Res, a matter.

Biophysical music is a term coined by the Xth Sense creator and performer, Marco Donnarumma, to define music that is a joint result of bioacoustic and physical body mechanisms. It is different from Biomusic, another kind of musical practice based on bioelectric signals to drive computer-generated sounds.

The central principle underpinning the Xth Sense (XS) is not to “interface” the human body to an interactive system, but rather to approach the former as an actual and complete musical instrument.

Below you can view a live recording of Music for Flesh II, for the Xth Sense, at The University of Edinburgh, UK, March 2011.

Music for Flesh II | Interactive music performance for enhanced body (Xth Sense) from Marco Donnarumma on Vimeo.

Augmented musical instruments and physical computing techniques are generally based on the relation user>controller>system: the performer interact with a control interface (a physical controller or sensor systems) and modify results and/or rules of a computing system. Sometimes this approach can confine, and perhaps drive, the kinetic expression of a performer, leaving less room for her physical energy and non-verbal communication. Besides, being that often the sonic outcome of such performances is digitally synthesised, the overall performance can lack of liveness.

The XS completely transcends the paradigm of the user interface by capturing sounds and control data directly from the performer’s body. There is no mediation between body movements and music because the raw sound material originates within the fibres of the body, and the sound manipulations are driven by the vibrations of the performer’s muscle tissue.

Technical description

The XS fosters a new and authentic interaction between man and machines.
By enabling a computer to sense and interact with the biosonic potential of muscle tissues, the XS approaches the biological body as a means for computational artistry. During a performance muscle movements and blood flow produce subcutaneous mechanical oscillations, which are nothing but low frequency sound waves (mechanomyogram or MMG). Two microphone sensors capture the sounds created by the performer’s limbs and send it to a computer. This develops an understanding of the performer’s kinetic behaviour by listening to the friction of her flesh. Specific gesture, force levels and patterns are identified in real time by the computer; then, according to this information, it manipulates algorithmically the sound of the flesh and diffuses it through a variety of multi-channel sound systems.
The neural and biological signals that drive the performer’s actions become analogous expressive matter, for they emerge as a tangible sound experience.

Support and awards

The work was developed at the SLE, Sound Lab Edinburgh – the audio research group at The University of Edinburgh, and was kindly supported by the Edinburgh Hacklab and Dorkbot ALBA. The project was finalized during an Artistic Development Residency at Inspace, Edinburgh. Inspace kindly sponsored the work by providing technical and logistical support, and organizing a public vernissage for the official launch of the project within the artistic research program “Non-Bio Boom”.

The XS technology was awarded the first prize at the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition (Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, US, 2012) as the “world’s most innovative new musical instrument”.
The Scottish Arts Council, Creative Scotland, has awarded a grant in support of my participation to the Korean Electro Acoustic Community 2011 conference in Seoul, South Korea. The research was endowed twice with a PRE travel grant by the University of Edinburgh.

Additional Information

The use of open source technologies is an integral aspect of the research. The biosensing wearable device was designed and implemented by Marco Donnarumma, with the support of Andrea Donnarumma and Marianna Cozzolino. The Pure Data-based framework for real time analysis and processing of biological sounds was designed and coded by the author on a Linux machine, with inspiring advice by Martin Parker, Sean Williams, Owen Green Jaime Oliver, and Andy Farnell.

Related works

Hypo Chrysos
Action art for vexed body and biophysical media by Marco Donnarumma.

Into the Flesh
A musical piece for Xth Sense, trombone and double bass by Shiori Usui

Music for Flesh II
Interactive music performance for enhanced body by Marco Donnarumma

Pictures courtesy of Chris Scott.