Academic Confetti

By
November 10, 2008

Mills students will soon have the chance to hear, see, and play the Reactable, a new interactive instrument which was featured in the Icelandic singer Bj”rk’s last world tour, “Volta.” The leader of the team of researchers in Barcelona, Spain that developed the Reactable, Dr. Sergi Jord, will be on campus between Nov. 17 and 21. His instrument will be installed at the Center for Contemporary Music in the Music Building, where students and faculty will develop new pieces for it to be presented in a concert that will take place at the Art Museum on Friday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m.

I met Sergi in Berlin in 2001, when we were both invited to lead workshops on making music using computer networks. While most composers and many musicians these days use computers as part of their production process, this is still mostly a solo activity, and we were asked to share our work that involves musicians collaborating with networked computers to make live music.

Sergi describes himself as a “digital luthier,” and his dream was to create new instruments that several musicians could play intuitively at the same time. In 2005 the Reactable was debuted at the International Computer Music Conference in Barcelona, and I was commissioned to make a piece for it. A video of that performance, which involved one Reactable in Barcelona playing with another connected via the internet in Linz, Austria, can be seen at my website www.cbmuse. com/look/teleson.mov.

The concept of Sergi’s instrument is that several simultaneous performers share complete control over the instrument by moving and rotating physical objects on a luminous, round table surface. By moving and relating these objects, which represent components of a classic modular synthesizer, users can create complex and dynamic electronic sounds in a kind of tangible synthesizer. The instrument works with a camera situated beneath the table that continuously analyzes the surface, tracking the player’s fingertips and the nature, position and orientation of physical objects that are distributed on its surface. A projector, also underneath the table, draws dynamic animations on its surface, providing a visual feedback of the activity and the main characteristics of the sounds produced by the audio synthesizer. Pictures and videos of how to play the instrument can be found at www. reactable.com .

On Monday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ensemble Room of the Music Building, Sergi will lecture on the Reactable and on his work as coordinator of Interactive Systems at the Music Technology Group of the Audiovisual Institute of Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. Anyone attending will have a chance to see and play the Reactable. During the rest of the week students and faculty will be composing and rehearsing with the instrument in preparation for the Friday evening concert.

The residency and events are supported by the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills, which is devoted to new and electronic music and has been training students at Mills in electronic music technologies as part of the Mills Music Department since 1966. Come out to these Reactable events and share in the fun!


Academic Confetti was published on November 10, 2008 in Opinions

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