Dan Brophy

Composer|Performer|Educator

Experimental Sound Laboratory

Welcome to my Experimental Sound Laboratory where I perform destructive experiments on various sonic materials. This page documents the creation and performance of my sonic torture machines and other reflexive electronic instruments designed to push the boundaries of control and sound. These instruments can be split into two classes – analog and digital, both of which are crude in appearance and emit viscous primal noises.

Venomous Gloves

 The  gloves  are inspired by multiple types of torture devices that focus on the hands on the victims such as the thumbscrews in which pressure was applied to the thumbs with a piece of wire, or gantlets in which iron cuffs placed around the wrist are tightened with a screw. This REI is made up of a pair of gloves outfitted with copper discs connected to a bent amplifier circuit that produces an electronic scream when touched to bare skin and with one another. With this instrument, the SD2 is able to experiment with the sound of her own body, the skin of the other dancers, and the audience members transgressing the performer/observer barrier

The gloves are inspired by multiple types of torture devices that focus on the hands on the victims such as the thumbscrews in which pressure was applied to the thumbs with a piece of wire, or gantlets in which iron cuffs placed around the wrist are tightened with a screw. This REI is made up of a pair of gloves outfitted with copper discs connected to a bent amplifier circuit that produces an electronic scream when touched to bare skin and with one another. With this instrument, the SD2 is able to experiment with the sound of her own body, the skin of the other dancers, and the audience members transgressing the performer/observer barrier

 The initial prototype of the  Venomous Gloves  began as a simple feedback circuit on a breadboard. I experimented with many different amplifier circuits, but found that a 5 watt LM 346 N amplifier chip is used with two 35v 1000μF capacitors in the input and output yielded the best results. Sound is initiated through skin contact with capacitors which closes the circuit and creates a high pitch electronic sound. Click here to watch a video of the circuit being used in the empirical experimentation phase:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sBV2FzsRr8

The initial prototype of the Venomous Gloves began as a simple feedback circuit on a breadboard. I experimented with many different amplifier circuits, but found that a 5 watt LM 346 N amplifier chip is used with two 35v 1000μF capacitors in the input and output yielded the best results. Sound is initiated through skin contact with capacitors which closes the circuit and creates a high pitch electronic sound. Click here to watch a video of the circuit being used in the empirical experimentation phase:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sBV2FzsRr8

 Following the testing phase, I permanently soldered the capacitors and amplifier circuit into a prototyping box purchased at a local electronics shop.

Following the testing phase, I permanently soldered the capacitors and amplifier circuit into a prototyping box purchased at a local electronics shop.

 The capacitors were extended via copper discs with long wires and sewn onto the palms of a pair of gloves purchased at an adult novelty store. I had the small discs punched-out of a copper sheet by industrial design students with whom I was collaborating on another interactive project.

The capacitors were extended via copper discs with long wires and sewn onto the palms of a pair of gloves purchased at an adult novelty store. I had the small discs punched-out of a copper sheet by industrial design students with whom I was collaborating on another interactive project.

The Circuit-Bent Evening-Dress

 The Circuit-Bent-Evening Dress was created as part of “The Hacked Playhouse,” a collaborative and interactive performance for a directed study under the supervision of professor Scott Smallwood. In the directed study, three musicians being myself, Ruth Guechtal and Colin Labaie were paired with dancer/choreographer Gerry Morita. We met weekly for meetings with the interdisciplinary electronics interest group at University of Alberta named  interactives.  The dress is outfitted with copper discs that act as points of contact to modulate the sound of several amplifier circuits that have been ‘bent.’

The Circuit-Bent-Evening Dress was created as part of “The Hacked Playhouse,” a collaborative and interactive performance for a directed study under the supervision of professor Scott Smallwood. In the directed study, three musicians being myself, Ruth Guechtal and Colin Labaie were paired with dancer/choreographer Gerry Morita. We met weekly for meetings with the interdisciplinary electronics interest group at University of Alberta named interactives. The dress is outfitted with copper discs that act as points of contact to modulate the sound of several amplifier circuits that have been ‘bent.’

The Rack

  The Rack  – based on the name and look of an 18th century torture device of the same name in which a victim’s limbs are tied down to be cut with swords, smashed with hammers, or stretched (Scott 1959).  The   Rack  is a small rectangular box with a metal surface amplified with contact mics that are fed through two custom designed circuits. The two circuits are also fed through the same output which allows creates a feedback loop that falls into chaotic sounds when interrupted by sounds on the metal surface. During rehearsals for the work I captured sonic dancer Richard Lee experimenting with  The Rack  which can be seen here:

The Rack – based on the name and look of an 18th century torture device of the same name in which a victim’s limbs are tied down to be cut with swords, smashed with hammers, or stretched (Scott 1959). The Rack is a small rectangular box with a metal surface amplified with contact mics that are fed through two custom designed circuits. The two circuits are also fed through the same output which allows creates a feedback loop that falls into chaotic sounds when interrupted by sounds on the metal surface. During rehearsals for the work I captured sonic dancer Richard Lee experimenting with The Rack which can be seen here:

 The initial prototype of  The Rack  also began on a breadboard utilizing one 5 watt LM 346 N and two LM 348 N amplifier chips. I used two 35v 1000μF capacitors in the input and output of the 5 watt chip, and 50v 10μF capacitors in the inputs of the first 2.5 watt chip which is then fed into the output of a second other 2.5 watt chip. Through this configuration, I discovered that routing the amplifier ships into one another creates a feedback loop of electronic noise. An additional feedback loop is created through the inclusion of a piezo microphone inputted to the 5 watt amplifier chip and placed in close proximity to a speaker connected to the output of the same amplifier chip. Click here to watch a video of the circuit being used in the empirical experimentation phase:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV5D_flOK8w  Once again, following the testing phase, I permanently soldered the capacitors and amplifier circuit into a more durable container, this time being a small wooden box that could contain the two circuits.

The initial prototype of The Rack also began on a breadboard utilizing one 5 watt LM 346 N and two LM 348 N amplifier chips. I used two 35v 1000μF capacitors in the input and output of the 5 watt chip, and 50v 10μF capacitors in the inputs of the first 2.5 watt chip which is then fed into the output of a second other 2.5 watt chip. Through this configuration, I discovered that routing the amplifier ships into one another creates a feedback loop of electronic noise. An additional feedback loop is created through the inclusion of a piezo microphone inputted to the 5 watt amplifier chip and placed in close proximity to a speaker connected to the output of the same amplifier chip. Click here to watch a video of the circuit being used in the empirical experimentation phase:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV5D_flOK8w

Once again, following the testing phase, I permanently soldered the capacitors and amplifier circuit into a more durable container, this time being a small wooden box that could contain the two circuits.

 The next phase of construction was to create a durable casing that could withstand violent movements from a dancer. My solution was to encase the electronics in a docking palette covered in sheet metal. The first step of this process was to cut a docking skid in half andplace one half of the skid on top of the other

The next phase of construction was to create a durable casing that could withstand violent movements from a dancer. My solution was to encase the electronics in a docking palette covered in sheet metal. The first step of this process was to cut a docking skid in half andplace one half of the skid on top of the other

 The next phase of construction was to create a durable casing that could withstand violent movements from a dancer. My solution was to encase the electronics in a docking palette covered in sheet metal. The first step of this process was to cut a docking skid in half andplace one half of the skid on top of the other.  I then attached a piezo microphone to the sheet metal and plugged it into the input of the circuit, placing the speakers directly underneath the sheet metal that is attached to the piezo microphone

The next phase of construction was to create a durable casing that could withstand violent movements from a dancer. My solution was to encase the electronics in a docking palette covered in sheet metal. The first step of this process was to cut a docking skid in half andplace one half of the skid on top of the other.

I then attached a piezo microphone to the sheet metal and plugged it into the input of the circuit, placing the speakers directly underneath the sheet metal that is attached to the piezo microphone

 In order to have easy access to the circuit and speakers in case of damage, the two halves of the skid are connected with a pair of hinges, essentially creating a lid to allow for access to the circuits when needed.  Several slats were then removed from the inside of the palette to allow room for the speakers to be affixed directly underneath the sheet metal.

In order to have easy access to the circuit and speakers in case of damage, the two halves of the skid are connected with a pair of hinges, essentially creating a lid to allow for access to the circuits when needed.

Several slats were then removed from the inside of the palette to allow room for the speakers to be affixed directly underneath the sheet metal.

The Catherine Wheel

 The  Catherine Wheel,  named after another 18th century torture method which involves tying the victim to a large wheel and crushing their limbs with a sledgehammer (Scott 1959). The REI itself, seen in  figure 7c , is a metal garbage can amplified with a piezo microphone and modulated with a guitar effect unit or a “stompbox.” The  Wheel  is performed by beating it with a stick or large metal rod, or by stirring/crushing small noise-making materials such as stones, broken-glass, or small pieces of metal. A video of the Catherine Wheel recorded at the Soundasaurus Festival performed by Colin Labadie and myself as the noise-music duo MUGBAIT can be seen here: 

The Catherine Wheel, named after another 18th century torture method which involves tying the victim to a large wheel and crushing their limbs with a sledgehammer (Scott 1959). The REI itself, seen in figure 7c, is a metal garbage can amplified with a piezo microphone and modulated with a guitar effect unit or a “stompbox.” The Wheel is performed by beating it with a stick or large metal rod, or by stirring/crushing small noise-making materials such as stones, broken-glass, or small pieces of metal. A video of the Catherine Wheel recorded at the Soundasaurus Festival performed by Colin Labadie and myself as the noise-music duo MUGBAIT can be seen here: 

The Narrator's Podium

 Both the narrator’s podium and sounding chairs use analog sensors, which take the movement of the performer and transform it into electrical current. The podium uses the FSR (force-sensing resistor) and the chairs use motion sensors. This information is sent to an  Arduino  Micro-controller that transforms it into usable numerical data for software. The arduino is a micro-controller in the style of an open-source hardware board created by a group of students at the Design Institute of Ivrea, Italy. The board communicates using the Arduino Integrated Development Environment which opens “ports” on the board of which this particular model (the Uno) has 6 analog and 11 digital.

Both the narrator’s podium and sounding chairs use analog sensors, which take the movement of the performer and transform it into electrical current. The podium uses the FSR (force-sensing resistor) and the chairs use motion sensors. This information is sent to an Arduino Micro-controller that transforms it into usable numerical data for software. The arduino is a micro-controller in the style of an open-source hardware board created by a group of students at the Design Institute of Ivrea, Italy. The board communicates using the Arduino Integrated Development Environment which opens “ports” on the board of which this particular model (the Uno) has 6 analog and 11 digital.

 Hardware  Narrator’s Podium  Both the podium and chairs began on a breadboard for the empirical testing period. Once both the sensors were working properly with the software I had written, I soldered tri-cables with XLR female ends to them.   For the podium the next step was to expand the surface of the sensor. To accomplish this, I placed the FSR between two thin pieces of plywood, with a thin layer of styrofoam on the top.

Hardware

Narrator’s Podium

Both the podium and chairs began on a breadboard for the empirical testing period. Once both the sensors were working properly with the software I had written, I soldered tri-cables with XLR female ends to them. 

For the podium the next step was to expand the surface of the sensor. To accomplish this, I placed the FSR between two thin pieces of plywood, with a thin layer of styrofoam on the top.

 After the sensor was expanded, I needed to create a raised surface for the soprano to stand upon that would be both sturdy, and have a snug fitting space for the sensor to ensure that it would not move around on the performer.

After the sensor was expanded, I needed to create a raised surface for the soprano to stand upon that would be both sturdy, and have a snug fitting space for the sensor to ensure that it would not move around on the performer.

Sounding Chairs

 For the chairs, the next step in the process was to solve the problem of the stage lights interfering with the motion sensors. To rectify the problem, I bought small plastic casing from a local electronics hobby shop that would hang over top of the sensor as a kind of sun-visor. I then drilled small holes in the bottom for the cables and attached small plastic hooks to the casings to hang on the top of the back of most chairs.

For the chairs, the next step in the process was to solve the problem of the stage lights interfering with the motion sensors. To rectify the problem, I bought small plastic casing from a local electronics hobby shop that would hang over top of the sensor as a kind of sun-visor. I then drilled small holes in the bottom for the cables and attached small plastic hooks to the casings to hang on the top of the back of most chairs.

  The Arduino micro-controller   The make the  Arduino  micro-controller more durable for performances, I created a shield with built-in male xlr jacks to connect the sensors.  The first step was to solder the sensors and jacks to a prototyping board.

The Arduino micro-controller

The make the Arduino micro-controller more durable for performances, I created a shield with built-in male xlr jacks to connect the sensors.  The first step was to solder the sensors and jacks to a prototyping board.

 The next step was to build a casing. I wanted the it to look like something a libertine would have on their side table to suit the aesthetic of the work, so I decided on a small wooden cigar box donated by Kale Fenneman would be suitable. Holes had to be drilled for the usb cable and XLR jacks.

The next step was to build a casing. I wanted the it to look like something a libertine would have on their side table to suit the aesthetic of the work, so I decided on a small wooden cigar box donated by Kale Fenneman would be suitable. Holes had to be drilled for the usb cable and XLR jacks.

 The next step was to glue the XLR jacks soldered to the prottyping board into the holes in the casing

The next step was to glue the XLR jacks soldered to the prottyping board into the holes in the casing

 Software   Arduino   Now that the sensors have been built and encased, their electrical current needs to be converted into a language that the software can understand, which requires the Arduino to be programmed. The  Arduino  software is a programming environment in which code can be written, compiled, and uploaded directly to the board.  The code was fairly simple only requiring three analog inputs for the two chairs and podium. The analog sensors utilize analog pins as they send a constantly fluctuating electric current which can only be decoded by a continuously variable signal. The first step is to assign names to the variables, and assign them to pins on the arduino. For this code the three have been named pin 1, 2, and 3. These are assigned to the pins are the arduino being 0, 1, and 2. The second step, under “void set-up” is to tell the code whether the pins are to input or output the signal to the sensors. In this case, all pins are set as input, as all information is originating from the performers activating the sensors through movement which is then calculated and routed into the laptop. At the bottom of this section, labeled as “Serial. begins” is the rate of data transmission in bits per second in this case being 9600. The final portion of the code, labeled as “void loop” sends the information gathered from the sensors and sends it to a serial port from which other software such as Max/MSP can read and utilize.      REI Arduino Code      //pins for reading sensors analog pins  int pin1 = 0;  int pin2 = 1;  //value holders for data  int val1, val2, val3;  void setup() {    //open serial port    Serial.begin(9600);  }  void loop() {    //read the pins and assign data to variables    val1 = analogRead(pin1);    val2 = analogRead(pin2);    val3 = analogRead(pin3);    //”print” the data to the serial port    Serial.print(“ “);    Serial.print(val1);    Serial.print(“ “);    Serial.print(val2);    Serial.print(“ “);    Serial.print(val3);    Serial.print(“ “);  }   MAX   The information from the sensors is then unpacked from the serial port and transformed into information that  MAX  can understand. This information is then routed into objects in Max/MSP housed in subpatchers that play the loaded files forwards at normal speed, backwards at normal speed, and forwards at half-speed. When the analog sensor is activated, it raises the volume of all three tracks and simultaneously scrubs through them.  The instructions for use of the patch are on the top-left in the yellow box which are as follows:   1)  Plug  Podium  and  Sounding Chairs  into  Arduino  housing (the cigar box).  2)  Input Arduino Housing into laptop via USB cable  3)  Open “30 immolated ; 16 returned” Max/MSP patch  4)  Load wav files for Podium and Bergere Chaissesscrubbers. Each instrument’s patch is isolated in the grey rectangles. The uploading buttons are on the right side which light up as red leds when loaded. Upload the same wav file to all three scrubbers for each instrument  5)  Load the Valhalla Frequency Echo VST to the Podium located on the left side of the podium grey box. This also lights up as a red led when loaded.  6)  Turn ‘on’ the patch using the DAC (the microphone symbol) located in the top grey box.  7)  Ensure volume is at an appropriate volume on both the local and main mixing boards

Software

Arduino

Now that the sensors have been built and encased, their electrical current needs to be converted into a language that the software can understand, which requires the Arduino to be programmed. The Arduino software is a programming environment in which code can be written, compiled, and uploaded directly to the board.

The code was fairly simple only requiring three analog inputs for the two chairs and podium. The analog sensors utilize analog pins as they send a constantly fluctuating electric current which can only be decoded by a continuously variable signal. The first step is to assign names to the variables, and assign them to pins on the arduino. For this code the three have been named pin 1, 2, and 3. These are assigned to the pins are the arduino being 0, 1, and 2. The second step, under “void set-up” is to tell the code whether the pins are to input or output the signal to the sensors. In this case, all pins are set as input, as all information is originating from the performers activating the sensors through movement which is then calculated and routed into the laptop. At the bottom of this section, labeled as “Serial. begins” is the rate of data transmission in bits per second in this case being 9600. The final portion of the code, labeled as “void loop” sends the information gathered from the sensors and sends it to a serial port from which other software such as Max/MSP can read and utilize.

 

REI Arduino Code

 

//pins for reading sensors analog pins

int pin1 = 0;

int pin2 = 1;

//value holders for data

int val1, val2, val3;

void setup() {

  //open serial port

  Serial.begin(9600);

}

void loop() { 

 //read the pins and assign data to variables

  val1 = analogRead(pin1);

  val2 = analogRead(pin2);

  val3 = analogRead(pin3);

  //”print” the data to the serial port

  Serial.print(“ “);

  Serial.print(val1);

  Serial.print(“ “);

  Serial.print(val2);

  Serial.print(“ “);

  Serial.print(val3);

  Serial.print(“ “);

}

MAX

The information from the sensors is then unpacked from the serial port and transformed into information that MAX can understand. This information is then routed into objects in Max/MSP housed in subpatchers that play the loaded files forwards at normal speed, backwards at normal speed, and forwards at half-speed. When the analog sensor is activated, it raises the volume of all three tracks and simultaneously scrubs through them.

The instructions for use of the patch are on the top-left in the yellow box which are as follows: 

1)  Plug Podium and Sounding Chairs into Arduino housing (the cigar box).

2)  Input Arduino Housing into laptop via USB cable

3)  Open “30 immolated ; 16 returned” Max/MSP patch

4)  Load wav files for Podium and Bergere Chaissesscrubbers. Each instrument’s patch is isolated in the grey rectangles. The uploading buttons are on the right side which light up as red leds when loaded. Upload the same wav file to all three scrubbers for each instrument

5)  Load the Valhalla Frequency Echo VST to the Podium located on the left side of the podium grey box. This also lights up as a red led when loaded.

6)  Turn ‘on’ the patch using the DAC (the microphone symbol) located in the top grey box.

7)  Ensure volume is at an appropriate volume on both the local and main mixing boards

Sounding Metal

 Sounding Metal was my second contribution to the “Hacked Playhouse.” For this project I wanted to create an interactive installation in which the user could re-mix a pre-composed piece of music by smashing pieces of scrap metal with a rubber hammer. I first wrote a piece of music using indeterminate notation in the style of Louis Andriessen’s “Worker’s Union” for several electric guitars and drum-set and cut it up into small sections. I then wrote some software in the programming environment Max that could play a wav file of the section of music when called upon. The next step was to connect the scrap metal to the software with via the Arduino micro-controller. I adhered several contact microphones directly to the surface of the scrap metal that would pick up the vibrations of the metal being hit with a hammer. The vibrations are then transformed into useful information for the computer through the microcontroller, triggering the wav files inside the software. The final step wasto make a “metal-space” by covering the walls and ceiling with aluminum foil.

Sounding Metal was my second contribution to the “Hacked Playhouse.” For this project I wanted to create an interactive installation in which the user could re-mix a pre-composed piece of music by smashing pieces of scrap metal with a rubber hammer. I first wrote a piece of music using indeterminate notation in the style of Louis Andriessen’s “Worker’s Union” for several electric guitars and drum-set and cut it up into small sections. I then wrote some software in the programming environment Max that could play a wav file of the section of music when called upon. The next step was to connect the scrap metal to the software with via the Arduino micro-controller. I adhered several contact microphones directly to the surface of the scrap metal that would pick up the vibrations of the metal being hit with a hammer. The vibrations are then transformed into useful information for the computer through the microcontroller, triggering the wav files inside the software. The final step wasto make a “metal-space” by covering the walls and ceiling with aluminum foil.

NOISE-SHIRTS

 The noise-shirts were my first adventure into the world of interactive electronics. Similar to the Venomous Gloves, the noise-shirts contain circuits made-up of bent amplifier circuits that produce a multitude of sounds based on their configuration. Instead of being activated through skin contact though, they react to the sensors being touched to each other. To accommodate this, I decided to place the sensors in the arm-pits of the shirts, so that when the musician moves their body to play their instrument, they inadvertently activate the circuit. Although I’ve used this instrument for a multitude of performances, my personal favourite was for my Saxophone Quartet Re-Ordered Chaos premiered at the NuMusic at NextFest in Edmonton, which can be seen here:

The noise-shirts were my first adventure into the world of interactive electronics. Similar to the Venomous Gloves, the noise-shirts contain circuits made-up of bent amplifier circuits that produce a multitude of sounds based on their configuration. Instead of being activated through skin contact though, they react to the sensors being touched to each other. To accommodate this, I decided to place the sensors in the arm-pits of the shirts, so that when the musician moves their body to play their instrument, they inadvertently activate the circuit. Although I’ve used this instrument for a multitude of performances, my personal favourite was for my Saxophone Quartet Re-Ordered Chaos premiered at the NuMusic at NextFest in Edmonton, which can be seen here: