Not many people are familiar with the style of music known as controllerism, but The Beatles dabbled in it. So did Imogen Heap and The Cure.
The movement blends sounds generated by hardware and software, not guitar picks and drumsticks. It uses fingers on buttons, sliders and knobs instead of strings and keyboards.
The result, its adherents believe, is music as invigorating and emotive as “Can’t Buy Me Love” or “Hey Jude.”
Some the most well-known practitioners of controllerism will perform Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at The Tech Museum of Innovation. The concert is part of The Tech’s newest exhibition, REBOOT:music, a fusion of music, art, and technology. Open through Aug. 17, it’s the largest exhibition of interactive, collaborative digital music installations ever created.
Alfred Darlington, better known as Daedelus, is one of this genre’s most well-known artists. He says his music is an extension of the human form.
“I only have 10 fingers,” he says. “I can only do so much, but with a little bit of computer assistance a single button press can trigger a lot of events happening. It can be a note played, or it could be something totally different like changing the lighting mood. All these things contribute to the musical experience in different ways.”
This notion goes back to the early 20th century Soviet inventor Léon Theremin. His instrument, used by many in this movement, requires no physical contact from the performer. A Theremin typically consists of two metal antennas that sense the position of the artist’s hands; one controls frequency, the other volume.
Don Buchla, a contemporary of synthesizer creator Bob Moog, built on this invention and changed the fabric of popular music through synthesizers. His technology has advanced through the decades and has been used in the music of some of the most influential artists in recent decades, including Pink Floyd.
Many people are probably familiar with this movement, even if they don’t know it. The Beatles were known to spend days in the studio experimenting with non-traditional sounds, Daedelus said. They would take cut-up pieces of audio tapes they had previously recorded, put them back together and play them at odd speeds.
“Nowadays, we have the technology to do these things under our fingers, and we can do it in real time,” Daedelus said. “We can experiment and improvise in the same way The Beatles did in their studio tricks, but we can do it live.”
There are tools that everyone can use to dabble in this movement. MaKey MaKey, for example, uses alligator clips and software to transform a banana into a controller that can be used to make music.
And a new phase of this movement is on the horizon, using haptic technology, which is most notably part of gaming systems in which the user feels a rumble in the controller when he is hit.
“Not only are you playing the instrument, but the instrument is playing you as well. It’s pushing back at you,” Daedelus said. He predicts technologies like this will be used to create deeper connections between artists and audiences.
Saturday night’s event will begin with a panel discussion hosted by ANI. Five performers – Daniel Berkman, Onyx Ashanti, Daedelus, Jeremy Ellis, and Author & Punisher – will follow.
“Ellis,” Daedelus said, “is one of the most amazing players of buttons I’ve ever seen. He’s a really dynamic performer. He’s like a Hendrix – there’s lightning on stage.”
One of the hallmarks of these performances is the connection among the artist, the audience and the space in which they come together, Daedelus said. “I’m really looking forward to the interaction.”