This spring, CalArts’ composer and Music Technology student Jeff Bryant (Music MFA 13) controlled the performance of a player piano wirelessly through a set of specially knitted scarves. Created as a final project for the year-long Interface Design class, taught by Ajay Kapur, associate dean of Research and Development in Digital Arts and director of the Music Technology Program, Bryant’s project recently caught the attention of Wired and The Huffington Post.
In the Wired article, Bryant discusses how his special controller works. With the help of a costume designer, Asta Hostetter (Theater MFA 12), he weaved conductive thread into yarn used to knit the scarves. The change in the knitted stretch sensors activated the prepared piano’s keys through wireless signals. Bryan enlisted dancer Allie Hankins to wear the scarves and improvise a performance of Push_Push, which premiered in May.
“The conductive thread, used with regular yarn, makes a big, stretchy variable resistor,” Bryant explains. “If it’s twisted, pulled or compressed, more of the conductive thread is touching itself and that distortion affects the amount of voltage that we can read.”
More on the controller from the Wired article:
In order to transform the voltage produced by the scarves into music, Bryant designed an elaborate rig. He programmed a score-generator to transform the signals into musical notation that was then fed through software that activated an antique Vorsetzer device. The Vorsetzer, in turn, directed the plunking of keys on the Disklavier automatic piano. (How’s that for unpronounceable jargon?)
“The great thing about using wireless technology is that you can’t see that the performers and the piano are connected,” Bryant explains. Having apprenticed for two years with Seattle’s pioneering instrument maker/programmer Trimpin, he thrills in finding fresh uses for old forms. “It’s like when John Cage prepared the piano for the first time — he liberated the piano from what had gone on for hundreds of years before that.”
In the video above, Hankins manipulates conductive yarn in a performance of Bryant’s Push_Push.