The director of Virginia Tech’s newest university-level research institute — the Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology, the research arm for the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech — received the best presentation award at the 2011 International Computer Music Conference for the discovery of a connection between human emotion and musical composition and performance.

R. Benjamin Knapp, founding director of the institute and professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, focuses his research on human-computer interaction. Knapp and his colleagues work to develop and design user-interfaces and software that allow both composers and performers to augment the physical control of a musical instrument with a direct physiological interface. His paper, “The measurement of performer and audience emotional state as a new means of computer music interaction: A performance case study” with co-author Eric Lyon from the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University, was voted best paper presentation by members of the conference.

The paper describes the first computer music composition adapted specifically for using physiological indicators of emotion from both musician and audience to manipulate the music during a live performance. “Stem Cells,” originally composed by Lyon, was used to explore the ways in which physical gestures and emotional states can be translated into musical control. The research hinges on the idea of integral music control — that the movements and gestures of a performer, as well as the emotional changes of both performer and audience, create an entirely new interpretation of a piece of music.  

The BioMuse system, co-invented by Knapp, was used to measure physical gestures and emotional state. BioMuse enables artists to use gesture, cognition, and emotional state to interact with audio and video media. The system employs the use of ergonomic body sensors worn by the musicians and audience members to measure physiological indicators of emotion during the performance.

“With this work, we’re exploring the science of the quantitative measurement of emotion, while simultaneously pursuing the artistic question of whether this interface is compelling for the audience and composer,” explains Knapp. “This is just one example of the kinds of projects — those that forge a pathway between the fundamentals of multidisciplinary research to artistic output, scientific and commercial discovery, and educational innovation — that the Institute of Creativity, Arts, and Technology is embracing.”

The 37th annual International Computer Music Conference was held at the University of Huddersfield, England, and serves as a major international forum for the presentation of the full range of outcomes from technical and musical research related to the use of computers in music. It is hosted by the International Computer Music Association, an affiliation of individuals and institutions involved in the technical, creative, and performance aspects of computer music. It serves composers, computer software and hardware developers, researchers, and musicians who are interested in the integration of music and technology.

A university-level research institute sitting at the nexus of the arts, design, engineering, and science, the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology is the research arm of the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech. By forging a pathway between transdisciplinary research and art, educational innovation, and scientific and commercial discovery, the institute works to foster the creative process to create new possibilities for exploration and expression through learning, discovery, and engagement. This includes preparing students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education environments to succeed in a world that demands teamwork and collaboration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, promoting new research domains that transcend institutionalized boundaries, and participating with people of all ages in the process of co-creation.



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