Submission 3

Individual Articles – Action Sound 2014

Digital Media Studio Project, The University of Edinburgh

Bahar Oktay:

Cameron MacNair:

Daniele Martella:

Tina Krekels:

Integrating DMX Lighting Configurations in Real Time Performance Systems – Cameron MacNair, s1300547


This article will investigate various ways of controlling DMX lighting configurations in a real time musical performance environment. Integrating a system of DMX lighting into musical performances allows opportunities to represent performance elements and gestural content in a creative way. When controlled by digital audio signals, mapping visual cues and parameters to the lighting system can be utilized to realize performance action events as categorized audio/visual objects.

The methods described here were incorporated into the Action Sound 2014 group performance for the Digital Media Studio Project course at The University of Edinburgh. For a video capture of this performance, documentation of our system, and Max patches, please see the corresponding media available on the website.

Aesthetic advantages

In what way can we use perception to represent sensory information? How can this be creatively utilized in a real time musical performance?

To introduce aesthetic advantages of a DMX lighting system in a real time musical performance environment, I would like to share this quote by Albert Bregman from his text Auditory Scene Analysis [1].

“The best way to begin is to ask ourselves what perception is for . . . The job of perception, then, is to take the sensory input and to derive a useful representation of reality from it.

An important part of building a representation is to decide which parts of the sensory stimulation are telling us about the same environmental object or event. (pp. 3).”

Creating meaningful representation in any creative environment requires an awareness of the two part system mentioned above. Sensory information is how we, as humans, relate to one another and our environment. If we utilize this highly complex ability as a creative platform for performance, we can represent abstract ideas and actions in new ways. Experimentation with various combinations of sensory data in an ecological method can elaborate an intimate creative practice.

Incorporating DMX lighting into a musical performance allows a “scene” to be constructed by reinforcing and contextualizing the attention of the audience. Do not work against their perception, provide a focus of visual information to represent the scene. Ambient and sporadic lighting techniques can allow a rich visual texture to accompany the auditory events, representing any desired detail of (or relationship between) performance actions and gestures. Bregman identifies this method of utilizing audience awareness, which reinforces the utility of sensory categorization in performance.

“Apart from the role of effort there are other signs by which we recognize the presence of attention. One is that we have a more detailed awareness of things that are the objects of attention than of things that are not (pp. 399).”


Understanding the technical integration process of a DMX lighting configuration is essential to creating a meaningful scene representation of the performance actions. I will not go into technical details in this article, however there is a guide available on the Action Sound website that outlines our specific technical setup for the final performance.

Gestural information in a performance environment can be represented, abstracted and magnified with visual cues. A musical performance inherently contains many gestural definitions, identifying these definitions as control data can be used to create the visual scene. Alexander Refsum Jensenius introduces three categories that can be used to investigate gestural definition in his PhD Thesis, Action Sound: Developing Methods and Tools to Study Music-Related Body Movement [2] by introducing three categories.

“Communication: using gestures to denote aspects of human communication, focusing on how they work as vehicles of social interaction.

Control: investigating gestures as a system, focusing on computational models and the control possibilities of gestures in interactive systems.

Mental Imagery: studying gestures as mental processes, which may be the result of physical movement, sound, or other types of perception (pp. 36).”

How can a DMX lighting configuration become a meaningful representation of the gestural definitions in the musical performance system? In what ways can this be constructed to identify auditory and gestural data? Using intelligent mapping techniques can be a vehicle of communication, control and mental imagery when designing this system.


Parameter mapping in a digital system can be used to identify relationships within the scene in a creative way. John Croft’s Theses on Liveness [3] considers two different types of mapping, procedural and aesthetic. Creating this connection in a digital system can allow the computer’s responsiveness to become ecological and creatively biased, to develop an intimate relationship between attention and content within the performance structure.

“The onus of justification of liveness is shifted to the causal link between the performer’s action and the computer’s response. (pp. 61).”

When defining this connecting between the computer’s response and the audio environment, choosing performance relationships with streams of data is the heartbeat of the scene’s construction. D. Wessel and M. Wright make this consideration in the article Problems and Prospects for Intimate Musical Control of Computers[4] featured in the Computer Music Journal.

“All music, in the end, exists as sound—that is, continuous variations in air pressure. However, the notion of discrete events is a very powerful and effective metaphor for musical control, providing much-simplified reasoning about rhythms, entrances and exits, notes, and many other aspects of music.

Our solution is to represent continuous control gestures as audio signals . . . We can multiplex lower-rate control gestures into a single audio channel (pp. 13).”

Creative mapping techniques allow the scene to be a synchronized, elaborate, and metaphorical representation of a gestural system. Pairing the visual stimulus and auditory environment is a way to grab the attention of the audience, shift their awareness, and propagate deeper meaning into the performance. Roger Dannenberg researched the connections between visual and audio scenes in his article Interactive Visual Music: A Personal Perspective [5] featured in the Computer Music Journal.

“Make connections between deep compositional structure and images. . . By tying visuals to this deep, hidden information, the audience may perceive that there is some emotional, expressive, or abstract connection, but the animation and music can otherwise be quite independent and perhaps more interesting (pp. 28).”


DMX lighting configurations can be used to develop a strong representation of hidden information, gestural definitions, and performance actions in a real time musical performance environment. Integrating this system with sophisticated mapping techniques and perceptual awareness allows a scene to be constructed that utilizes sensory information and the complex association that the human mind creates from it. Pairing these systems in an ecological way is a method of integrating a new dimension of meaning, representation, and gestural content into the performance environment.


[1] Bregman, A.S. (1990). Auditory Scene Analysis: The Perceptual Organization of Sound. Cambridge, Mass.: Bradford Books, MIT Press.

[2] Jensenius, Alexander. (2007). Action – Sound: Developing Methods and Tools to Study Music-Related Body Movement. University of Oslo, Department of Musicology. Retrieved from

[3] Croft, John. (2007). Theses on liveness. School of Arts, Brunel University. Retrieved from

[4] Wessel, D., Wright, M. Problems and Prospects for Intimate Musical Control of Computers. Computer Music Journal, 26 (3). pp. 11-22.

[5] Dannenberg, Roger. Interactive Visual Music: A Personal Perspective. Computer Music Journal, 29 (4). pp. 25-35.


On the nature of collaboration and collectives: what is non-understanding and desire in musical practices – Tina Krekels

“I distinguish between collaboration in research into art and collaboration in making art. I am at ease with the two being one thing; but that requires a degree of finesse involving knowledge of the needs of each.” (Upton, 2011)

In this short statement I would like to draw and expand from Upton’s distinguish between ‘collaboration in research into art’ and ‘collaboration in making art’. I would also like to argue that collaboration in the academic art world is a representation of capitalist realism and prevents an experience of non-understanding in collaboration in making art.

Collaborations and collective works have in recent years become keywords in the socio-economic world, somehow trying to incorporate Marxist theories into the capitalist market. Probably an irony in itself, but as Mark Fisher outlines capitalist realism is everywhere (Fisher, 2009) and therefore even those unions, collectives are a product of capitalism to support the system further.

“The collectivisation of land in the domain of agriculture; centralised industrial development; the formation of a new military apparatus; the struggle against religious obscurantism; and the creation of new cultural and artistic forms – in short, the whole transition to a collective ‘new world’ created powerful conflicts on every level’ (Badiou, 2013). Badiou outlines further that those collectives, which initially were seen as the disruption of the upper classes by the working class, are now supporting the system, they keep the economic market a moveable and flexible apparatus.

It does not surprise then that also academia (a business in itself) has to support this kind of approach. Music and art collaborations or collective work is presented to students as a ‘social’ and ‘freeing’ way of creating something in a given framework. Furthermore, as the ‘real’ world is now based on these models of collaboration it seems that the academic world needs to prepare its students.

What I like to criticise here is the fact that I don’t believe that this is the true nature of collective work, neither do I believe that imposed collective work can emerge into a unified aesthetic action. Entering a course that requires us to work together within a given structure and brief obviously functions on a different level as to what the nature of collectives or collaborations are.

In order to come to the core of my critique I am going to outline the idea of eros and non-understanding in collaborations, which is related to collective work as a natural desire as well as the communist/anarchist idea of revolutions. This is opposed to the business-like structures – such as this particular course – which by their nature cannot offer a non-understanding of creative practices, they fulfil a certain step in the production process with the finalised product being a degree or specific course outcome.

Simply put, this course imposes an aesthetic, it tries to merge different people with different aesthetic into one. It wants its workers to produce a product or value that can be analysed, criticised on academic criteria. The result obviously is not a natural flow of exchange but a linear scanning of the possibilities within that given frame. This is probably the most simplistic way of using Marx critique on capitalism to outline the problems when artistic approaches are imposed rather than desired. My major critique of courses is, that they are presented to us as a ‘social’ ‘let’s all work together’ approach, but really they are not.

Undeniably music is a social and collaborative practice, but for me there is a difference of committing to my own desire or practice and how I like to share this and what I need to experience in order to creatively work. This is where I see the difference and will try to explain this by using the concept of non-understanding and Eros.

Similar to how I see improvisation, collaborative approaches are dependent on a situational, reactive and transitory exchange of desire or eroticism. Meaning natural and essential experiences.

Collective work can only work if people allow a path of non-understanding, where no one feels superior to the other; when a constant process is happening; where no fixed architecture has power over the other. Non-understanding, similar to non-music often related to the composer Helmut Lachenmann, is the process of thinking or experiencing ‘without borders’ (Ahrendt, 2013). Summarising, non-understanding means to allow a path of pure experience. Non-understanding is the flow and the core of collective work, but it is almost impossible to experience these things within a given framework.

Therefore collective work – at least for me – has to be a constant move forward, where no architecture is established and where old ones are constantly broken down. Collective work, which I see similar to improvisation is – as I interpret Bataille’s concept of eroticism – the unstable, dangerous, momentary ground (Bataille, 2012) of unified action. This is where ‘true’ or honest action can be found. As a human being I am not linear, I can create various relationships depending on the situation, space and time. The question remains how and who triggers what in that process of creative practice? It is not academia nor a particular person telling me to do certain things, but what – during that exchange of either playing or communicating – has triggered or started a process of creative output. Why is that certain path followed? That is where desire and eroticism can be found (Lawrence Upton). Eroticism, Eros, desire those are all always present when collaborating, making music, thinking, writing etc. It has nothing to do with sexual desire nor with fantasising about the others in a sexual way, but for me the most interesting bit is that through eroticism unities can emerge, this might be on a personal level, artistic and so on, they momentarily exist, but will break as soon as those moments are over. Those moments are described by Bataille as the moments of danger, where life and death meet, because they are not and cannot represent knowledge (they are happening in the process of non-understanding) in the scientific way, neither can they be a product that can be sold in our capitalistic world. They are dangerous simply for only allowing the person to experience something without the safety of knowledge.

Academia cannot provide this feel of danger or spontaneous action, neither can it create a framework of artistic outputs. It is purely impossible, similar to how democracy presents itself as ‘speaking for the people’, academia presents itself as an open platform for creative practice, but instead it replicates the existing architectures of our socio-economic world. It doesn’t allow a path of non-understanding or pure desire.

Certainly collective work seems to be the future for music, not only because working together is a human act but it is economical probably the only way of producing and performing your own art if you don’t want to fall into the trap of being a ‘bought’ and ‘paid’ artist.

This is a pure ideological, self-centred, egotistical statement.

[1] Upton, Lawrence: 2011, ‘On collaboration in art and in research into art’,

[2] Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism. Is there no alternative? Zero Books, 2009.

[3] Badiou, Alain, edit. Slavoj Žižek. In The Idea of Communism 2, ‘The Communist Idea and the Question of Terror. Verso, 2013.

[4] Bataille, Georges, Eroticism. Penguin Classics, London, 2012.

[5] Arendt, Hannah. Denken ohne Geländer. Piper, München, 2013.