home contact

instruments and art works

Instruments and Art Works

Many times, theatrical values and getting just the right sound to inspire choreography makes it necessary to create a custom instrument. It is imperative that the timbre of sounds match the dramatic concept of the piece and at the same time inspire the choreographer to create, and the dancers to move with the appropriate qualities. The list below is a sampling of these instruments. I got my start by building harpsicords in the 1980's. When I discovered computer interactivity, I decided to combine my love of playing my own instruments with the new possibilities in interactive software and microcontrollers and sensors.

One of my aesthetics in regards to more recent computer-assisted dance work, is that the computer interface have a more inviting tactility and sense of presence than a laptop computer typically possesses. An example of this is the light- and magnetic wand-activated Control/Recorder which is the on-stage front end for the computer that controls the sonic choices made by the musician/mix-master in Leonardo's Chimes (see this in the "Dance Works" menu item). It creates a visual presence and adds mystery to the drama of the unfolding of the music performed.

One result of my research into motion tracking and control systems is the development of museum installations that incorporate motion and music into visual or scultural art. The Virtual Painting Station is one such installation, as are musical installations like the Water Data Fountain Chime. This is an exciting natural evolution of music into art through the possibilities of computer interactivity.

The Control/Recorder is built of photosensitive circuits and magnetic switches that are activated by waving a hand over the photocells and choosing the switches with a wooden wand. Some viewers have likened it to a Ouiji board, a mysterious platform for musical magic. more...

Video Lyre
A new instrument created for the Inventions Suite is a video effects mixer made with strings to resemble a lyre. This is another performance insrument made as a more organic interface to a computer for the sake of my aesthetic of moving away from the idea of the "guy with the laptop" onstage to a more organic look. more...

The"Sea-Tique" is an instrument made from an aquarium and amplified PVC tubes, run through a custom Max/MSP patch, which I made for the dance installation "e's of water." This rather poetic name came about because someone asked what I call the instrument. "A couple of tubes in an aquarium," I answered--and thought about an acronym "CTIQ" - which led to..."C-Tiq" - which then led to... "Sea-Tique" and thus the name was hatched. This song was written specifically for the production, which was held in the U of Milwaukee Kenilworth Building in June of 2007. more...

Water Data Fountain Chime
Another instrument created for the "e's of water" installation was a chime consisting of four goldfish bowls with waterproof microphones inside of them. Water slowly dripped into the bowls from a monofilament line hung above them. If the water drop was large enough, it's sound triggered a computer chimes sound. Each of the four bowls played a different sound and a different series of pitches. But the timbre of each sound was altered slightly by water quality readings gathered from off-shore bouys in Lake Michigan. Thus the data received from the water itself was used to make manifest in sound the way that humans and natural causes effect the water in Milwaukee's precious water supply source. more...

Virtual Painting Station, now known as Flying Pixels
This movement activated painting installation tracks the painter’s spray can to create Abstract Expressionist images on a projected screen. Each color is associated with a different instrument in a bouncy multitrack music piece that plays as soon as the can is picked up, which motivates the painter to move freely and activate the body’s sense of artistic expression. When the painter is finished, he puts the can back in its holder. The music stops, and the program automatically stores the paintings for later viewing and downloading at a web site. more...


What I'm Up To:
My Blog

John Toenjes

907 1/2 W Nevada St.
Urbana, IL 61801



home · dance works · music for dance · improvisation · instruments/art works · pubs · cv · teaching · links · contact
Copyright 2009 -- John Toenjes