Tag Archives: DMI

Working song and the last dead leftover

“Working song and the last dead leftover” (for amplified string quartet and karlax digital musical instrument) combines the classical string quartet ensemble with electroacoustic sound, which is played (produced and modulated) by a new type of 21st-century electronic musical instrument, known as the karlax.

This new composition was composed for the Penderecki String Quartet, who premiered the new work on 2 June, 2016, at the Perimeter Institute (Waterloo, Ontario). This first performance was part of an engaging concert theme that explored the integration of the string quartet, which is by far one of the most significant instrument combinations of classical music, and innovative music technologies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As a result, at the heart of this concert theme was a meeting between the arts and sciences – old and new – presented at a leading institute for theoretical physics.

In “Working song”, one of my creative goals was to “fracture the acousmatic” (Adrian Moore, 2008). That is to say, my composition supplants the traditions of studio-produced electronic music by the live control of sound synthesised in real time. Unlike the studio tradition, in which sound is “fixed” for future replication in a concert, musical sound is entirely generated anew with each performance of Working song. At the same time, in my composition, I adapt acousmatic techniques and tools, which “allow the creation of sounds that transcend the physical constraints of instrumental and vocal musical practice” (John Young, 2015), to a new form of embodied (gesture-dependent) electronic musical performance.

Two aspects comprise the title of this composition: “working song” and “last dead leftover”. In the case of “working song”, this facet can be understood as both implementing/exploiting features of musical song and music for singing while working (e.g., work chant). The two primary materials (above) are brought together in an effort to showcase a perpetual melody and at the same time, evoke the sonic environment of repetitive, mechanical labour (come un meccanismo di precisione [György Ligeti, 1968]). With respect to the “last dead leftover”, I take a philosophical viewpoint regarding the present-day global population movements. Through my art, I wish to highlight the importance of recognising the humanity of migrants who are labouring to escape civil unrest. Furthermore, in popular media culture (e.g., The Last of Us, The Leftovers), I detect trends that appear to interrogate this humanity – nurturing fears of annihilation (political, economic, social, etc.). Working song was composed in an effort to challenge these fears – calling forth melody from incessant noise, as a metaphor for the inherent humanity of a people, no matter their origins.

For more information and implementations of the karlax, please see:

My Vimeo Karlax “Album”

Karlax developer and manufacturer (and links to the karlax community)


Immortal-machine is my first solo work for the méta-instrument digital musical instrument. The instrument features forty-six discrete pressure-sensing ‘keys’ or touch points, thumb sliders, pivoting hand grips (measuring hand rotation) and elbow ‘ball and socket’ joints (measuring the horizontal and vertical movements of the forearms over an angle of ninety degrees) – fifty-four channels of continuous control data, in total. In composing and performing my composition, I am interested in investigating whether the concept of an ‘immortal machine’ is an appropriate analogy for the human body. Important aspects of Immortal-machine are, on the one hand, a contextualisation of the human body as a hyper-body (‘hyper’ referring to the tradition of the hyperinstrument or metainstrument) and, on the other hand, the drawing out of possible ‘superhuman’ capabilities and higher-level corporeal models through a reinterpretation of the human body in relation to its surrounding environment. My work with the méta-instrument is aimed at furthering my ideas on concurrence and counteraction in digital musical instrument composition.

“Thank you Darryl, for your help re-soldering and calibrating.”


The SonicJumper, which is a gestural controller of my own design, can be classified as a symbolic immersive controller. It was first developed in 2003.

A performer is immersed – so to speak – in his or her own bodily movement. Moreover, he or she does not make contact with any physical device while performing. The impression is that the performer ‘performs’ his or her own body – the human body becomes the instrument.

Various types of movement sensors are attached to the body and measure: bending action of joints such as fingers and knees; acceleration of body parts such as the hands, feet and hips; lifting of the foot; reaching of the arms; directional glances of the head; among other movements. All sensors send out a tiny voltage reading between zero and five volts. A separate unit then converts these voltage readings into MIDI(Musical Instrument Digital Interface) values.

The sensors are held in place using various types of sport braces – stretchable bands of fabric that comfortably fit around the body and do not limit movement. The convertor rests in a belt pouch along with its portable battery supply. One long MIDI cable connects the convertor to a computer.

The sounds of the SonicJumper are entirely synthesised by a computer, thus the performer is able to access the wide-open sound world – anything that can be synthesised or sampled. In this way, the rich timbral possibilities of this digital instrument reveal the potential for an increased level of musical expression. For instance, the potential for musical expression on the SonicJumper is as follows. First, the physical gestures of playing the SonicJumper serve as expressive visual cues to the audience. Second, the performer’s movement instantaneously changes the sound of the instrument-controller. Furthermore, the complexity of the sound reflects the intricacy or vigorousness of the physical gesture.