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Custom Computer Controller

Conception, Creation:
John Toenjes

A paper discussing in more detail the aesthetic considerations and contruction of the Control/Recorder and the VideoLyre has been submitted to the 2009 NIME conference. If you'd like to see this paper, please contact me for access and permissions.

Playing the Control/Recorder
John Toenjes playing the Control/Recorder
(in this earlier version, the player's
right hand was tracked to control
MIDI volume)



The "Control/Recorder" allows the “musician” to work with the computer interactive system to decide which sounds will be heard during the dance work Leonardo's Chimes. The dancer triggers hotspots on the stage, tracked from an overhead camera with Isadora software. Positioning information is sent via OSC to Max, which translates it into MIDI note commands. The system makes pitch (MIDI note number) decisions based upon which hot spot is contacted, and changes the pitch according to the number of times the “dancer” intersects each hot spot.

The “musician” decides which sounds the dancer is playing at any one time (by selecting various MIDI channels). He also records musical sequences created by the dancer in real time, creating layers of musical loops over and against which the dancer “dances a music solo.” Using the Control/ Recorder, he can record sequences, turn them on and off, control the relative volume of the different sound layers, and discard sequences. This allows him to have a duet with the dancer, who must listen intently to the changing musical elements being fed to him at any time.

The instrument consists of a box made of stained birch plywood which holds most of the electronics and some magnetic switches. Upon this box rest two small elevated platforms.

On each of two small elevated platforms are photocells which respond to the shadow of the player's hand. The left-most, higher, platform controls selection of MIDI channels. Glowing brighter as the sounds get louder, small LED lights above each of the photocells give feedback on MIDI channel volume. The lower platform selects which musical sequence is recorded and played back. LED's on this platform indicate which sequences are currently activated.

The wooden wand to the right selects the various functions available from the interface: record/play/stop/mute all sequences, start/stop audio, MIDI bank select, and automatic/selectable MIDI channel. It also controls meta functions such as sound system on/off, lights up/down, and stop/start all sounds. LED's on the box indicate which control functions are active.

This wand now also contains an infrared LED on the end. It's vertical position is tracked by a wii® controller to control the volume of each MIDI channel. The player selects which channel is being effected by casting a shadow with his left hand, and moves the wand up and down. When the desired volume is reached, he moves his shadow, and the volume sticks.

Inside the box are a Teleo® network and a MIDItron®, which provide digital and analog inputs and outputs and the circuitry to communicate via USB over ethernet to the interactivity programming software, usually Max/MSP.


More Information:

Although this instrument is made specifically for my puroses, I can do workshops and lecture demonstrations with your community or students on creating custom instruments for dance or theatrical music. Contact me to schedule a workshop or to consult on custom instrument creation.

To see and hear the Control/Recorder,
view the dance Leonardo's Chimes in the Dance Works area of this website.

Blog (not very active):
JT's Musings & Doings

John Toenjes

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



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Copyright 2009 -- John Toenjes