It’s a music-generating bobbing bird! It’s a plane full of interaction designers! It’s a green multi-touch … thing! It’s the global gathering of innovative music technologists gathering to share alternative visions of the future of music making, known simply as “NIME.” (Rhymes with … rhyme.) And our friend Patrick, visiting the NY conference from the MET Lab (Music & Entertainment Technology) of the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at Drexel University (phew!), was kind enough to write up the whole thing, complete with videos and pictures. Enjoy, even if you weren’t there… -PK

The legendary Vernon Reid performs.

Bendier than Gumby: A digital take on the musical saw, filled with bend sensors.

A new wind is blowing: multi-form wind controller by Photon Wind Research.

The New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) 2007 Conference, held at NYU’s campus, was an exciting and stimulating convergence of ideas and technology in the world of digital music. The conference’s umbrella “Interfaces for Musical Expression” brings together creatives from all over the artistic and engineering world: from music runtime software (MaxMSP, PureData, ChucK to), designers for alternate controller hardware (M-Audio, Making Things, i-cubeX, Photon Wind Research), and educators for music and electronic arts (Columbia Computer Music Center, Harvestworks, NYU’s TischITP) and art galleries/shops (LEMURplex, Eyebeam), just to name a few.

Where the magic happened: “class” is in at NYU.

Show and tell, as MakingThings shares their Make Controller Kit interface board.

Pit stop: a quick service to the Make Controller Kit.

Held in Manhattan, and hosted as a part of the larger New York Electronic Arts Festival, the event moved at full-tilt New York Speed. The days were jam-packed. Paper presentations starting at 9am, break for live technology demos at 1 (and a chance to sneak away for lunch), a keynote presentation and more papers at 2 until 6, when the evening’s concerts and performances begin, where many people’s programs and hardware were showcased in a artistic context.

These concerts included a multimedia theater concert, held right across the street on NYU campus. On Friday and Saturday were late-night club-shows held at Brooklyn’s Southpaw venue and the Galapagos space. These jams went until well after midnight.

Acoustic meets digital in a NIME club night performance.

It’s not easy being multi-touch and green.

The keynote speakers joked that this dense conference schedule made NIME an “athletic event,” which is not so far from the truth. We arrived Thursday morning. I was unable to attend every event, but I did see the majority of the paper presentations, live demos, and keynotes. I caught one of two club shows, and saw the last of three theater concerts. The whole week was a lot to take in, and it’s only fair if I try to sum up my experience of this special conference by describing the things I remember best. So, among each of the categories of the presenters, products, and performances which I managed to catch, I’ll share some words and images.


Percussion instruments using realtime convolution: Physical controllers
Roberto Aimi
Again, I’ll admit my bias toward high-tech drum sounds. Roberto used vibration sensors (piezos) to send signals to excitable drum sounds. However, he’s turned the conventions of e-drums on its ear. Rather than turning vibration peaks into midi notes to trigger sounds, the piezo is treated as a continuous signal, used to excite convolution models of drum sounds. In short, this means getting natural brush excitation and cymbal wash that is simply impossible with midi sound triggering.

I was too busy being mouth-agape to get any images of his work. However, Roberto has lots of demo vids on his own website. Also, this work is right on track Adam Tindales’ “hybrid percussion,” of which I managed to get a video. (See Adam’s work in Presenters.)

The T-Stick: from Musical Interface to Musical Instrument
Joseph Malloch, Marcelo Wanderley
In the world of digital sound control, the connection between physical controller and the sound algorithms it controls can be somewhat arbitrary. Perry Cook expounded on this in his keynote address, saying that one shouldn’t imitate existing instruments, because “the best violin controller is already a violin.”

Joseph Malloch’s T-stick, also called the Tiger stick because of its many bands of pressure sensors, stood out from a lot of the other hands-on devices that one plugs into their computer. This was a padded stick with sensors for vibration, movement, even positional pressure and twisting. Its most important asset was its ability to respond to positional damping. This meant it could be played like a fret-able string and a damp-able chime, and some things in-between. As a tactile and vibrational sensor, the utter simplicity (and cost-effectiveness) of its design was quite impressive.

T-Stick in action:

Trimpin: 2nd Keynote Presenter
The German-born, Seattle-based sculptor and musical installation artist was at NIME to provide the conference keynote on musical sculpture and mechanical instrumentation. The themes of the morning session revolved around the philosophical, historical, and pedagogical issues surrounding new musical interfaces. Trimpin was alive and creating instrument-art well before the age of digital. His body of work often reflects many unorthodox adaptations of many of the foundations of “digital music” which many of us take for granted. For example, when he needed a sculpture-based random number generator for a musical device, he constructed an array of bobbing-birds to generate random streams of data.

Trimpin keynote, pt. I:

Trimpin keynote, pt. II [description from YouTube]:

he’s describing a sound/art installation he did. In it, an array of bobbing chickens created a random-number generator that would randomly select which of many records got played.

A man of great insight and humor, Trimpin’s art and ideas are a valuable link to the era of pre-digital machine-music.

Products and Demos

Multi-form Wind Instrument Controller
Photon Wind Resarch, Ltd.
Conference partner Photon Wind Research was showing off a really slick hardware controller package for wind, brass, and harmonica players. With its multiple embouchure-sensing mouthpiece, its array of pressure and distance sensors, and valve attachments, this unit seems to digitally interface just about anything you blow into. In the (hopefully) laptop-based near future of digital players, this unit could give MIDI saxes a run for their money. The hardware is small, looks tough, and has modular snap-in sensor modules (for sax or woodwind keys) and processor components (for wireless and other communication processing.)

Hybrid Method For Extended Percussive Effects
Adam R. Tindale
As a drummer, I have an admitted bias toward high-tech drum widgets. Adam’s table, with a piezo drum-trigger plugged into his laptop, immediately caught my eye. He explained to me that, rather than turning a trigger signal into discrete events, it could be harnessed as an expressive signal itself. As we talked, he told me to check out Roberto Aimi’s presentation later that day.

While Roberto’s work generates percussive sounds from convolving drum samples, Adam generated drum tones from resonance modeling: more “drum-synthesis” than sampling.

Just beat it: Digital drum demo by Adam Tisdale.

The hybrid digital drum in action:

Mobile Clavier: A New Music Keyboard for Flexible Key Transposition
Yoshinari Takegawa, Tsutomu Terada, Masahiko Tsukamoto
These gentlemen had given a paper presentation on their modified midi-keyboard on the first day of paper presentations. However, it wasn’t until they had their keyboard out for demo on Day 2 that I really understood how it worked. In a nutshell, the keyboard has extra black keys, and the orientation of the key scale can be reconfigured to fit the score as you play. So instead of having to lift your hands for chord changes, the keys transpose under your hands.

How does it work? They added extra black keys (in between E and F and B and C), and made these black keys light up according to the transposition, where some are “black keys” and some are “blank keys.” You use a foot-pedal to step through the transpositions, which are programmed as part of the score. You can use the 25-key controller to cover a significantly wider range of keys while barely moving your hands around.

Here’s a video demo:


It just isn’t “Musical Expression” without the performance aspect. I only caught a few of the concerts, and I enjoyed all. Among them:

Radio Wonderland
Joshua Fried, Friday Evening, club-concert at Southpaw
Friday Night, Southpaw bar and venue. This is the performance that many people were talking about. Josh literally kicked out improvised jams with computer, radio, steering wheel, and shoes. More specifically, he samples snippets of speech, melody or beats right off the radio from a boombox, loops them on the computer, using a MIDI-fied steering wheel for loop-editing, filter-sweeps, pitch-warping effects, and jams along by beating upon drum-trigger dress shoes. I hope some short videos help paint a better picture.

Radio Wonderland @ NIME, pt. I:

Pt. II:

Pt. III:

Pt. IV:

Desconcierto pt. 2
Gregory Kowalski, Andrea Pensado. Saturday Evening, theatre event
Compared to the some of the other multi-media performances of that and other nights, this performance was simple. Greg faced the main projection screen, wielding a flashlight at a camera, which fed data to Andrea, who processed the camera and her voice, back into mangled sounds and explosively colorful visuals. This provided an evocative and dynamic performance of painting with motion, and seeing and hearing the results. Between the grinding sounds and the explosive color animation, it was quite a violent, vandalistic piece.

A few seconds, as a sample:

I managed to capture only a few seconds on video. I had the delight of grabbing lunch with Greg and Andrea Sunday morning, on the way to LEMURplex, and I was surprised that the makers of such violent multi-media would have such a subdued sense of humor (…or perhaps, like me, they were just exhausted). I look forward to seeing more of them.

The LEMURbots
Built, showcased, and activated by Eric Singer at LEMURplex art space, Brooklyn
While not technically (human) presenter sin their own right, Eric Singer’s Leauge of Electronic Musical Urban Robots sure put on a show. It seems that all his robots are fed MIDI info from Max/MSP.

My favorite of Eric’s League is the Slime-a-tron. Here I am playing the slime, and getting Eric to divulge his secret formula. Ed.: We saw the Slime-a-tron at the CDM/Make night at Etsy Labs — see previous video and photos/report, especially if you like this sort of thing. -PK

And the GuitarBot. 4 guitar strings with computer-driven tangents. This contraption makes for some rather frantic glissando strumming.

Of course, Eric’s gallery ceiling was littered with the percussbots. Here they are, jamming out, along with his Xylobot:

See MVI 1987, 1988, 1991

Thanks, Patrick! We’re still welcoming other entries from the NIME conference — the thing was so huge that even this extensive report can’t begin to cover it — so if you’d like to share your own project, or one you saw, please do write us. -PK