Belgrade 19-22 April
Collaborating with Machines: Exploring Agency through Instrument Design
Starts at 10:00

20. April

Workshop Tutors

Nicholas Ward
Paul Stapleton

Collaborating with Machines: Exploring Agency through Instrument Design

Is a digital performance system (musical instrument, live visuals system) merely a passive object, a tool to enact and give form to our intention? Or is it a collaborator in the creative process, imbued with its own agency, capable of frustrating and resisting as well as supporting our intention in surprising ways? In this workshop we will explore the design of simple systems that give rise to complex behaviours. Using combinations of people, props, strings, cardboard and tape we will draw ideas and inspirations to inform the design of a digital musical instrument (or other digital systems for creative expression) in a way that moves beyond ideas of control or instrumentalism. In the second part of the workshop we will put these ideas into practice. Working with sensors, microcontrollers and software we will develop a performance system that explores agency as a guiding design direction. Through this workshop we wish to arrive at a better collective understanding of:

  • How agency is distributed across people and things in performance.
  • Whether performance with digital systems is too often seen in terms of demonstrating control rather than developing empathy and skilful adaptability.
  • How we can move past the design motivation of interface transparency towards a celebration of resistance, instability and co-tuning.

We will provide a range of equipment and materials for aiding the physical sketching process, but you are also encouraged to bring your own objects of interests (e.g. computers, instruments, antiques, beverages). Experience with a programming environment such as Max/MSP, PD will be useful but is not essential.

Workshop Cost: Free

The workshop is realized within the framework of ENCAC – European Network for Contemporary Audiovisual Creation.

Nicholas Ward is an artist/researcher based in Ireland. His work explores physicality and effort in the context of performance and game design. Specifically he is interested in movement quality, systems for movement description, and their utility within a design context and the manner in which digital technology supports playfulness and physical interaction. Since 2006 his work has been presented internationally at exhibitions and conferences including; Amaze Independent Video Games Festival, Berlin; Playful Arts Festival, Den Bosch NL; EVA International Biennial, Limerick; Venice Biennale of Architecture, Italy; New Interfaces for Musical Expression, London. He is currently a lecturer at the Digital Media and Arts Research Centre at the University of Limerick, where he is the course director of the MA/MSc in Art and Technology.

Paul Stapleton is an improviser and sound artist originally from Southern California, currently based in Belfast. Paul performs with custom-made metallic electroacoustic sound sculptures. His album FAUNA (2013) with saxophonist Simon Rose has received acclaim from music critics such as Ken Waxman (Jazzword), Mark Corroto (All About Jazz), and Marc Medwin (New York City Jazz Record). His sound design and composition work as part of the immersive audio theatre piece Reassembled, Slightly Askew (2015) has received widespread critical praise, including 4 star reviews in The Guardian, Time Out London and the Evening Standard. Paul is currently Senior Lecturer at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast where he supervises research in improvisation, performance ecosystem design and site-specific sound art. Other major works-in-progress are the distributed instrument project Ambiguous Devices with Tom Davis, and the Translating Improvisation research group co-directed with Sara
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