The degree of embodiment a sound producing artefact affords is of central relevance for computer music as our perception is very attuned to detecting human agency in sound production. Artistic research on embodiment helps to identify the implications of this constraint for composition.


Embodiment is an artistic research topic of central importance for computer music. By embodiment we understand the extension of the human body into artefacts, in our case into tools used in music making. Traditionally such tools are music instruments designed by instrument makers. The latter determine the link between the human body and the mechanics of the instrument, an aspect traditionally not negotiable for composers or performers. The development of new media technology, starting with the telephone and the phonograph, changed this situation, which lasted for millennia. Today’s digital instruments allow for a decoupling of the sound production process and the gestural interface of the instrument. The link between gestural control and sound generation can be designed on a case-by-case basis and becomes thus subject to musical composition.

Composers, performers, and their audience are nowadays confronted with the full extent of achievable degrees of embodiment in music making. It ranges from sound production without any significant bodily intervention, such as algorithmically controlled digital sound synthesis, to the human voice, the instrument with the highest imaginable degree of embodiment – the vocal organs being an integral part of the body.

But why is the degree of embodiment such an important notion in computer music composition? This has to do with our perception, which is specialized in detecting and tracking traces of embodied interaction, traces of the body in the sound. As much as we are able to tell with stunning precision which inanimate objects are involved in producing a sound we hear, we are able to sense human agency shaping this sound. The kind and degree of this shaping depends directly on the kind and degree of embodiment sound producing artefacts afford. Having these new possibilities at our disposal raises may questions with respect to which means to use for which artistic ends. Projects like Embodied Generative Music, The Chorepgraohy of Sound, or Transbody are examples of addressing these general issue with concrete research questions.

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Gerhard Eckel