Strengjavera is an installation piece that delves into the concept of self-organising systems through the interaction of artificial life programs and a grand piano. The title, derived from the Icelandic for "string being," refers to the unique relationship between the electromagnetically actuated Magnetic Resonator Piano (MRP) and the organic systems that govern its behaviour. The installation invites viewers to witness the unpredictable yet mesmerising patterns that emerge as the piano's strings are set into motion by artificial life programs. Through a combination of technology and organic programming, the piece explores the potential for intelligent systems to adapt and evolve in real-time, creating a dynamic and ever-changing soundscape that reflects the complexity and beauty of natural systems. By blurring the boundaries between technology and nature, Strengjavera prompts viewers to reflect on the relationship between human agency and autonomous systems, while also celebrating the beautiful natural acoustics of the piano in novel and unheard ways.
The Magnetic Resonator Piano (MRP)  created by Andrew McPherson in 2009, and hundreds of MRP performances have taken place since. However, these have mainly remained within the idiom of classical piano, albeit augmented with continuous gestures and timbre. Since acquiring an MRP in 2021, the Intelligent Instruments Lab have been developing new tools for working with the MRP using AI and machine learning (see links below). This installation will be the culmination of these initial explorations.
Tölvera is an open source Python library for the design of musical instruments and musical notations with artificial life. The name is an example of a kenning, a metaphorical compound expression found in Old Norse and Old English poetry. We invented this kenning by combining the Icelandic words for computer and being:
Tölvu: computer, from tala (number) + völva (prophetess, or oracle)
Tölvera: number being
Tölvera is part of the Agential Scores project , which is a broader effort to explore self-organising systems, emergence and entanglement in musical instruments. Agential Scores is a project exploring the possibilities of entangling the real-time parameters of musical instruments with artificial life (ALife) and other types of simulations. Much of intelligent systems research today focuses on machine learning techniques such as deep learning, but that does not make it the only interesting computational material to work with when considering agency and intelligence in musical instruments. ALife and related fields have inspired generations of researchers to expand their horizons of what could be considered intelligent, and the same is still true today, with new systems and species being discovered all the time.
This doesn’t need to run all day every day - it could just be for select times.
Note that MRP is a non-destructive augmentation that has been used across 100s of performances on many models of piano.
HDMI projector with long enough cable
Could ideally be mounted above so that it projects onto the piano
Possibly a microphone for feedback loops between MRP and simulation
Space to mount a webcam for possible user interactions
Space to install and power computer and MRP
Continuous access during the day to monitor for issues
Magnetic Resonator Piano full kit (either from London or Reykjavik)
2-4hr setup time, 1-2hr pack down
Agential Scores / Tölvera
Demo videos of Tölvera + MRP
I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the Intelligent Instruments Lab. I have a doctorate in Media and Arts Technologies from Queen Mary University of London, where I studied in Prof. Andrew McPherson's Augmented Instruments Lab. During my PhD I was a Visiting Scholar at Georgia Tech under Prof. Jason Freeman. Before then, I was a Research Engineer at ROLI after graduating with a BSc in Music, Multimedia & Electronics from the University of Leeds. My research interests include embodied interaction, craft practice and design cognition. I also produce, perform and live code music as Lil Data, as part of the PC Music record label.
The Intelligent Instruments project (INTENT) is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 101001848).