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Cube Culture: The Alternative Controller

by Lindsay Vickery

The audiences complaints about live electronic music have traditionally revolved around two problems: electronic instruments produce sounds that are not as flexible and expressive as real instruments; and the simple fact that electronic music is not interesting to watch, due to the dominance of the sedentary keyboard synthesizer as the primary human interface.

The Alternative Controller Project will create an on going dialog between performance and instrument design. The instruments fall into two distinct groups: Quasi-Analog instruments - where the sound source is acoustic but is electronically manipulated in real-time and the fully digital Instruments whose sound source is electronic. The system set up for a quasi-analog instrument is as follows:

Interesting but usually inaudible sounds are electronically manipulated and amplified. The performer has control of FX processing and mixing of the acoustic sound.

In the fully Digital Instrument set-up the performer has control of MIDI notes as well as FX, mixing, Audio CD etc. The Analog to Digital Converter is an Infusion Systems' I-CubeX which allows 32 separate 'ins' and is capable of data sampling (for ultrasound distance detection etc) in addition to control voltage input.

The instrument designs generally rely on simple cheap technology. Prototype versions will be built using PVC as the principal structural material. For later versions of instruments it may be possible to commission custom instrument bodies from individual sculptors. Commercial sale is possible in the long term. Some proposed alternative controllers are the Snorkel, Joy-Stick Cello, Aeolian Tension Harp, Piggy-in-the-Middle and Hollota.

26 july 1998

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