Athletes are the Instruments of the Future

Recently, in his work Dividuum, Austrian critic and philosopher Gerald Raunig made the claim that “perhaps the theremin is the instrument of the future.” For those unfamiliar, the theremin is an electronic instrument that was patented in Russia in 1928, and it is unique in its musicians do not actually touch it to play it. Instead, the theremin generates pitch and volume based on the position of the performer’s hand in relation to two antennas. It makes an eerie wailing sound associated with Cold War era soundtracks -- which to me, makes the instrument, with its quaint, out-dated sonic futurism, an odd candidate for piercing our artistic, technological and sociological horizons.

But this is what Raunig says:           

"Ghostly music, glissandi generated without touch, hands and arms gliding through the air, electromagnetic fields moved by the electric vibrations of the body. Gliding, flowing, floating, flying music. Just as Leon Theremin began to play his instrument nearly a hundred years ago, the people of today are beginning to play the technical instruments, the apparatuses, the equipment that surrounds, besieges, envelops them, the environments and surrounds, and they are played by them." (p. 113)

How might have Leon Theremin actually anticipated our sonic future one hundred years ago? “Surrounds, besieges, envelops them, the environments and surrounds.” Sound made simply by the movement of our bodies and our wireless appendages, drifting through environments bristling with nodes of a master signal.

This type of thinking certainly resonates with turning the Circles kit into a machine which responds with sounds to the bodily movement of two competing sports teams. At the season’s last game, I was finally able to debut a game kit functioning in this way. With contact mics (made at the ideaLAB), as well as PIR motion sensors, tested and rigged to the kit at the lab, and loaded with audio samples recorded at the lab as well, the kit produced a series of sounds that erupted, somewhat erratically, to the maneuvers of the two Circles teams. Defensive scoring (figure 1), dives (figure 2), and the attack disc "dying" (figure 3), all prompted the machine to sound.

But don’t be fooled. This kit is primitive compared to the theremin. How so? Well, I simply uploaded sounds (of my own choosing) to the motion sensors, which would trigger in the presence of absence of a body. This is quite different from the theremin, which produces different pitch and volume based on the shifting positions of a hand, creating an analog, not binary, trace. Would it be possible to make a game kit where the machine could take into account distance and position? Where, maybe, each person is tagged with their own timbre, their own synthetic instrumentation?

Right now, I’m working on editing down the over two hours of audio that I recorded, which I will upload for my last post here at the library. What does shine through, despite what is, in comparison to other experiments, quite rudimentary in a technological sense, are the imprints of my friends and their voices -- their laughing, trash talking, and breathing, sounds which are in turn singular and obscure. Perhaps people are already instruments, played by their own movements, their own tactics and skill.

Written by Luke on August 27, 2017


larry on September 11, 2017


nice article