Music for Flesh II
2011 | Interactive music performance for enhanced body (Xth Sense technology)
Music for Flesh II (Marco Donnarumma, 2011) is a seamless mediation between human biosonic potential and algorithmic composition. The piece is based on the Xth Sense, named the 2012 “world’s most innovative new musical instrument” by the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology (US).
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.
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.
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. This 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.
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.
Below you can view a live recording of the performance at The University of Edinburgh, UK, March 2011.
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, evolutionary, and learning models so to become aware and interact with the muscular sound of the performer’s body (kinesis). During this two-way interaction the performer produces the sound material by contracting his limbs and the computer diffuse the processed sounds of the performer’s body through an octophonic audio system. All sound manipulations, spatialization, rhythm and structure of the piece are defined in real time by the only 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.
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.
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.
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