Current Master’s Research Projects

Research is a systematic investigation of some aspect of thought or reality which leads to transferable knowledge. In artistic research, this knowledge, embedded in compositional or performative work, may be expressed through diverse media, including but not confined to written text.

Wilf Amis (1st-year master’s)

After the Twelve Tones: Using Post-12-TET Tunings in Electronic Music

Since 12-Tone Equal Temperament has been enforced as a tuning standard globally, there have been, in all kinds of pitch/harmony-based musics, considerable barriers to entry for any musicians interested in exploring alternatives, from the lack of education at young ages, to the incompatibility of the likes of guitars and pianos.

In my own research I address the incompatibility of electronic instruments and softwares. This is done directly through the building of synthesizers, and the writing of text guides to some of the existing possibilities for electronic musicians, plus the research also encompasses the development of new tuning systems, as well as compositions and performances using these systems.

There will be written a manifesto justifying the dismantling of the 12-TET hegemony, and the diversification of tuning. The manifesto will attempt to reframe the “xenharmonic”/”alternative tuning” movement as “Post-12-TET”: a turn away from Harry Partch’s ideal of appropriating historically and geographically other cultures, and towards a movement motivated by an interest in the future. Post-12-TET tuning practice, rather, encompasses the movement from Helmholtz onwards as a modern phenomenon, and one that will continue to grow and shape the future of experimental and popular music.

Margherita Brillada (1st-year master’s)

Sound Art as an Expression of Social Relatedness

When trying to outline the evolution and ramifications of socio-political commitment, especially when connected with musical experimentation and new technologies relating to one’s ethical and aesthetic conception of sound, I argue that the conscious composer must respond to inherent contradictions in contemporary society. Looking at the ancient Greek πολιτικήπόλις and τέχνη, that is “art that pertains to the city”, every artistic fact can be a de facto ‘political’ one. By this notion the sense of music exists in its being res publica; moreover, with a firm trust in the communicative scope of music I have come to designate a space of musical critique to artistically express an array of delicate social topics. 

Thinking about the composer-audience relationship and to whom my compositions are addressed, the direction taken by my project aims to diffuse strong social messages through powerful channels of communication. Exploring the rich history of Radio as an artistic medium and extending my scope of influence to also include the new networks, as promised by the exponential development of new media such as podcasts and music-streaming platforms, I plan to understand how its use can impact socio-political life. My research is driven by the vast forms of expressions that can be diffused by this media such as radio drama and audio documentary. In doing so I embrace listening as a cultural practice. Lastly, I try to envisage and re-think radio as a space of experimentation and Radio/Sound Art as an expression of social relatedness.

In light of this, my research aims to produce a cycle of electroacoustic compositions that can be a source of reflection on social issues, such as immigration and social integration. Doing this allows for potentially bringing a greater level of awareness to audiences, whereas my compositional approach, characterised by the presence of numerous intertwined sounds in multiple layers, finds meaning and definition in the total immersion in spatialized sounds. For this reason I intend to work with multi-channel systems and audio-visual installations with the aim of exhibiting them in social contexts related to the subject matter.

Francesco Di Maggio (1st-year master’s Instruments & Interfaces)

Drawing Inferences: Designing Interactive Music Systems for Real-time Composition

My research at the Institute of Sonology aims to design an interactive music system capable of capturing, analysing and modelling the incoming musical data created by the musician, and use them as musical agents to drive the live performance in real-time. Due to its interactive nature, the system will establish a ‘feedback loop’ between the performer interpreting an open, graphically notated musical score, and the digital sound processes running on the computer. The outcomes will be recorded and, after a phase of troubleshooting, they will be performed by trained musicians in the form of live exhibition.

Having approached live electronics where the music produced and the electronic processes were both written in a precise, linear manner, I felt limited by the expression possible with the performer reading the score and the synchronisation of the sound processes. The initial need to achieve greater control of these musical aspects gradually shifted in favour of more natural and even unexpected musical outcomes. The use of graphic scores and reactive systems started to nourish a sense of openness to non-linearity, welcoming the possibility of accepting human ‘failures’ and system errors as part of the process. 

Thanks to the close connection with STEIM and using its mentorship and expertise, I will be able to sketch the musical insights and build the necessary bridges in the form of custom hardware and software: motion tracking, pitch- and gesture-following techniques will be used for selecting, mapping and synchronising continuous sound processes to gestures. On the basis of these premises, new musical inferences will be drawn in the form of mixed-music compositions for instruments and live electronics, where the emphasis will be placed on defining compositional strategies for real-time human-computer interaction. 

Giulia Francavilla (1st-year master’s)

Immersive Sound: Between the Real and the Virtual Place

The overarching focus of my research centres upon immersive listening. I am investigating some of its possible ramifications through theoretical research and sound composition.

Simulation: omni-present in human history, is a practice that finds its source material in the memory of the involved individuals and, by a process of re-elaboration, builds on new perspectives of the perception of the “real”. From that emerges a space of research that focuses on understanding a given surrounding, with respect to its meaning, its possible abstraction, or the manipulation of its perception. Nevertheless, the practice of re-elaborating the external world has never be more related to the internal.

It is at this junction where my interest is based, namely between the practice of simulation and manipulation of the sonic environment as a way to investigate relationships between the self and the surrounding, in a possible process of mutual expansion. Within this perspective, a connotation of virtuality takes form when referring to a sonic composed environment. The space between the virtual and the real contain multiple potential relationships and strategies of composition. I plan to investigate into this transitional space through sound manipulations of sources belonging to the surrounding environment. Having as sonic framework the natural phenomena, I am interested in underlining its ancient presence in human memory.

Tornike Karchkhadze (1st-year master’s)

Sound Synthesis and Music Generation with Artificial Neural Networks

My research at the Institute of Sonology is sound synthesis and music generation with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). My focus is using AI and ML with most low-level means of sound, like digital audio samples (either time and/or frequency domain), seeing audio as a database.  Music and sound in general have a long history of applying computing technology, the roots of which can be traced back to the origins of electronic music from the beginning of the 20th century and even before. Today, computer software is used to deal with all the basic aspects of music and sound – among other things – recording, sound synthesis and design, composition, and music programming. These techniques have been around for a long time already and are quite familiar to professional musicians and amateurs alike. However, new developments in AI and ML, particularly the recently re-enhanced Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) have now entered into the field. ANN’s data-driven approach to music and sound is totally unprecedented and unconventional in comparison to existing approaches – this has huge implications and promises to change the game. In short, Artificial Neural Networks are already blurring lines between music composition, sound synthesis, and audio generation, completely opening up new horizons for experimenting, as well as conducting artistic and scientific research.

In response to these developments, the purpose of my project is to create a software tool for audio generation with ANN. The tool will be capable of listening and learning music, as well as whole databases of any audio. In doing this, ANN will acquire ‘knowledge’ and generate sound in response to input material, simulating and mixing the musical and/or sonic characteristics. One of my interests however will be to experiment with ANN to mix input materials that will hopefully give insightful outcomes for composing. From this, my main research question examines the extent to which a sample-by-sample approach (i.e. waveform as database) can work and give ‘meaningful’ results. In other words, how can the capabilities of ANN render high-level abstractions, like musical meaning or representative sound content, from low-level sound essentials.

Aleksandar Koruga (1st-year master’s)

Compositional Spaces

The goal of my research is to find a framework of artistic expression starting from a reinterpretation of Xenakis’s Symbolic Music theory. The latter aim will first involve making a redefinition of time and duration in compositional space. And by taking into account an independent time measure I intend to extend Xenakis’s preposition regarding uniqueness; thus enabling a different framework for the relationships between amplitude, frequency and time as fundamental descriptors of a musical system.

Secondly, by inferring heuristics on such systems I intend to use and implement this theory as a lens through which I will compose and describe my own musical material. The objective of this enquiry is to have a system of mathematical descriptors, which can be used and related to functional concepts in live performance and composition.

The potential outcome of this research then is not to realize an all-encompassing mechanism but rather to create a series of musical works exploring possible relationships within a given context of constraints.

Kamilė Rimkutė (1st-year master’s)

Listening Inside the Network of the Brain

My research focuses on network systems, aspects of universality and their applicability in artistic approaches. Network theories are widely used by scientists in many fields, such as neuroscience, mathematics, sociology and many other areas of study. Currently, I am merging two of my major passions into one holistic concept, that is, the science of the human brain and sound. For the most part this means I am researching functional brain connectivity, its visualisation using graph theory and sonification vis-a-vis software and electronics. I am delving into human-computer interaction as a reaction to the presence of these phenomena in modern society, as well as examining human brain interactivity for the purpose of raising awareness about the most mysterious organ in the human body. Based on the neurofeedback method, where subjects are expected to change their neural activity in response to real-time displays of brain activity, it can be postulated that humans have far more control and influence on their own mind that they usually believe.

Interactions between the brain’s two hemispheres, its different networks and neural network interconnectivity can serve as a hierarchical structure for systematic musical compositions, using graph theory as one of the intermediate tools for structural analysis of the brain. 

Keywords: complex systems, small-world networks, hierarchical modular networks, non-linear systems, stochastic processes, connectome, functional connectivity, graph theory.

Mihalis Shammas (1st-year master’s, Instruments & Interfaces)

Primitive Electronic / Materiality in Creative Tools

Creative tools are the objects through which we explore ideas and emotions, gently sculpting them into form as we project them into the outside world. These tools are both the medium and the channel that guides this inchoate information from the subconscious to the conscious in the process of creation. In music, we call these instruments.

More often than not, creative tools, like most objects, are man-made and have evolved through time to thoroughly follow contemporary technology. In this sense, they can be viewed — as well as the rest of the technical world — as a constant and continuous manifestation of knowledge. Borrowing Lyotard’s distinction (in The postmodern Condition) between “narrative” and “scientific” forms of knowledge, a dualitythat characterizes the shift from the pre-industrial to the industrial era, we will form a theoretical context where creative tools may be deduced to symbolic combinations, either conflicting or complementary, of these two conceptual spheres. In their narrative/scientific nature, they constitute technology that is created to produce stories. In this framework of thought, they can be examined and constructively analyzed in terms of their architecture, their materiality, their ways of interaction with human players and eventually — and most importantly — the creative potentials they contain. On this basis, my hardware research and development will try to assimilate a blend of primitive and electronic technologies into one single object, in an effort to extract the essence of each realm’s creative attributes. In the design of such a “hybrid” instrumental apparatus, the interaction interface could be seen as a combination of a “gestural system of effort” with a “gestural system of control” (as described by Baudrillard  in The System of Objects). This structure ought to be material yet its technology transparent; a visible, exposed and large architecture that can be visually deconstructed into its component parts and thoroughly comprehended. This is a search for a technology that has a physical substance and a bold presence in space; that can physically blend with a performer and be communicated visually and emotionally to an audience, at the same time bypassing the limitations imposed by its own materiality.

Mai Sukegawa (1st-year master’s)

Audience as Art: Interactive Audiovisual Work to Be Completed by the Audience

Relationships between art works and audiences have been questioned by modern artists and philosophers. Challenges to these paradigms led to the occurrence of interactive art and relational art, where audiences can participate and not just wait for works to bring an effect. However, it can be said that there is still room for questioning the role audiences play in this context, specifically whether or not they are acting on their own initiative. In connection to this, my research aims to define what influences an audience’s behaviour. At this point, I suggest there are five main points to consider: multisensory, interactiveness, embodiment, subjectivity (as described by Paul Valery in “Œuvres” and “Cahiers”), as well as ambiguity or openness (as referenced by Umberto Eco in “The Open Works”). Moreover, because of the development of technology multisensory work has become a standard in contemporary art, most often being used in visual and auditory work. However, an obstacle to audience participation in this field often occurs when visual and auditory elements are imbalanced or even disconnected; as this makes audiences feel less engaged.
To resolve this issue I have hypothesised that there are two main approaches to interacting with an audience: relational and immersive interaction. Relational interaction means that audience’s participations and actions are necessary as the element of a work. On the other hand, immersive work directly involves audiences and can sometimes cause cross-modal perception, where an audience may experience an illusion of touch, smell or taste. Additionally, interpretation of this illusional perception depends on our personal experiences. Therefore, it can be said that immersiveness is strongly relevant to the themes of embodiment and subjectivity. Finally, openness is a term that Eco used in his essay “The Open Work”, and it is roughly understood as implying ambiguity. He summarised this by saying that “[o]pen works are characterised by the invitation to make the work together with the author.” Therefore, if a work is not ‘open’ enough, there is no room for an audience to participate.

As I have a musical background, and also have a synaesthetic sense of connection between the visual (colour) and sound (pitch), it is feasible for me to examine the field of audiovisual art with both a theoretical and an intuitive approach. This will include practical experimentation with works that apply colour theory, relationships between colour spectra and audio frequencies, as well as phenomena exhibiting sound-colour synaesthesia.

Guzmán Calzada (2nd-year master’s)

Musical Explorations Through Spaces

With site-specific locations in mind, I am expanding the aural conception of what a room is and how it operates. As a general strategy, I plan to understand acoustic spaces as energetic places, locations with inherent autobiographies that can be manifested by articulating and uttering their resonances. This primarily occurs when working with room reverberation and electromagnetic activity, and by even exciting objects which inhabit a room through different vibrational methods. Within this framework, a piece of music may stand as a sort of adaptive sculpture, articulating a room’s history.

One branch of my research focuses on electroacoustic pieces for specific venues, working with audio sources that trigger fixed oscillators when they have certain coincidences in their frequency spectrum. These electronic instruments or a particular audio source are related to a venue by both expressing a perspective of their acoustic-physical properties and their poetic dimensions. While another branch of my work, involves approaching the process described above by filtering and re-synthesizing an original audio source, where transformations of a musical or audio source can be understood by the way in which a room affects them. 

Practically, investigating this will involve realizing several solo and ensemble pieces — ones that directly emerge from different filtering and re-synthesizing of audio and also graphic sources (e.g. scores). Overall, I expect this project to address notions of how understanding a space can reveal many different spheres of meaning. 

Tony Guarino (2nd-year master’s)

Tapping into Place

Practicing percussion tunes our experience of vibrant, graspable [things] in the world. They appear charged with instrumentality, reflecting our compositional aims and tactile fluency.  However, this projected musicalization may restrict the potential agency of objects we find.

By prolonging periods of experimentation — suspending crystallization — we can unearth distinct relationships to materials beyond timbral extraction.

Objects then take the lead while remaining vitally rooted in their found situation or purpose. Gradually, site-specific performances, installations, and document-artifacts emerge through these personal moments of discovery.

Each work requires particular methods for transferring energy between assembled elements. To expand upon conventional percussion techniques, I develop indirect approaches (electrostatic conduction, wind-powered resonance, rain collection, etc.) to facilitate negotiations between intended action and material response. Railings, glass bottles, and office trays become animated associates that inform rhythmic, spatial, and formal decisions.

Participants are invited to slip through their immediate identification of the sounding object and remain continuously attentive to intersensorial differences. Attempting to comprehend the totality of each social-material-acoustic encounter generates unique states of dissociative listening. My intention is to tune into this affective exchange between cooperative bodies — recalibrating the experience of a beach, a city street, a concert hall.

Eunji Kim (2nd-year master’s)

A Game Environment as Algorithm to Generate a Musical Structure

Given that computer games are being highlighted as a platform that can be used with interactive media, I am proceeding with research examining connections between the hierarchical nature of such games and their similarity to many examples of algorithmic art. Algorithms used in computer games reveal a hierarchy, where the control of a system manages objects and records data associated with these objects. In short, I see a similarity between many of the algorithms used in games and those I use to make my own algorithmic music. Thus, I believe it is possible to switch the systems used in a game and turn them into a musical composition; thereby allowing musical parameters to be derived from numeric data of game objects.

My compositional approach, uses algorithms to make it possible to get rid of the fixed idea of the musical work. The algorithm, when seen through an art game, presents a model that determines how to generate sound structures in real time. Designing musical structures in this way means that one algorithm can make thousands of potential choices. This does however mean that the type of data used as input has a massive impact on the generated music. Also, when using rapidly changing data, it is necessary to arrange the movements of data in appropriate sound movements (a similar type of data processing seen in the area of sonification).

I am additionally trying to deal with data that is not a part of commercial games. For instance, I want to visualize various types of data that can be encountered in real-life; designing a model that allows users to play with data and to convert it into artistic output. The aim of this is to allow the user/audience to more actively interact with musical works, making it possible to manipulate music, by adding ‘time’ as a dimension. This area of appreciation can also be extended by adding a dimension of ‘direct experience’, whereby the audience (user) can directly manipulate the music.

Michael Kraus (2nd-year master’s, Audio Communication & Sonology)

Solarsonics – A Theoretical and Artistic Investigation

My research raises the question how solar energy can be used as a contemporary leitmotiv for improvised electronic music. Smallwood (2011) describes recent developments in the creation of sound art powered by photovoltaic technologies and describes solarsonics (2013) as a pattern of ecological practice. Taking into consideration the latest development in the climate crisis philosopher Michel Serres describes the sun as our energetic horizon and as the ultimate capital (ngbk, 2014). Therefore I investigate how morphing forms of capital, like energy, space, material and code can be used to articulate this relationship in the age of the anthropocene.

Through the work of Donna Harraway (1985) I discovered literature that morphes in-between the discipline of academia and poetry. I would like to use these findings to create algorithmic compositions that could be played and spatialised in various combinations of electronic instruments and should leave room for improvisation. New emerging forms such as mobile solar energy could enable new forms of site specific musical creations.

Keywords: Solarsonics, Energy, Space, Material Code

Haraway, D. (1985) Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980’s. In: Socialist Review 80. p. 65–108
ngbk (2014) The Ultimate Capital is the Sun
Smallwood, S. (2011) Solar Sound Arts: Creating Instruments and Devices Powered by Photovoltaic Technologies
Smallwood, S. & Bielby J. (2013) Solarsonics: Patterns of Ecological Praxis in Solar-powered Sound Art

Toby Kruit (2nd-year master’s, Instruments & Interfaces)

Bodily Awareness in Electronic Music Performance

As a musician working with digital electronics, there comes a point in the creative process where expression has to be quantified in order to enter a digital model. Composing interactions with computers/software traditionally (and possibly inevitably) resorts to ‘mapping’ connections between signals from outside the system to functions in a code. However, the digital inherently means limited, discrete in such a way that any interaction with it is oppressed by approximation – using digital media for music means translating ‘human being’ to ‘computer data’, and back.

The focus of my research is on how this translation can be approached from outside the digital oppression. Taking the human as the starting point for human-computer interaction, I am working on methods of interaction that are based on material and bodily properties. The goal is to evoke states of enhanced bodily awareness, placing participants in the ‘moment’ that is not concerned with representation, but with experience. Existing in this sensorial state means simultaneously accepting all stimuli as a continuous, chaotic signal from the world to the body, and continuously (re-) adjusting the body based on the perceived forms of these stimuli.

Because traditional hard- and softwares are based on models and discretisation, they may face problems in quantifying the noisy, imprecise, reflexive, semi-automatic conditions of the human body. The challenge in picking up or amplifying these profoundly human movements presents opportunities in all domains of the interaction: the performer’s body, material properties, electronic signals, and digital conversions. Practically, this involves making electronic textiles & fabric sensors, activating physical materials using transducers, and involving the whole body in performance.

Atte Olsonen (2nd-year master’s)

For the purpose of making sound design and stage performances, I am researching the concepts of presence of mind and listening as a compositional strategy. This research delves into how active listening and having an acute awareness of a present moment can be used to reform sound design. Ultimately sound design can then become a more fluid, dynamic, reactive, and even a central or leading part of a performance.

Presence exists in moments where the performer is aware of the current situation of a performance—following her/his co-performers closely, knowing what are the possible paths that can be proposed with the individual output and then just feeling what is the right thing to do next. This experience can be referred to as a kind of flow experience: a non-verbal connection with both the performing team and the space the performance takes place in; a state of mind where decisions happen more intuitively than at a conscious level.

My research takes form in practical trials where these different modes of presence of mind and listening as a compositional strategy are applied to my creative process. The theoritical aspect of this research therefore combines theatre research, sound studies, studies in improvisation, dsp-coding, phenomenology and the philosophy of presence.

Simone Sacchi (2nd-year master’s)

“Can you hear that?” — Amplifying Discrete Sounds for Live Performances and Installations

Technology allows us to extend the limits of human senses and my research aims to give the listener a new perspective on what can be perceived aurally. In essence, my work builds out of this interest by exploring soundscapes generated by electromagnetic fields. However, my current research extends this by bringing the act of hearing into the realm of the “microscopic” — vis-à-vis rescaling the amplitude of hidden sounds, ranging from almost imperceptible ones to those that are truly inaudible.

My present work exists in categories where I either work with a variety of materials as well as living beings and mechanical objects (i.e. animals, humans and plants, or machinery such as recording devices and studio equipment). Additionally, I plan to work with musicians who will prepare performances for “mute instruments”. The latter refers to when only the tiniest sounds of instruments and performers’ movements (or their bodies) are amplified. This approach gives the audience an idea of what happens inside an instrument, even while it is not being played. 

The micro-scale in sound is attributed to the time domain, yet there is another side of this scale to consider; in this respect my work originates from sounds that are on the verge of the audible, encouraging the listener to hear fainter and fainter sounds by using different and unorthodox technological approaches for microphoning and amplifying. Consequently, my work also focuses on minimising the noise-floor and avoiding unwanted feedback in order to explore different ambiences and materials.

I plan to use the above strategies for installations, where discreet sounds occur all the time despite our senses being able to perceive them. In this sense, installations can be understood as sound lenses for examining intimate worlds we cannot normally access. For example, a miniature anechoic chamber may act as a controlled environment from which sounds can be projected into the external world.

Jad Saliba (2nd-year master’s)

Stations of Exception: Revisiting Analog Radio for Live Performances

My present research primarily builds upon experiments with circuit-bending radios. A central focus of this involves a live performance setup made out of several receivers and transmitters continually interfering with one another to generate new sounds. This includes discovering new random combinations of inharmonic tones whose frequency spectrum shifts completely when modifying the tuning frequency of a given radio as well as employing micro samples of local radio broadcasts. However, these sonic processes or results are not solely dependent on the idiosyncratic elements of a circuit, as electromagnetic transmissions in the microenvironment inherently have an effect.

My initial reasoning for wanting to use circuit bending was inspired by the unpredictability of radio sonic artifacts emerging in the frequency band between stations. Likewise the intricate sound patterns evolving from static noise frequently feature abstract voices in the background. These qualities are often heard on shortwave transmissions, long distance AM broadcasts, and other types of radio satellite broadcasts. However, tweaking into these frequencies/artifacts is largely dependent on ecological factors such as weather, natural sunlight, and electromagnetic interferences—as these factors all shape the final result of the information received.

Ernests Vilsons (2nd-year master’s)

Well-Structured Vocalisations: An Attempt to Imitate Birdsong

Birds. Thousands of different species, their songs and calls varying in kind and complexity. Both within the individual acts of vocalization and in the way these vocalizations succeed one another, patterns can be observed. Bird vocalizations are produced within and are influenced by their immediate environment – flora, fauna, light, wind, etc., they are a means of communication. But from the recognition of bird vocalizations as fascinating sonic structures, to composition of sound and its organization that would derive from them, a series of intermediary steps are to be taken. My research is concerned with these ‘intermediary steps’ as much as with bird vocalizations.

The research originates within the aural, within the experiential. Hearing as a mode of being, from which a network of relations unfold to become re-contextualised, taken apart, qualified. Through this unfolding, the aural — the fleeting origin — is exceeded while being preserved in the unfolded; a temporary move away from hearing/listening to their ‘product’ — the actions (analysis, classification, re-synthesis, etc.) and material reconfigurations (recordings, scores, programs, etc.) they instigate.

Analysis and formalization as a reduction of sound (birdsong) to a limited amount of parameters; a reduction that eventually will determine the synthesis of the imitation. The parameter space, shaped by, yet not limited to, that which is analyzed and formalized, provides a possibility for gradated movement away from the object of analysis (a specific birdsong) toward sound structures that are situated anywhere between close resemblance to the object represented and a complete non-resemblance.

Through the research, a limit of imitation is pursued. A double endeavour: a striving to become birdsong without becoming a bird, and a reflection on the abundance of by-products (ideas, experiences, insights, etc.) this striving generates.