On september 29th, I demonstrated a work-in-progress version of my newly built instrument at Healthy Ageing festival in Groningen. I experimented with translating body movements to violin sounds. With the installation / musical instrument that I demonstrated on the festival, people could play a virtual violin with arm movements, and trigger background ambience with body position.
This experiment came out of my interest to make music with intuitive body movements, similar to my previous works Our Harmony and Phone Cello. I built this instrument with Kinect, Delicode_NI_Mate, Max 7, and Ableton Live 9.
Soon after my first tryout in my studio,
I presented it at Healthy Ageing Festival (De Kunst van het Ouder Worden) in Groninger Forum, The Netherlands:
This instrument is a follow-up of my phone cello experiment. In that experiment, the fact that I was using a mobile phone during my performance brought up some references to concepts about technologies that I might not want to convey with my performance and music.
So I felt the need to integrate more of my body in music making, and found a mobile phone not suitable for my performances. That’s why I started to use the Kinect and make music with my body without needing to touch anything. This instrument allows me to determine the pitch with the left hand in the y-dimension, determine the volume with the speed of the right hand in the y-dimension, and add effects with both of my hands in the z-dimension. The position of my body in the z-dimension allows me to trigger background music and ambience. Similar to, but even more intense than my first experience with the phone cello, it felt like magic while playing the working instrument for the first time. With my eyes closed I kept playing for a long time, it felt very therapeutic and expressive.
Since it felt so therapeutic, I realised that this might be a very interesting application for elderly people, or people with mental or physical disabilities. To test this in practice, and discuss this further with healthcare experts, I exhibited this body instrument during the Healthy Ageing festival on September 29th 2017 in Groningen. In the video of this day I show how different people interacted with the instrument. For me the instrument was extremely easy to play and very intuitive. Though, I realised that for many (elderly) people it still needed explanation and practice before being able to play it. Even after explanation and practice, some people (with dementia for example) still were not able play it the way it was intended. They moved more freely, which also resulted in music, but the sounds were more complicated to link to the connected music. Still, those people often became deeply involved in the music. For example, one older man suffering from dementia, played the instrument for a very long time. He was closing his eyes the whole time and moved around. It was clear that he was deeply enjoying the experience. Just as it was clear with this man, many people commented that playing this instrument feels like a deeply relaxing moment for yourself.
During the Healthy Ageing event, I identified some possibilities for improvement if this body instrument would be used for healthcare purposes. First of all, allowing smaller gestures (together with the bigger arm gestures) with the fingers could make the instrument even more intuitive and expressive. One interaction expert pointed this out, but I also noticed that several players were moving their fingers at the same time they were moving their hands. Moreover, since the interaction could be complicated for elderly people with mental or physical disabilities, it could be interesting to allow more free movement result in music intuitively. This would not only be beneficial for people who have difficulties with precise movements, but this could also be interesting for dancers. During the Healthy Ageing event some dancers tested the body instrument and non of them used only their arms, hands and the position of their bodies. The dancers moved more freely, bending the head, lifting the legs, twisting torso etc. Lastly, the music I chose for the body instrument was very much the same. It was a violin sound, which could also be played more virtuously, with ambient background music. One older woman felt like this could be more dynamic, she found the music beautiful, but sometimes one needs something more rough, with more beat, and maybe even not so beautiful sounds. A more varied collection of sounds that are possible to make would make the body instrument more expressive in many different situations: not only during the positive and easy emotions, but also during the negative and harsh ones.