Works with Donna Hewitt

Julian Knowles and Donna Hewitt performing Amphibian at Liquid Architecture, ArtsHouse Melbourne 2006
Julian Knowles and Donna Hewitt performing Amphibian at Liquid Architecture, ArtsHouse Melbourne 2006

Amphibian (2006) for two laptops, electric guitar and e-mic

This performance is a collaborative composition for two performers using synchronized laptops, an electric guitar and a novel gestural interface for contemporary vocal performance and electronic processing – the eMic (Extended Mic-stand Interface Controller). The eMic, an ongoing project by Donna Hewitt, allows the performer to manipulate their voice in real-time by capturing physical gestures via an array of sensing devices including pressure sensors, distance sensors, tilt sensors, ribbon sensors and a joystick microphone mount. The data captured from the vocalist’s physical gestures is sent to a computer, running audio-processing software, and used to transform the live audio signal from the microphone. Timing and eMic gestural data are shared between the two performers and the electric guitar output is used as input to a processing chain. From a performance perspective, the intention is for the duo to have the outward appearance of a conventional guitarist and singer (i.e. ‘a band’), but that extensive digital sensing and real-time processing technologies transport the physical gestures of the performers into a new musical context, subverting and extending the gestural and sonic language of popular music. In doing so the piece explores the nexus between the compositional and performative practices of electro-acoustic music, popular music and electronic dance music.

Interview with ABC Classic FM as part of Liquid Architecture 2006 



STEIM gigs


STEIM Residency full report

The purpose of this residency was to work intensively on the further development of a musical interface – the eMic – a sensor based microphone stand ‘instrument’ that allows the performer to manipulate vocal sounds in real time via the sending of control signals to sound processing patches in software. In particular, we were keen to explore the STEIM developed software JunXion to investigate different approaches to the mapping of gestural data to musical parameters in a duo context. Our ultimate goal is to improve the responsiveness of the instrument in real performance contexts and to investigate the ways in vocal performance data can be used in a duo context.

Donna has been performing with the eMic since 2003 and designed the instrument as a way of connecting her skills as a vocal performer with her electronic music practice. The other motivation for the design was to develop a flexible and engaging vocal interface as an alternative to what she saw as quite limiting laptop based performance with a vocal mic input. Donna and Julian have been working as a duo since 20o5. Since that time, they have a produced a range of collaborative compositions. When used in the context of the duo the data outputs from the eMic are also sent to the second performer who is able to use this data to shape musical elements in performance. The challenge therefore is to develop meaningful musical mappings where the second performer has access to the gestural data sets from the first.

During our week long residency, we worked to the following plan

  • Design, development and testing of sensors
  • Familiarisation with STEIM JunXion software environment
  • Exploration of data mapping strategies using JunXion
  • Exploration of performer-to-performer mapping strategies
Julian working on sensor data at STEIM
Julian working on sensor data at STEIM

The main aim was to stabilise the instrument and develop some software patches in JunXion,PD and Ableton Live (Donna’s computer), and in Max/MSP and Ableton Live (Julian’s computer) that would serve as the basis for a new collaborative composition. Good progress was made against these aims during the week in residence. This new work will extend the use of sensors to Julian’s electric guitar (via an Arduino board and sensors) so that full performance gesture capture and exchange can occur.

As part of the artist residency, we presented at a STEIM hotpot lab #12 on Hyperinstruments (Dec 9, 2010). This was a good opportunity to introduce the instrument and the duo work to the audience, answer questions about our ongoing research, and invite critical discussion.

STEIM Hotpot Lab #12: Electrumpet by Hans Leeuw (NL) eMic by Donna Hewitt & Julian Knowles (AU) Hypersaxophone by Michael Straus (US)

During the week, the snow storms started that would bring Europe to a standstill in coming weeks. Snow is fascinating for us Australians – our climate is far too warm for snow (save for a very small alpine region in the south east). Armed with a new phone, Julian started some ‘quick and dirty’ mobile phone shot videos to capture the mood of each day, adding an improvised soundtrack. One video was completed each day, based on a couple of minutes continuous video captured at a single location. Here is a taste.

Amsterdam 14.12.10

2011 will be a year of consolidating on the work from STEIM and the completion of new duo material. A range of performances are planned in Australia, the USA and Scandinavia.

We would like to acknowledge the support of the Australia Council for the Arts and Queensland University of Technology whose funding made the residency possible, and STEIM for the artist residency and the generous support of the staff.

Donna Hewitt working in STEIM Studio
Donna Hewitt working in STEIM Studio