We all have our own typical gestures in everyday life. One often recognises a person by the way she walks, folds her arms or shakes her head. I see these gestures as a core element of our identity. Many artists use “everyday” gestures in their work. This interview series focuses on performances using gestures (normally not associated with music) to control sound. My first meeting was with sound artist and composer Leo Hofmann. Leo obtained a Bachelor in Music and Media Arts, a Master of Contemporary Arts Practice and is currently a stipendiate in Braunschweig. Many of his works focus on gestures, often using interfaces he develops especially for these performances.
His piece A. wie Albertine is based on the character Albertine from Proust’s seven volume novel, In Search of Lost Time. In this “interactive radio drama”, sensors are attached to Leo’s forearm, controlling certain aspects of the sounds played. The relationships between gestures and sounds are not fixed but are changing throughout the performance.
CvE: What was the first “inspirational spark” for this performance?
LH: I was carrying some of these sentences with me, all from the „Lost Time“ books of Proust. I felt that there was a connection between these sentences that I wanted to figure out. I couldn’t save the lines I wanted because I was listening to an audio book and there was no function to ‘book-mark’. It’s hard to believe there’s still no such function. Or perhaps there is and I’ve missed it? So it was really difficult to find these sentences again via text-search. I was lucky that I once did a collaborative performance project, during which we worked with huge text corpora. A colleague of mine wrote a software to search for words through all volumes of Proust’s books, so I was able to locate them. And there really was an obvious connection [in these sentences], but from here, it gets too personal…
CvE: How do these gestures connect to your everyday life?
LH: Not too much. I like to practice amateurish “tutting” [dancing with your fingers] while listening to music in private. But I have the strange feeling that my hands have become more and more restless, since I started working with gestures. Yeah, one thing: I tend to play with my thumbs at the top of my ring fingers in every day life, so these nails get dirty quicker than the others. Some of this play can be seen in the Albertine piece:
CvE: What about the relationship between your gestures and the sound of your performance: could you tell how you composed these, describing how they connect to each other musically?
LH: I did not think about it much as a relationship while doing the choreography. For me, there are two separate layers, the music and the gestures, focusing on the text and building relationships with that text. The most distinctive connections seem to be moments of synchronicity in time and “volume”. There is a general correlation between density and other “macro” properties. In this work, I developed the choreography after the whole sound track was more or less fixed. Getting the music staged and “interactive” was like cutting a tape into short samples and putting these pieces in place while performing the piece, thus building a sounding structure with my gestures:
CvE: And what about the technical side, how did you achieve the connection between gestures and sound?
LH: Time-based connections are made by a wireless sensor interface attached to the left wrist and thumb. The interface I use is an Arduino FIO. A pressure sensor on the thumb is used like a ‘play’ button to start sound files. Other sensors I use are an accelerometer, a tilt sensor and a distance sensor. The sensor data gets integrated in a program code (a Max patch actually), which then outputs 2-channel sound. Besides direct technical connections between sound and movement with the help of sensors, other relationships don’t involve any technical information transfer: I perform some gestures for certain sound events just by careful listening. This is what would commonly be called ‘playback’. This how the parts were built together into a device mounted on my arm:
CvE: Thank you, Leo, for answering my questions!
If you have any questions for Leo or comments don’t hesitate to ask them below, and I’ll pass them on to Leo.
Here a video documentation of the whole performance “A. wie Albertine”: