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Electronic Musician
September 1997

The BodySynth translates gestures and other movements into sonic textures.

By Bean



To say that Pamela Z presents a uniquely personal manifestation of multimedia music would be indisputable– to experience it is quite another matter. Drifting in the abyss between the analog and digital worlds, Z performs with the BodySynth to trigger an array of sonic textures that would intrigue any musician. In performance, Z dons the BodySynth's 4-channel unit, which comes with four wireless sensors able to detect electrical impulses from her muscle movements. The BodySynth's processor uses a variety of algorithms to translate electromyogram (EMG) signals into music via MIDI messages. Up to four different MIDI channels can be programmed to interpret the continuous gesteral motion of Z's muscles; the more effort involved in the movement, the higher the pitch or deeper the pitch bend.

With her playful approach to sound design, Z wields a sonic palette that is as delightful as it is disturbing. Armed with electrodes and using Opcode MAX software as the objet-oriented musical programming environment, Z is able to execute a few simple moves to create intricate rhythmic patterns, lush harmonic pads, or washes of precalculated noise. She strategically locates sensors on different body parts so that a quick flick of the wrist might trigger samples of street noise, a shimmy to the left could unleash a barrage of nonsensical or cryptic utterances, and a shoulder roll could be the ticket for a cascade of operatic vocalizations. Certainly one of the most intriquing aspects of Z's show is the frenetic fusion of live vocals with samples of vocalizations triggered in response to her own movements. The natural integration and orchestration of digital delays, vocal processing, and MIDI devices into Z's art is truly provocative.

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