body primal expressiveness.

Body is no longer silent, and the embodied interaction which was so far kept mute, now acquires a new textural layer, a tangible and profound level of interpretation and representation which can be at the same time intimately experienced by the performer, and audibly and visually externalized in order to embrace the audience.

Technical information

No commercial devices nor software were deployed in this work. The piece is based on the Xth Sense (XS) wearable technology. It consists of portable biosensors and a digital framework for real-time processing of acoustic biosignals, both developed by the author. Muscle fibres and blood vessels produce subcutaneous mechanical oscillations (i.e. acoustic sounds).

These are captured by the XS sensors and fed to a computer in real time. The machine deploys mathematical and learning models so to become aware and interact with the muscular sound of the performer’s body. During this two-way interaction the performer produces the sound material by contracting his limbs and the computer diffuses the processed sounds of the performer’s body through an octophonic audio system.

All sound manipulations, spatialisation, rhythm and structure of the piece are defined in real time only through the physical behaviour of the artist on stage.

Support and awards

The work was developed at the SLE, Sound Lab Edinburgh – the audio research group at The University of Edinburgh, and was kindly supported by the Edinburgh Hacklab and Dorkbot ALBA.

The project was finalized during an Artistic Development Residency at Inspace, Edinburgh. Inspace kindly sponsored the work by providing technical and logistical support, and organizing a public vernissage for the official launch of the project within the artistic research program “Non-Bio Boom”.

The work was awarded a Bursary for “outstanding work” by the BEAM festival, a PRE travel grant, which facilitated a related presentation at ICMC, International Computer Music Conference 2011 and the International grant by Creative Scotland, for a presentation at the KEAMS/SICMF 2011 in Seoul, South Korea.

Additional Information

The use of open source technologies is an integral aspect of the research. The biosensing wearable device was designed and implemented by Marco Donnarumma, with the support of Andrea Donnarumma and Marianna Cozzolino. The Pure Data-based framework for real time analysis and processing of biological sounds was designed and coded by the author on a Linux machine, with inspiring advice by Martin Parker, Sean Williams, Owen Green Jaime Oliver, and Andy Farnell.


Sound engineering Kevin Hay and Brendan Doyle; light design and recording Brendan Doyle, The University of Edinburgh, 2011. Pictures courtesy of Mark Daniels and Dimitris Patrikios.

Project Keywords

bio, biosensing technologies, body, MMG; augmented body, gesture, gestural control of music, kinetic energy, theatrical performance; intimacy, sonic vocabulary; real time, audio processing, gesture tracking, pure data.

Selected performances

  • Hyphen Hub Salon, Red Door Space, New York City, October 2014
  • Spectrum NYC, Dark Circuits Festival, New York City, October 2014
  • Olematute kylade projekt / Project for Non-existent Villages, Tartu, Estonia, July 2014
  • Sónar+D / Opening Music Hack Day, Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, June 2014
  • Arte Performatica y Tecnologia, ZonAutonoma, Puebla, Mexico, April 2014
  • 2° Encuentro Internacional de Arte Sonoro, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, April 2014
  • STEIM Concert of Bodies, Studio for Electro Instrumental Music, Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 2014
  • Experimental Intermedia, hosted by Phil Niblock, New York City, NY, US, March 2014
  • ICT & Art Connectm Watermans Art Centre, London, UK, January 2014
  • TransitioMX Biomediaciones, CENART, Foro de las Artes, Mexico City, Mexico, September 2013
  • DA Fest, National Academy of Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria, September 2013
  • Kontejner, Sound Art Incubator, Mocvara Gallery, Zagreb, Croatia, September 2013
  • STEIM Summer Party, Studio for Electro Instrumental Music, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 2013
  • POLAND Tour: Falanster, Wroclaw, PL, March 2013
  • POLAND Tour: Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, PL, March 2013
  • POLAND Tour: Art&Science Meeting, Łaźnia Center for Contemporary Art, Gdansk, PL, March 2013
  • SARC Lunchtime Concert, Sonic Arts Research Center, Belfast, NIR, October 2012
  • Robots and Avatars/KIBLA Festival, KID Kibla, Maribor, SL, October 2012
  • ISEA International Symposium on Electronic Arts, Albuquerque, New Mexico, US, September 2012
  • Robots and Avatars UK Selection, Europe House, London, UK, September 2012
  • Live Interfaces: Performance, Art, Music, ICSRiM, University of Leeds, UK, September 2012
  • Turing Festival/Music Hack Day Scotland, Summerhall, Edinburgh, UK, August 2012
  • FILE Hypersonica, SESC-SP, Sao Paulo, BR, July 2012
  • Body/Controlled: BioInterfacing, LEAP, Berlin, GER, July 2012
  • USA Tour: NIME Conference, Michigan University, Ann Arbor, MI, May 2012
  • USA Tour:, Gowanus Institute Space, New York, NY, May 2012
  • USA Tour: Harvestworks, New York, NY, US, May 2012
  • USA Tour: American University, Washington, DC, US, May 2012
  • USA Tour: They, Who Sound, Avant Garden, Houston, Texas, US, May 2012
  • Liveness, Gesture, Prosthesis, Metaphor, CENART, Centro Nacional de las Artes, Mexico DF, April 2012
  • INTER/actions, Bangor University, Bangor, UK, April 2012
  • Dialogues, Edinburgh Science Festival, Inspace, Edinburgh, UK, April 2012
  • BEAM Night, Cafe OTO, London, April 2012
  • Sonorities Festival, SARC, Belfast, IRL, March 2012
  • Finals Guthman New Musical Instrument Competition, First Prize, Georgia Tech, Atlanta, USA, February 2012
  • NetaudioLX Festival, Cinema S. Jorge, Lisbon, Portugal, January 2012
  • Dimensions in Sound, CultureLab Newcastle, UK, November 2011
  • Piksel Festival, Studio USF, Bergen, Norway, November 2011
  • 7° Simposio UNAM, ENAP/UNAM, Mexico City, November 2011
  • Noise=Noise, nnnnn, London, August 2011
  • 4th Pure Data Convention, Bauhaus Universitat, Weimar, Germany, August 2011
  • Kernel Festival, Desio, Italy, July 2011
  • BEAM Festival, Uxbridge University, London, June 2011
  • Linux Audio Conference, Aula Maxima, NUI Maynooth, May 2011
  • eXperimontag, Madame Claude, Berlin, April 2011
  • Non-Bio Boom | Xth Sense, Inspace (School of Informatics and New Media Scotland), Edinburgh, UK, March 2011
  • Grind Sight Open Eye, The Spectacular Café Diablo, Edinburgh, UK, March 2011
  • Pure Data Mini Conference, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, March 2011
  • The University of Edinburgh, Alison House, Edinburgh, UK, March 2011