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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpECGAkaBp0


Cagri Erdem, Katja Henriksen Schia, Alexander Refsum Jensenius. Vrengt: A Shared Body-Machine Instrument for Music-Dance Performance. https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.2010.03779

The Emotional Space | #11 | First Tests

With a little delay, I finally managed to get my hands on some 2.4SINK Sensors by Instruments of Things. Two of them to be more exact, together with one receiver, the 2.4SINK Eurorack Module. Other than the SOMI series that is to be released this summer, the 2.4SINK kit natively only works with control voltages (CVs), to be used in a modular setup (or literally any setup that works). The kit that my university kindly provided, which is currently standing on my desk, sits in a Doepfer casing, where it is connected to a power supply and an Expert Sleepers ES-8 USB audio interface. Furthermore there is an input expansion module on this rack, the Expert Sleepers ES-6, increasing the interface inputs from just four to ten.

Instrument of Things 2.4SINK Eurorack Module in a Doepfer casing attached to an Expert Sleepers Audio Interface

The Emotional Space | #8 | Reference Works 2

During my research about reference works that I discussed in my last post (Reference Works 1) already, I also specifically looked for published articles in scientific journals. While I did not stumble over an installation that I would deem very closely related to mine, I found various aspects that bear great similarities to what I imagine The Emotional Space to be built upon. In the following text, I will touch upon four projects that were published in scientific journals that I chose as reference works for my installation.

Most often, [interactive art installations] are works that explore social, political, and experiential boundaries of digital interfaces. They manage to break tradition, ask new questions, and explore new venues.

Nam & Nitsche (2014, p.189)

The Emotional Space | #7 | Reference Works 1

While for my Walking Soundscape concept (that I wrote about here) it was almost too easy to find existing reference works, now for my Emotional Space sound installation, this proves to be quite the challenge. But to draw inspiration and build upon knowledge from previous works of other people is such a valuable asset that this step should clearly not fall short. I managed to gather a collection of reference works that I affiliate with different aspects of what I want The Emotional Space to become. While in this post I will focus on installations that I found through various resources, I will dedicate my next post to the same topic, but present the findings that were approached in a more scientific way and got a paper published about them. (This categorization is purely made for reading convenience and does definitely not aim to assert that any of the works below are unscientific).

[…] an arrangement is created in which visitors take on an active influence. Rhythm and variance, like in music, are essential components of the installation […]

ZKM NEWSROOM about “resonate”

The Emotional Space | #2 | Walking Soundscape

In my last post I wrote about the first two of the three concepts I came up with for my upcoming project. This post is solely dedicated to the third concept, which set the direction for the further course of my project development.

I play the drums and other percussion instruments, and as soon as I have any kind of a beat in my ear, I struggle to keep my body completely still. Sometimes my fingers drum against my thighs, at other times I just wiggle my toes within my shoes. Another one of those situations is when I am walking with my headphones on and align my steps to the beat. This sparked an idea in my head. What if it was the other way around? What if the music would align itself to the steps I take?

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

The Emotional Space | #1 | First Concepts

When I got assigned the task to come up with three concept ideas for a rather extensive project in very short time, I started off with experiencing a classic case of blank page syndrome (which is exactly what it sounds like). Even creativity sometimes needs a little nudge, and for someone who knows the sweet scent of procrastination, time pressure might just be the uncomfortable companion that was needed. I spent most my free minutes contemplating, letting my thoughts go looking for new leads, asking myself the question – if I can do anything, what do I want to do? In the end, my brainstorming session was most fruitful on bike rides and right before falling asleep. In the following paragraphs I will introduce the first two of the three concepts that got shaped in those moments.

Float Tank
Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash