Imagine a nightmarish, dark-world, alternative-reality version of Wii Music, one that sends Miyomato-san screaming. That’s what you get from tokoloten, in a very un-Nintendo noise performance, as found on comments. The Wii is just one of his tools:

tokoloten uses a variety of objects such as magnet motors, infrared devices, game controllers… in order to hide his lack of conventional technic. Depending on the venue, the show might be ambient-like, experimental or electronica with weird cinematographic references. But it most often combines all of this.
tokoloten is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

It’s proof that the controller – any controller – is in the hands of the creator, and what it sounds like is entirely undetermined.

Mapping a hardware input to a sound means making an abstract connection between one physical action and another sonic reaction. What that relationship is is entirely up to you. I was honestly a bit surprised by some of the impassioned critical reactions to yesterday’s brief mention of the use of the Wiimote as a studio recording. Of course, that proves the creed of the blogger – post first, ask questions later, and when in doubt, just post. Amidst some of the frustration, there are some good discussions, though I do dream of an Internet on which we criticize content without name-calling.

But the reality remains: controllers are always abstracted from the sound, by definition, and whether they’re satisfying to you depends on how you’ve mapped them. I don’t know what qualifies as innovative, but then, there have been times when I’ve very much enjoyed turning a knob, so “innovation” isn’t always what matters to me. I tend to fall back on Duke Ellington – “if it sounds good, it is good.” For controllers, that means “if it feels good, it is good.” You’re the one with the controller in your hands.

For an alternative example, musician/artist Kassen has an excellent session on improvising with custom software and game controllers. Below, you can catch some of his talk from Amsterdam’s famed STEIM research center, which has a long history of researching the controller-music connection. After all these years asking that question, what we have is …more questions. But that’s a beautiful thing.

Kassen (DJ, performer, ChucK programmer) from STEIM Amsterdam on Vimeo.

Part of the reason I’ve never liked “controllerism” as a term – sorry, Moldover – is that there is no clear technique, no clear sound, no particular discipline. That is, I understand the case for the term and I’m glad there’s a discussion. But it seems to me that part of why controllerism is interesting is that there is no such thing as controllerism. The beauty of digital music is that you do have wide-open, blank-page possibilities. You can create your own system. It is abstract, simulation, ungrounded in physical reality. But while that is at odds with millenia of acoustic instrument-making, it’s also in tune with centuries of compositional and notational tradition, which are abstract. For the first time, the systems of how we conceive music can themselves become physical.

That to me is an exciting thing.

So, here’s a question — let’s take the example of sensors that handle orientation. How would you want to deal with them in music software, if they could be standardized, if any accelerometer or tilt sensor could announce its orientation? How do you decide which is the x, y, and z axis, for instance? How would you want the data normalized?