Kevin Patton & Carmen Montoya > Digital Poplar Consort – Radicalize the Interface

The residency at STEIM was two fold consisting of a concert performance by Kevin and a lecture, discussion and demonstration by both Carmen and Kevin.
For the concert performance Kevin played the TaurEx, sensor modified electric guitar and the Fossil, as part of the larger group EnvyCode with composer Butch Rovan, with his MiMiCs sensor extened clarinet system and the Banshee and cellist, Ulrich Maiss, playing cello, electric cello, and electronics. Here: you can see an short excerpt of a duet between Butch Rovan and Kevin Patton playing their handmade instruments the Banshee and the Fossil:
For the lecture, discussion, and demonstration portion of the residency Carmen and Kevin described the conceptual basis and design process around the Digital Poplar Consort. The Digital Poplar Consort is a family of wireless hand-made sensor based musical instruments. Each instrument provides a different interface to a gesture based system for electronic sound processing and synthesis. This project explores the ways in which musicians approach the physical interface of the instrument with their bodies when attempting to produce musical sound. Thus, each of the instruments is unique, but sound-generating software remains the same. Each of these objects is also a carefully crafted wooden instrument. Each one recalls the aged art of musical instrument making and takes this practice into the realm of experimental electroacoustic chamber music.
The FossilThe Mouthbox
The Pogothe HyKal
These instruments were given to a four person improvisation ensemble. Performers had a four week period to explore the sound making potential of the instruments culminating in a performance. A video excerpt can bee seen here.
An interesting phenomena was noted during practice and performance with these instruments. The physical forms of the instruments were not radical enough to elicit significantly different methods for playing each of them. Performance gestures seemed to be primarily influenced by the need trigger the sensor matrix which included an accelerometer in all cases. These gestures were all quite similar. There appeared to be primacy of the sensor over that of the physical interface (object design). Each of the instruments is small and hand held which may have additionally influenced the similarity of the performance gestures.
This realization poses a challenge to design instruments that will illicit distinct gestures by necessity. This “radicalized interface” must consider both the physicality of the object as well as the sensor matrix. In a sense, instrument design and consequently gestural design could become another compositional element in the presentation of a musical piece.

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