The goal of Unsounding Objects is to create digital musical instruments which use the timbral qualities of pre-existing objects to drive sound synthesis and compositional structure during a musical performance. Non-musical objects are frequently integrated into contemporary percussion performance practice. Through audio feature extraction, these objects can be used as intuitive interfaces for the control of sound synthesis. Percussionists are accustomed to intimate control of timbre using a wide variety of performance techniques and our research will leverage this expert technique in order to allow for the intuitive control of digital musical instruments in a solo percussion composition.
Piezo contact microphones are commonly used to amplify acoustically inert objects for musical performance. For this composition, a platform was built and equipped with piezo-based contact mics. A variety of found objects are placed upon this platform, and the sounds generated as these objects are used to control sound synthesis. The sound of the objects which are miked will not be amplified, but will have perceptually relevant audio features extracted from it.
Many different perceptual audio features are able to be extracted(spectral centroid, roughness, BARK coefficients, harmonic flux, etc.), and perceptual parameters have previously been extracted from live audio in order to control sound synthesis ( cf. Todd Machover, Sparkler). In order to allow real-time control of sound synthesis, it is necessary to determine the fewest possible features which characterize the timbre of an object. The available features will therefore need to be evaluated in order to determine which are the most perceptually relevant depending upon the source object.
The perceptual features will then be mapped to two intermediate mapping layers. The first layer will extract characteristics of the performers’ gestures from the audio analysis and will be developed in tandem with the choice of instrumental gestures used for performance. The second layer will be for collaborative control, in which performers will share joint control of synthesis. The parameters of this layer will be determined by the development of a compositional strategy. The varying timbral characteristics of the objects mean that identical mapping strategies and sound synthesis algorithms will produce different sonic results when played on different objects. One compositional approach will be to develop musical motives which will be transformed by the objects which they are played upon. Percussion compositions frequently employ open instrumentation (Xenakis’ Psappha); we will employ this strategy in that which objects are played is undetermined but mapping strategies and sound synthesis algorithms are predetermined.
One of our primary goals is the interdisciplinary development of the instrument (interface, feature extraction, mapping, sound synthesis) with the performance practice and the composition. To this end, we will hold weekly workshop meetings which will inform our individual research during the course of the project. At the end of our research, we will present conclusions regarding optimal audio feature extraction algorithms, mapping strategies for the control of sound synthesis with perceptual audio features, and a composition for percussion ensemble utilizing non-musical objects for control of sound synthesis and compositional structure.
Preston Beebe is a Composer and Percussionist from Sarasota, Florida. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition, Percussion Performance, and Electronic Music. Preston is currently attending McGill University, Schulich School of Music for Graduate studies in Music Composition. At McGill, he has worked as a studio assistant for the Digital Composition Studio. Preston has studied Composition with Philippe Leroux, Michael Timpson, Paul Reller, and Chihchun Chi-sun Lee; percussion with Robert McCormick and Steve Davis. Along with Ian Hattwick and Zachary Hale, Preston is the recipient of the 2012-2013 CIRMMT grant: Director’s Interdisciplinary Excellence Prize, which we will use to develop a new digital instrument and compose pieces for future performance. In April of 2011, Preston released an album of his acousmatic music entitled, Glisten. Preston has received awards in electronic music from the University of South Florida and McGill University. For the 2012-2013 year, Preston is composer in residence with the FACE Wind Ensemble.
As a percussionist, Preston can be heard performing with the McCormick Percussion Group on the albums, Music For Keyboard Percussions and Concerti For Strings With Percussion Orchestra, distributed through Naxos. In September 2012, with his percussion duo, 4eyes, he released the album entitled mountain.
Zachary Hale is a Montreal based composer and percussionist. He was born and raised in Winter Haven, FL, where he performed with many traveling artists and Broadway shows such as Legally Blonde, South Pacific, Don Rickles, Jerry Lewis, and Connie Francis. After receiving his Bachelor of Music degree in music composition, electronic music, and percussion performance at the University of South Florida he moved to Montréal to study percussion with Aiyun Huang and Fabrice Marandola at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. Zachary’s interest in the use of electronics and technology in relation to the performance practice of a percussionist was developed at McGill thanks to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media, and Technology (CIRMMT). Along with Ian Hattwick and Preston Beebe, Zachary is the recipient of the 2012-2013 CIRMMT grant: Director’s Interdisciplinary Excellence Prize, which they will use to develop a new composition and digital instrument for future performance. Currently Zachary is also the student representative of the CIRMMT Research Axis 6: Expanded Musical Practice. More information on performances and projects can be found at www.zachhalemusic.com.
Ian Hattwick designs and fabricates digital musical instruments and interactive artwork. With a background in improvisation and composition, he is interested in ways in which instruments can encourage performer interaction through hardware design and mapping strategies. Recent projects include the design of wireless interfaces worn by dancers in Les Gestes and software which maps performers’ emotional states to a virtual sonic environments. He holds an MFA in Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology from the University of California, Irvine and a BM in Jazz Composition from the University of Southern California. He is currently a PhD researcher in the Input Devices and Music Interaction Lab at McGill University.