Sonigraph: an instrument for gestural control of sound

“Music was born free; and to win freedom is its destiny.” This is what Ferruccio Busoni wrote in his remarkable book, Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, which was considered as a milestone in the history of electronic music. As Busoni put forward in his book, the new liberating medium of music, namely the electronic, has brought to composers almost endless possibilities of expression and opened up for them the whole mysterious world of sound. A world I was unaware of up until this year. If I had not dived deep into the worlds of John Cage, Edgard Varese, Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, Iannis Xenakis and many more, I would still be unaware of these endless possibilities and would not be able to liberate my view of electronic music. Making music, or let me say creating sounds with my own ‘handmade’ instrument would only be a dream as well.

When we were given an assignment to make our own instruments for the final projects in our sound class, I recalled the works of Iannis Xenakis who translated graphical images into musical results and integrated the sound and architecture. Sonification of 3d objects has become an important starting point for me in this project since I am very much interested in the subjectivity of live experience and using the shape of one’s own body to trigger a sound like an instrument is a metaphore about which I want to make an indepth analysis in my future projects. Like the fingerprints, everyone has a unique body shape that will create a unique ‘self’ music. Or just like musicians playing the same instrument yet having a distinct interpretation or a different way of playing that in fact makes a huge difference…

Sonigraph is the ‘prelude’ of a series of projects I would like to work on within this context. Trying to be more of a theoritician than an artist, I am a bit remote from practice and my experience in Max/MSP/Jitter is quite limited. Music, on the contrary, takes an important part in my life, so working on creating my own instrument was a great experience. Once I decided on the methodology and the conceptual framework of Sonigraph to be played through hand movements and the shapes formed by the movements of the player, I started to prepare the physical prototype of it.

The physical interface of Sonigraph is an illuminated white cylinder and it looks like half a drum. The hand gestures of the player are recorded via a webcam and the shapes formed on the elastic surface are transformed to a computer in order to output the tracked parameters; namely X and Y coordinates.

These outputs are mapped in Max/MSP/Jitter and the sonification of the graphical data is obtained via jitter patchers. A second camera will be added for the 3rd dimension in the following projects.


– The video image obtained from the webcam is thresholded so that the drumhead becomes black and the background white. This is a robust mechanism given the controlled lighting.

– A graphical output is obtained in every hand gesture.

– The location and the value of the peak point is obtained for y-coordinate in Jitter.

– The center of each blob is obtained for x-coordinate in Jitter.

– The outputs are then connected to cycle object to create a different sound in every movement.

Although Sonigraph is initially an instrument, I also intent to adapt it to an interactive project where the body parts can be tracked in human size boards made up of needles like the ones in the picture on the left  and become 3d shapes of people while turning them into sound machines…

Here is the demo of Sonigraph: (a better version of video will be coming soon)


…Continued on 22.10.2010…


As I have mentioned above, I am very much interested in sonification of 3D objects. It is an amateur interest, since I am not a pro in MaxMSPJitter. I have worked on Sonigraph a bit more and made another handmade instrument relying on the same principles. This time I integrated a toy I used to play when I was a kid, a pinboard that gives the shape of your hand when you press it.

The principle is the same as Sonigraph, the changes in the maximum points of the pins trigger the sound and whenever the pins are altered by the hand, the sound changes randomly.. (The sounds in the video below come from the headphones, so they are not loud)



8 Responses to “Sonigraph: an instrument for gestural control of sound”

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