Instrument Lab 3# Blog Iris van der Ende 18 april 2012

I am a harpist and theatre maker. I arrived at the Instrument Lab 3# with my harp and a question. I wanted to extend my harp to an interface.
I have developed a theatrical and musical performance about sounds of stars. Its called Stellar Sound Show. This performance takes place beneath the starry sky and I play harp. When I play harp, laserlights point at specific stars and those start sounding. This laserlight installation and a sound installation can be controlled by MIDI notes. Now I needed Steim to make my harp interactive for this performance. I wanted some of the strings to be interactive, so when I would play, I could trigger MIDI notes.

In november 2010 I started to work on this in cooperation with audio engineer Hans Lasschuit. We downloaded a program: TS Audio to midi. This could hear the pitches of my harp and send a MIDI note. This worked properly when the composition wasn’t too complicated. I had to play very loud and clear to make the computer catch my tones.. With my small harp, 1 laser and 2 sounds of stars and this early interactive system we went to Steim to show the case and this was when I met Fetapapa, software programmer from Steim. He said he could improve my system so that I could make the harp melodies more subtle.
We started working with Fetapapa in March 2011.  He attached 6 piezo microphones to single strings on the harp and connected them to a soundcart to send the audio to a program on the computer that he developed. We trial and errored for quite a long time. The problem was that the software wouldn’t pick up the tones of the harp in a reliable way. Sometimes it would catch on fine, sometimes no sounds were picked up. So with this problem, my harp and the system I entered at the Instrument Lab at Steim.

The first day at the Instrument Lab I immediately got advice from the staff how I could better attach the microphones to the strings. Where exactly on the string the vibration was most intense. And I got the wise advice to put some soft material between the string and the wooden body of the harp to isolate the signal from one string to another and to mute the vibrations of the harp. So the 6 different signals would be most precise.

I tried different materials of foam between the strings, and found the best: sponge. Then it turned out that the software from Fetapapa worked perfectly and I could start controlling 6 different MIDI notes by playing the different strings on the harp and even with playing subtle melodies or strong melodies on the harp.

The last day of the Instrument Lab my set up was complete. I had realtime interaction with stellar sounds, just by playing on the strings of my harp. A new question arrived.  How can I bring this extended instrument in context of the stellar sounds? What will be the relationship between me playing harp and sounds being triggered?

In the instrument lab I was really happy to get to know Steim and the staff. I found Steim very inspiring for their artistic and research projects. I felt that I walked into a whole new world full of music performance that gave me a boost to take my own project one step further. Also, from the people at Steim I learned to look at my harp in ways I couldn’t imagine playing my instrument. It opened possibilities in a electronic world for the harp.

Now I want to search for every relationship between the harp and the sounds. Is the harp the leader? Are the sounds the leader and do I play on them? What will be the dialogue, since the project is interactive?

I asked Steim if I could investigate this artistic question at their place. They welcomed my project and I am very excited to work on this for the next six weeks.

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