Automata concert


An automata system for generating rhythms using real-time kinetic simulation.


The Nerve project is inspired by a concert composed and performed by Maxime Rioux and his automata orchestra at Western Front in Vancouver BC, 2007. His orchestra consisted of a number of musical instruments suspended from (or resting on) springs, being beaten by subwoofer membranes, also attached to springs. In my impression, the rhythmic patterns that emerged from this had an astonishing complexity – at times sounding completely human – although the set-up was purely mechanical. After experiencing this I became obsessed with the idea of simulating the phenomena and integrating it in a generative rhythm machine for live performance purposes.

Automata by Maxime Rioux:

Concept sketch:

Later the same year I designed a functional prototype during my graduation semester in Interaction Design. I used a game engine called Unity to handle the physics simulation and forwarded the collision events to a physical modelling synthesis in Logic Pro. This is what the interface looked like:

This is what it sounded like:

Nerve at the SPOR festival

In 2008 I was invited to perform at a 24 hour contemporary music festival and I immediately decided to develop a version of Nerve for the purpose. The system was automised by simply pulling all parameters simultaneously using slowly evolving frequency modulations within defined constraints. I also changed the sound design.

Documentation video from the 24 hour concert:

Every five minutes the system automatically printed a graphic score documenting it's recent improvisation. I then manually hung up each score somewhere in the concert building. At the time the concert ended 288 scores remained as an echo. Some were brought home by the audience as souvenirs.

The y axis on the score represents not pitch but the collision distance from the centre on the drum. This gives a good indication of the stability of the system.

Nerve at the EARTS festival

Later in 2008 I was invited to do a audiovisual performance inside a 15m tall 30m wide panorama screen at the EARTS festival in Shanghai. I decided to create a version Nerve that would act as a gigantic wind chime, relying on the on site weather conditions. Wind direction and speed was routed directly into the stability parameter of the system while I conducted the overall number of events.

This video documents how I simulated the performance environment so that I could tweak the automata simulation before arriving in Shanghai:

Holland House and their team building the screen:

Nerve performance in Shanghai: