Playing Electronic Instruments: Technique Meets Technology

Mark Goldstein


The advent of electronic music changed the way composers and listeners work with and relate to sound. Since the initial efforts in this form were taped pieces, sonic sculptures crafted out of real time, the notion of performer was irrelevant. Today, a wide variety of commercial synthesizers are available and new real time synthesis techniques from the computer music laboratories are becoming available. Most of these synthesizers and algorithms can be controlled from arbitrary input devices. The piano keyboard has been a ubiquitous front end for all sorts of sounds, many of them not pianistic at all. It is also not unusual to see a computer on stage with an electronic ensemble. Quite often the audience cannot understand the effects of the computer player's actions. I am interested in broadening the possibilities for performing electronics, investigating the relationship between gesture and sound, and regaining a sense of instrumental virtuosity in the electronic genre.

Music is a performing art, and part of the quality of the musical experience comes from the relationship between the player's physical technique and the sound that is produced. A player can feel this intimately. A listener can appreciate this connection visually (and viscerally) whether in a live concert or in the mind's eye while listening to a recorded performance.

Our rich tradition of musical instruments has created a repertoire of gestures (bowing, blowing, banging, etc.) that are closely tied to familiar sounds. Can these gestures be appropriated to control new sorts of sounds? Are there other forms of movement that are musically effective? I have been exploring these questions using a MalletKAT (an electronic marimba) and Buchla Lightning Wands (a pair of wireless infrared wands broadcasting to a 2-D tracking sensor that also performs gesture recognition). I will trace the development of electronic music and its performance practices, demonstrate a variety of empty-handed and hybrid electronic instruments, and perform a piece for Lightning solo, "Joan is Back," by Bay Area composer Silvia Mateus.


Mark Goldstein is an independent software consultant specializing in audio and musical applications. He is also a conservatory-trained percussionist and freelance musician. He has worked at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (U.C. Berkeley), the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (Stanford), Gibson Guitar G-WIZ Labs, and Studer Editech/Integrated Media Systems.


The George Pake Auditorium is located at 3333 Coyote Hill Road in Palo Alto. We are between Page Mill Road (west of Foothill Expressway) and Hillview Avenue, in the Stanford Research Park. The easiest way here is to get onto Page Mill Road, and turn onto Coyote Hill Road. As you drive up Coyote Hill past the horse pastures, PARC is the large building on the left after you crest the hill. Park in the large parking lot, and enter the auditorium at the upper level of the building. The auditorium entrance is located down the stairs and to the left of the main doors.

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