Trio for percussion, motion-tracking performance system and robot-controlled pipe organ

In recent years I have worked extensively what might be called conducting sound in space. I have developed motion tracking software that allows me as a performer to use physical gestures to control sounds and their placement within a performance space. This work began with a project involving interactive dance which focused on creating sound environments that could be controlled and influenced by dancers’ movement. The idea gradually developed into a real-time composition system for my own use.

Parallel to this work I have explored the idea of algorithmic composition, a sort of artificial musical intelligence. In 2012 I presented a work called ”Everyone Talks about the Weather”, a site specific sound installation created for the Klais organ in the Aarhus Symphony Hall. The piece took form when I discovered that the Klais organ could be controlled by an external computer. I developed a computer program that generates organ music according to musical rules. I have defined the rules, but the generative algorithms continuously generate and transform the work without human intervention. Weather data from the Meteostat-10 weather satellite is fed directly into the computer program and used to control the algorithms.

Trio for percussion, motion-tracking performance system and robot-controlled pipe organ combines the two ideas described above: gestural control of electronic sounds in space and generative music for pipe organ. Although there are some through-composed sections, much of the work is improvised. The organ part is played directly by a computer programmed to compose organ music in real time, a sort of composing/improvising robot. The piece is in 18 overlapping sections. Generally speaking, the human performers have an idea of how the robot-controlled organ might perform in each section, but they cannot predict exactly what the robot will play. In turn the human performers are free to react to each other and to the robot performer. Unpredictable occurrences are part of the game. The percussion part is performed “unplugged.” The electronic part is performed using a motion-tracking system that allows the performer to control sounds and their placement in space using a 12-channel sound system. At times the composer interacts directly with the robot composer by means of hand gestures or using a conventional keyboard.

Trio was premiered on May 9, 2015 at the Aarhus Symphony Hall in connection with the annual SPOR Festival. The work and this performance were supported by the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus as part of the academy’s artistic research program.