Donna Hewitt and Julian Knowles > eMic development

Donna Hewitt and Julian Knowles (AU) have been creating works that explore the nexus between the sound worlds of electro-acoustic music and intelligent dance music. They have been using two synchronised laptops, an electric guitar and a gestural interface known as the eMic (Extended microphone Stand Interface Controller). The eMic, was designed by Donna Hewitt and is based upon typical gestures used by singers who employ microphone stands in performance. The eMic allows the performer to manipulate their voice in real time by capturing their physical gestures via an array of sensing devices including pressure sensors, distance sensors, tilt sensors, ribbon sensors and a joystick microphone mount. The duo are interested in subverting and abstracting the gestural language of popular music and taking it into new contexts. The duo has an outward appearance of a conventional guitarist and singer (i.e. a band) but extensive digital sensing and real-time processing technologies transform the sounds and physical gestures of the performers.

Live. Liquid Architecture Festival. Melbourne, Australia

The purpose of this residency was to work intensively on the further development of a musical interface – the eMic – a sensor based microphone stand ‘instrument’ that allows the performer to manipulate vocal sounds in real time via the sending of control signals to sound processing patches in software. In particular, we were keen to explore the STEIM developed software JunXion to investigate different approaches to the mapping of gestural data to musical parameters in a duo context. Our ultimate goal is to improve the responsiveness of the instrument in real performance contexts and to investigate the ways in vocal performance data can be used in a duo context.


Wireless eMic Mark II prototype base showing buttons and pressure sensor. A mini CV to OSC bluetooth transmitter is housed under the base, which sends signals to the performers' laptops.

Emic base 2

Wireless eMic Mark II. Underneath the base of the stand where the electronics and bluetooth transmitter are housed.

Wireless eMic Mark II: Top section

Wireless eMic Mark II: Prototype showing top section with joystick controller, pressure sensors and buttons

Wireless eMic Mark II: Prototype showing top section buttons and joystick base


Donna has been performing with the eMic since 2003 and designed the instrument as a way of connecting her skills as a vocal performer with her electronic music practice. The other motivation for the design was to develop a flexible and engaging vocal interface as an alternative to what she saw as quite limiting laptop based performance with a vocal mic input. Donna and Julian have been working as a duo since 20o5. Since that time, they have a produced a range of collaborative compositions. When used in the context of the duo the data outputs from the eMic are also sent to the second performer who is able to use this data to shape musical elements in performance. The challenge therefore is to develop meaningful musical mappings where the second performer has access to the gestural data sets from the first.

During our week long residency, we worked to the following plan

  • Design, development and testing of sensors
  • Familiarisation with STEIM JunXion software environment
  • Exploration of data mapping strategies using JunXion
  • Exploration of performer-to-performer mapping strategies

The main aim was to stabilise the instrument and develop some software patches in JunXion, PD and Ableton Live (Donna’s computer), and in Max/MSP and Ableton Live (Julian’s computer) that would serve as the basis for a new collaborative composition. Good progress was made against these aims during the week in residence. This new work will extend the use of sensors to Julian’s electric guitar (via an Arduino board and sensors) so that full performance gesture capture and exchange can occur.


Donna in STEIM studio

Donna in STEIM studio


STEIM Studio

Julian working on sensor data at STEIM



Arduino board

Arduino board

As part of the artist residency, we presented at a STEIM hotpot lab #12 on Hyperinstruments (Dec 9, 2010). This was a good opportunity to introduce the instrument and the duo work to the audience, answer questions about our ongoing research, and invite critical discussion.


STEIM Hotpot Lab #12: Electrumpet by Hans Leeuw (NL) eMic by Donna Hewitt & Julian Knowles (AU) Hypersaxophone by Michael Straus (US)


During the week, the snow storms started that would bring Europe to a standstill in coming weeks. Snow is fascinating for us Australians – our climate is far too warm for snow (save for a very small alpine region in the south east). Armed with a new phone, Julian started some ‘quick and dirty’ mobile phone shot videos to capture the mood of each day, adding an improvised soundtrack. One video was completed each day, based on a couple of minutes continuous video captured at a single location. Here is a taste.

Amsterdam 14.12.10

2011 will be a year of consolidating on the work from STEIM and the completion of new duo material. A range of performances are planned in Australia, the USA and Scandinavia.

We would like to acknowledge the support of the Australia Council for the Arts and Queensland University of Technology whose funding made the residency possible, and STEIM for the artist residency and the generous support of the staff.

Donna Hewitt Myspace

Julian Knowles Myspace


Australia Council for the Arts Queensland University of Technology


Further Listening/Reading

Musical examples

Julian Knowles and Donna Hewitt (2006) ‘Nodule’ Live at ICMC New Orleans
Julian Knowles and Donna Hewitt (2007) ‘Amphibian’ from Liquid Architecture CD.
Donna Hewitt (2010) ‘Idol
Julian Knowles and Donna Hewitt (2007). Video compilation of some early Knowles/Hewitt duo performances.



Hewitt, Donna G. & Stevenson, Ian (2003) Emic – Extended Mic-stand Interface Controller. In: New Interfaces for Musical Expression NIME-03, May 22-24, 2003, McGill University- Montreal, QC, Canada.

Hewitt, Donna G. (2003) EMIC – Compositional experiments and real-time mapping issues in performance. In: Australasian Computer Music Association Conference 2003 – Converging Technologies, 5th – 7th July 2003, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia.

Knowles, Julian D. & Hewitt, Donna G, (2006) Amphibian (Musical Work)

Knowles, Julian D. & Hewitt, Donna G. (2006) Nodule. (Musical Work)

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