The Multifaceted Ontologies of Digital Technologies in Creative Musical Practice

Mark Dyer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper explores the varied misuses of digital music technologies, the Soundbrenner wearable metronomes, by contemporary composers of new and experimental music. The Soundbrenner Pulse and Core devices use distinct vibrations and haptic learning, regulated via the Soundbrenner app, to aid intuitive engagement with tempo and rhythm. They are originally designed for and marketed toward session musicians and ensembles in both live and studio settings.

However, these devices and software have recently been repurposed in works by the author and, separately, Kathryn Williams and Ed Cooper. The paper introduces the two works, analysing the creative processes and examining how the Soundbrenner devices function as performative, material and symbolic actants within these. It then goes on to explore how the repurposing of consumer musical technologies might garner multifaceted and multimodal ontologies within new creative practices, contextualising this within recent scholarship in music organology and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

In Mensura (2022), composed for the open ensemble CoMA Manchester, the author utilises multiple Pulse watches and smart devices running the Soundbrenner app. In performance, each performer measures their heart rate and sends this, via the app, to a device worn by a separate performer who performs various breathing and singing exercises according to this given pulse. Within this reciprocal feedback loop and the creative processes undertaken by the author, the Soundbrenner devices function as controller, score, communicative interface and metaphor.

Fourfold (2022) was co-created by flautist Kathryn Williams and composer-guitarist Ed Cooper. The piece also uses the Soundbrenner device to make associations with the human pulse, with a focus on attentive and private listening. The Core device is used as a sonic activator, placed both on the electric guitar and performers’ amplified chests. Looping drones combine with fixed media recordings of heartrates, singing and spoken word. Here, the devices function as controller-cum-resonator as well as metaphorical departure points for yoga and poetry. Additionally, the Soundbrenner devices alter the performers’ subjective ontologies within the dialogues established.

The recontextualisation of purpose-built, commercial musical technologies calls for a revaluation of hardware and software ontologies within creative practice, as well as how these multiple ontologies induce and interact with one another. This discussion is contextualised by the organological scholarship of Thor Magnusson as well as broader research in communicative, smart devices in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Jul 2023
EventInnovation in Music Conference 2023 - Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh , United Kingdom
Duration: 30 Jun 20232 Jul 2023


ConferenceInnovation in Music Conference 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
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