Organised Sound


Advancements in Actuated Musical Instruments

Dan Overholta1, Edgar Berdahla2 c1 and Robert Hamiltona2 c1

a1 Aalborg University, Department of Architecture, Design and Media Technology, Niels Jernes Vej 14, DK-9220 Aalborg, Denmark E-mail:

a2 Stanford University, Department of Music, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford, California 94305, USA


This article presents recent developments in actuated musical instruments created by the authors, who also describe an ecosystemic model of actuated performance activities that blur traditional boundaries between the physical and virtual elements of musical interfaces. Actuated musical instruments are physical instruments that have been endowed with virtual qualities controlled by a computer in real-time but which are nevertheless tangible. These instruments provide intuitive and engaging new forms of interaction. They are different from traditional (acoustic) and fully automated (robotic) instruments in that they produce sound via vibrating element(s) that are co-manipulated by humans and electromechanical systems. We examine the possibilities that arise when such instruments are played in different performative environments and music-making scenarios, and we postulate that such designs may give rise to new methods of musical performance. The Haptic Drum, the Feedback Resonance Guitar, the Electromagnetically Prepared Piano, the Overtone Fiddle and Teleoperation with Robothands are described, along with musical examples and reflections on the emergent properties of the performance ecologies that these instruments enable. We look at some of the conceptual and perceptual issues introduced by actuated musical instruments, and finally we propose some directions in which such research may be headed in the future.

(Online publication June 28 2011)