Benjamin Thigpen > head transplant experiment continued

head transplant experiment is a very noisy piece for solo computer, largely composed during 2 residencies at STEIM in 2007 and 2008. After the first performances of the piece (February, March and October 2008), I returned to STEIM to make some improvements to the instrument. The residency periods were 18-24 November 2008, 20-25 January 2009.

The instrument uses Midi faders, knobs and buttons (originally Behringer BCF2000, Lexicon MRC) and the computer keyboard to control a Max/MSP patch that performs various types of (extreme) distortion on 2 soundfiles.

The main problem with the instrument in its original version was the use of the group function on the Behringer: the same knob could control up to 4 parameters, depending on which group was active. This setup necessitated complex group-changing manipulations during performance which often led to errors. Another major difficulty with the interface was the use of continuous rotary knobs to control non-continuous parameters with only a small number of options (5-7).

After much reflection, I decided to purchase a second Behringer Midi controller, this time choosing the BCR2000. This addition made it possible for me to map each physical knob to a single parameter and to use push-buttons to control all non-continuous parameters – one to step forward through the options and another to step backwards. It also allowed me to arrange the control interface in a generally more intuitive and ergonomic way.

In addition to this revamping of the gestural control input, I also made various improvements to the signal processing aspects of the patch itself. Notably, I implemented a floating-point (continuous) bit reduction; added a reverse playback option to soundfile source and added 3-band EQ filters to the output.

These developments correct the most important problems and limitations that I encountered when composing and performing head transplant experiment. The new interface makes it possible for me to play the instrument much more easily, reliably and intuitively, while the signal processing improvements allow for a greater fluidity and musicality of the sound.

Since my STEIM residencies I have been involved in numerous other projects, and am only now returning to head transplant experiment after a 10-month pause. The new version of the instrument will have its concert debut on 13 December 2009 at Mains d’Oeuvres (Saint-Ouen, France) as a part of the event Blownup! ( During 2010, I hope to schedule further performances of head transplant experiment and to find the time to compose other companion pieces for the instrument.

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