Emute Lab at NIME 2020

Posted by Chris Kiefer on June 26, 2020

:::: Emute Lab at NIME 2020 ::::

Emute Lab members have a number of contributions to New Interfaces for Musical Expression 2020, taking place online in late July. NIME is an annual conference on musical expression and the design of new musical instruments. It’s the natural home of many of our research projects, which is why we begin with a lab report on our activities.

Instrumental Investigations at the Emute Lab Thor Magnusson, Alice Eldridge and Chris Kiefer

This lab report discusses recent projects and activities of the Experimental Music Technologies Lab at the University of Sussex. The lab was founded in 2014 and has contributed to the development of the field of new musical technologies. The report introduces the lab’s agenda, gives examples of its activities through common themes and gives short description of lab members’ work. The lab environment, funding income and future vision are also presented.

The remaining contributions centre around a big research topic in Emute Lab, feedback instruments and musicianship. Halldór Úlfarsson collaborates on two submissions, firstly a paper:

Sculpting the behaviour of the Feedback-Actuated Augmented Bass Halldór Úlfarsson and Adam Pultz Melbye (Sonic Arts Research Centre, Belfast)

This paper describes physical and digital design strategies for the Feedback-Actuated Augmented Bass – a self-contained feedback double bass with embedded DSP capabilities. A primary goal of the research project is to create an instrument that responds well to the use of extended playing techniques and can manifest complex harmonic spectra while retaining the feel and sonic fingerprint of an acoustic double bass. While the physical configuration of the instrument builds on similar feedback string instruments being developed in recent years, this project focuses on modifying the feedback behaviour through low-level audio feature extractions coupled to computationally lightweight filtering and amplitude management algorithms. We discuss these adaptive and time-variant processing strategies and how we apply them in sculpting the system’s dynamic and complex behaviour to our liking.

The Augmented Double Bass (listen with headphones) from Adam Pultz Melbye on Vimeo.

Halldór also collaborates on a performance.

Dual/Duel/Duet/for/with/halldorophone Nicole Robson (Queen Mary, University of London) and Halldór Úlfarsson

The halldorophone is a cello-like, feedback instrument, developed over the past decade by Halldór Úlfarsson. The instrument is well-established in experimental music circles and gaining wider recognition thanks to its use by composer and cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir in film scores, including her Oscar nominated music for Joker (2019). The halldorophone utilises a simple system, whereby the vibration of each string is detected by a pickup, amplified and routed to a speaker embedded in the back of the instrument. By adding gain to individual strings in the feedback loop, the instrument’s response can become rapidly complex, potentially spinning out of control. While every musical performance of a piece is unique in some way and contingent on its particular moment and situation in time, the unstable nature of the halldorophone exacerbates this condition. Players describe the halldorophone as ‘unpredictable’, ‘very much alive’ and as having ‘its own ideas’, even tiny changes to their body position in performance might produce unexpected effects . In this NIME premiere for the instrument, cellist Nicole Robson will perform a piece for a new digitally endowed halldorophone, and the title of the piece – Dual/Duel/Duet – acknowledges the active role of the instrument in shaping the composition and performance.

Sister 1

Next up is a paper on complexity and the behaviour of feedback instruments.

Shaping the behaviour of feedback instruments with complexity-controlled gain dynamics Chris Kiefer, Dan Overholt (Aalborg University, Copenhagen), Alice Eldridge

Feedback instruments offer radical new ways of engaging with instrument design and musicianship. They are defined by recurrent circulation of signals through the instrument, which give the instrument ‘a life of its own’ and a ’stimulating uncontrollability’. Arguably, the most interesting musical behaviour in these instruments happens when their dynamic complexity is maximised, without falling into saturating feedback. It is often challenging to keep the instrument in this zone; this research looks at algorithmic ways to manage the behaviour of feedback loops in order to make feedback instruments more playable and musical; to expand and maintain the ‘sweet spot’. We propose a solution that manages gain dynamics based on measurement of complexity, using a realtime implementation of the Effort to Com- press algorithm. The system was evaluated with four musicians, each of whom have different variations of string-based feedback instruments, following an autobiographical design approach. Qualitative feedback was gathered, showing that the system was successful in modifying the behaviour of these instruments to allow easier access to edge transition zones, sometimes at the expense of losing some of the more compelling dynamics of the instruments. The basic efficacy of the system is evidenced by descriptive audio analysis. This paper is accompanied by a dataset of sounds collected during the study, and the open source software that was written to support the research.

Finally, we’ll be running a workshop on Feedback Musicianship.

Workshop Aim: Exchange and generation of strategies, concepts and practices of feedback musicianship – building community, new musical collaborations Feedback purposefully utilised in performance has long been an interesting musical endeavour; however, integrating such expertise into the design and development of instruments and interactive systems, which balance autonomy and expressivity, playability and musicality remains a challenge. Examples include extended traditional instruments, modular synthesisers, feedback incorporated into acoustic resonating bodies, new algorithmic techniques for managing feedback loops, etc. The workshop will conclude with an evening concert (online informal jam session) in the form of improvisation with feedback instruments, open to all participants. Identifying the importance of musical feedback in interaction, instruments, and systems, this workshop focuses on the development of instruments for innovative interactions with feedback in music, from designs for feedback instruments themselves, to novel multi-sensory interaction with feedback incorporated into augmented instruments and systems.

You can see more details and sign up here: