ERC funding

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the DigiScore project, grant agreement No 101002086

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Fourth session

This blog entry does not just describe the session held on August 12th, but also the subsequent progress made.

The session really did so much to consolidate progress so far. Each musician has a clear sense of the sounds they want to use and what emerged most strongly was how different they are. 

Andrew is working mostly with composed sounds that combine digital and acoustic, using the image of a weather vane to convey the idea of the arbitrariness of the performance metrics emanating form the brainwave readers. 

Anya's sounds include minute examinations of materials such as velcro and her favoured metallic sounds. Her world is one that is apparently everyday, but in reality betrays a distinctive form of listening.

Elisabeth writes: "As someone who grew up in the Swedish outback, the sounds of nature always make an impression on me, catches my attention and are connected with deep sensory experience and memory. It’s a source which I tap into as a musician when performing and rely upon in my daily life for my overall well-being. My sounds are collected from the outside and inside of the Swedish log cabin where I reside and are particularly tweaked towards “life” because during this project I became a mother of a baby boy".

Simon's sounds deploy an array of self-built instruments which are described in detail in the section below. These sounds have a great deal of personal significance, for reasons that he gives in detail.

With four such distinctive sound worlds, compositional attention begins to focus on how these might be combined. The software is now ready in the form of a digital_syzygies app which takes the output streams of the six performance metrics provided by the headsets and uses them to trigger the sounds. Since the sounds are chosen precisely because of their effect on the brain of the musician, these pieces will naturally exhibit the neurological processes of the participants. Since the workshop, the software has been sent to the musicians, so they are now working with this "instrument". The software includes visual displays of cello notation. Decisions will be taken in the future about how the cello is to be deployed.

Meanwhile, I have devised the following structure to explore the potential combinations. We'll see which of these works well:

3 mins

01. Andrew's world
02. Anya's world
03. Elisabeth's world
04. Simon's world

4 mins

05. Syzygy 1: Andrew and Anya
06. Syzygy 2: Anya and Elisabeth
07. Syzygy 3: Elisabeth and Simon 
08. Syzygy 4: Simon and Andrew
09. Syzygy 5: Andrew and Elisabeth
10. Syzygy 6: Anya and Simon

5 mins

11. Syzygy 7: Andrew, Anya and Elisabeth 
12. Syzygy 8: Anya, Elisabeth and Simon
13. Syzygy 9: Elisabeth, Simon and Andrew
14. Syzygy 10: Simon, Andrew and Anya

6 mins

15. Syzygy 11: Full quartet
16. Syzygy 12: Full quartet

Simon Allen - Digital Syzygies - Sounds 16/08/2022.



When first searching for sounds to test the Emotiv Insight headset, I anticipated that a collection of suitable sources would draw upon extreme differences in sonic quality, technique, or physicality; leading to results of pleasing variety, measurable across the indicators offered by Emotiv’s software. In practice this was only partially true, instrumental choices that showed the most interesting results were less predictable than expected, revealing themselves only through experiment using the headset. Notable across the final choice of sounds is some personal significance attached to each source - pertaining either to the object itself, or its importance within my own compositional language. Barrel piano, goldfish bowls and clock chimes are habitual sounds within my musical palette; the remaining three instruments of mouthbow, horn and rattles are rarely used, but the objects themselves have enduring personal value.



The Barrel Piano, popular in 19thC, contains a sizeable hand-cranked wooden barrel that is pinned across its surface to trigger hammers against strings and a handful of tuned bicycle bells. The instrument has been prepared multiple times over the last 20 years, most recently in 2019. Since that project the strings and their preparations have remained untouched. The sounds produced by slow revolutions of the barrel are occasionally familiar as ghosts from past projects. Although the hammers are visible the precise moment of their release is unpredictable.


Goldfish bowls & wineglass are tuned with water to D, Eb (bowls) & C# (glass) rising from the middle of the bass clef. Played in circular motion with wet palms and fingers, the bowls can produce a high ovrtone by reducing the area of contact between skin and glass. The wine glass also sounds a crude undertone series when excess pressure is applied. Friction applied transversely to glass rims also gives very high squeals or ‘whistle’ type tones. Playing these instruments is particularly tactile, tone and colour being a product of speed and pressure – skin against glass.


Resonated through attachment to the casing of the barrel piano are 2 Clock chimes of three and four pitches belonging to mantle clocks, Their tines are bowed at different points to give 2 or 3 harmonics and struck with a piano hammer.


The Mouthbow is of a similar kind to the Hawaiian Ukeke. It is c.35cms, self-made from a wooden batten and wound guitar string. Resonated by resting lips against the wood and varying the volume of the buccal cavity to reinforce different harmonics, it can be bowed or struck. The highest partials of the string are beyond my hearing. It is pitched according to a ‘sweet spot’ that works best for its dimensions.


The Rama Double Twist rickshaw horn, a gift received in Kolkata, is shiny chrome, complete with flyscreen and green rubber bulb. This very loud, out of doors instrument, finds dynamic range by muffling and choking the bell of the horn to varying degrees.


Navajo medicine rattles – a pair of male and female rattles made from cowhide, painted and decorated with turkey feathers and river otter fur. Without technological assistance I find these high transient sounds virtually inaudible. The faster streams of recorded material are physically exacting in execution, requiring extreme concentration and draw to an extent upon my memory of the sound and its physicality, before hearing loss.





Each sound source was tested for c.1 minute in the order below, this whole process then being repeated three times. The three sets of results are shown separated by a slash.


Numbers rounded to the nearest 10 increments refer to maximum fluctuation in response, i.e. the difference between highest and lowest values observed. Dashes --- indicate negligible fluctuation in value.



            Barrel               Fishbowls         Mouthbow       Rattle               Horn                Clock    

            piano               & glass                                                                                     chimes


Engage 10/---/---           30/40/---          10/20/10          50/20/40          20/10/10          10/20/10


Excite   30/20/40          40/50/30          20/10/10          40/10/10          60/50/50          20/50/30


Focus   ---/---/---           10/10/20          10/10/10          30/20/30          40/10/20          20/10/10          

Interest ---/---/---           ---/---/---           ---/---/---           ---/10/---           ---/---/---           20/---/20          

Relax    30/30/30          20/30/30          10/10/10          20/10/---          ---/10/10          ---/20/10          

Stress   20/20/20          20/10/20          10/10/10          10/---/30          ---/---/---           ---/---/---




Recordings of these sounds were subsequently made without wearing the Insight headset.




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