NIME: Exploring Identity Through Design: A Focus on the Cultural Body Via Nami

Sara Sithi-Amnuai

In this article, the author reveals the theme of personal identity and cultural body. Identity is very closely linked to the culture in which we were born. This culture, in turn, is inventive and full of art, music, and dance. The author focuses on the fact that the topic of the design and application of gesture controllers is not widely discussed. The goal of the author of this article is to embrace the cultural body, incorporate it into existing gesture controller design, and how cultural design techniques can expand musical/social affiliations and/or traditions in technological development. Sara Sithi-Amnuai’s article discusses the design of Nami, a custom-made gesture controller, and its applicability to extending the cultural body. We develop freedom of action by perceiving the world in terms of our self-identity and collective identity. According to the definition of references to which the author refers, “the mind is inseparable from our bodily, situational and physical nature” she also notes that in the aggregate all this is called consciousness. Our bodies absorb movement and experience through the senses, vision, and sensations, which influence how we relate to our environment and how we behave.
What is this cultural body? The author says that this is a body subject, “marked by culture” and “talking” about cultural practice, itself, and history. Dancers, for example, often notice that their body is intimately tied to their identity and vision of themselves. Often after their career ends they no longer understand themselves and it is very difficult for them to embark on the path of recovery.
In the article, the author also points out many practices related to design. Design stages often take place in 4 steps:
1. Sketching phase includes an input (“data”), functionality (“model”), and material/form.
2. Concept phase includes training data, ML model (training engine), and data/form relationship.
3. Critical Thinking phase includes purpose, intentions, culture, and material/form exploration.
4. Reflections phase includes input, functionality, and final materials/form.

One of these devices that allow you to get a musical and cultural experience is NAMI. NAMI is a glove interface designed for live electro-acoustic musical performance, primarily relying on an augmented instrument. The goal of NAMI was to explore and develop a new sign language beyond the effective trumpet gesture and to integrate it with the author’s own experience and her cultural body. The trumpet was used with additional sensors which provided additional sound control options. The trumpet provides freedom of movement for the left hand, while the right hand supports the instrument. The fundamental connection between the musician and the trumpet exists between the musician’s lips and the mouthpiece and then extends to the fingers. This scheme allows the executor to access multiple controls at the same time. The performer can play the instrument (trumpet) with the right hand and operate multiple controls in real-time, exploring, expanding, and amplifying the sound of the trumpet with the left hand.

The author of the article also pays a lot of attention to materials and techniques for creating pearls. The first thing Sara Sithi-Amnuai remembers is that the shape of the dodge reflects the essence of the culture for which the gloves were designed. Materials We have chosen for affordability, only materials that could be easily recreated on a small budget and used in a wide range of sports or casual activities. In the third development, the glove was designed to fit every hand size. A wrist strap allows the user to lock the glove and sensors in place, however, the fingerless design allows for flexible sensor placement depending on hand size.
In conclusion, I want to say that the article opens up a new understanding of the manipulation of music based on the individual experience of the performer. Which in turn leads to more refined and culturally rich performances.

Vrengt: A Shared Body–Machine Instrument for Music-Dance Performance

International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME): The paper “Vrengt: A Shared Body-Machine Instrument for Music-Dance Performance” caught my attention because it explores the body as a musical interface. Since I am working on a face-tracking project that uses face gestures as a musical interface, the paper is of great relevance for my current work. 

The paper is about the multi-user instrument “Vrengt”, which is developed for music-dance performance and in which dancer and musician interact co-creatively and co-dependently with their bodies and machines. “Vrengt” is based on the idea of enabling a partnership between a dancer and a musician by offering an instrument for interactive co-performance. The guiding question is to what what extent the dancer can adopt musical intentions and whether the musician can give up control of performing while still playing together. The focus is on exploring the boundaries between standstill vs motion, and silence vs sound. In the process, sonification was used as a tool for exploring a dancer’s bodily expressions with focus on sonic micro interaction. To capture a dancer’s muscle activity during a performance, two Myo gesture control armbands are placed on the dancer’s left arm and right leg. Moreover, the dancer’s sound of breathing is captured with a wireless headset microphone. Based on the aim of creating a body-machine instrument for a dancer to interact with her/his body and a musician with a set of physical controllers, the project members started with capturing muscle signals and breathing of the dancer. In this context EMG plays a big role: “Electromyogram (EMG) is a complex signal that represents the electrical currents generated during neuromuscular activities. It is able to report little or non-visible inputs (intentions), which may not always result in overt body movements. EMG is therefore highly relevant for exploring involuntary micro motion.”

The instrument offers great freedom in collectively exploring sonic interactions and the outcome/performance is structured in three parts:
Breath (embodied sounds of dancer modulated and controlled by musician)

Standstill (even though the dancer is barely moving, the audience can hear the dancer’s neural commands causing muscle contraction)

Musicking (active process of music-making)

To create sound objects that approximate responsive physical behavior and are appropriate for continuous physical interactions, the Sound Design Toolkit (SDT) in Max was used. The sounds used boost the imagination of associating body movements with everyday sounds. The following figure displays the sonic imagery.

What I found especially interesting about the paper was the inclusion of the subjective evaluations of the dancer and the musician in the discussion part. From the musician view, it requires stepping out of the comfort. The familiar instrumental circumstances are exchanged by the athletic and artistic environment of a dancer. For the musician, it is important to understand the dancer’s feelings and develop a common language. Even though the dancer is in charge of the main gestural input, the musician decides on the sound objects, scaling and mix levels. For a dancer, performing with interactive sonification makes a big difference to dancing to music. The dancer describes listening as the main aspect for decision making and physical play and exploration happen while moving along intuitively. The dancer describes her experience as “not knowing where to, and how to, still with a clear sense of direction”, the focus shifts from the body to the sound.

In my view, this project offers interesting insights on developing a new way of communicating and creating art through a new type of body language and a new physical language. I think it has great potential to be part of art installation installations in an experimental context. It offers a great opportunity to open new ways of feeling one’s own body and hearing the consequences of one’s moves. “Vrengt” enables an individual music-dance performance as well as a creative collaboration between dancer and musician. As was clear from the text, through the shared control, musician and dancer both feel like “owners” of the final outcome, generating a feeling of being part of something bigger. For me, it was inspiring that the project turned the usual music-dance performance upside down by a dancer not moving to a given sound but creating the sound through movement. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see the experiment in a more even bodily contribution of dancer and musician, because in the described setup, compared to the full-body experience of the dancer, the musician uses only his hands to operate with the computer.

If you are curious what “Vrengt” looks like in action, you can watch the following video of a live performance I stumbled across while researching the topic a bit further:


Cagri Erdem, Katja Henriksen Schia, Alexander Refsum Jensenius. Vrengt: A Shared Body-Machine Instrument for Music-Dance Performance.