Sonata for unprepared player

“Sonata for unprepared player” for 2 wii motes

A piece that anybody can play and try out


Following background studies in musicology, aesthetics and musical technology, a concept based on the character Ada from the motion picture “The Piano” appeared. Ada was a mute person who played strange songs in her piano. The others said “She speaks through her piano. We can feel if she’s happy, sad, angry” [1].

Acknowledging the possibilities of creating new musical devices using the Wii mote, an interface capable of reaching two goals was developed. First, there is a part detecting arm movement in real time consequently producing instrumental music. This music production respects some occidental cultural constraints in order to be suitable, beauty or adequate, so that we can all understand this language game, or we would otherwise be just producing random noise, not music. Second, the interface should be connected to speakers so that we can actually hear the music produced.

This work will most likely be successful because the goals are simple, doable and not taken to the extreme: music produced (for aesthetic and cultural reasons) is plain and mainly tonal. Only the sounds of a conventional whole tone scale and the sound fonts of melodic instruments (Piano, vibraphone) are used. Thus, a user friendly environment not too much complex to deal with will be created. Also, there is no room for faking, what one sees is what one gets: if an angry person punches thin air, a loud powerful clustered chord is expected to be heard, if an arm slides gently, a mild melody is expected. It is an intuitive concept, an effective goal, suitable for anyone.

This “anyone” is really anyone. There is a prepared text giving instructions in common language, not musical notation, that the performer should follow. This text, easy to understand, is full of common places and cliché sentences much in the mood of Mute Ada expressing their feelings. So there can be a line just saying “Gently move your arm to the left during five seconds”, or “Punch the air like you are killing mosquitoes for 10 seconds”.

The piece is the same for everybody and will be notated exactly in the same way. However, each performer will have a different outcome, according to the way each interprets the given instructions. After all, each person has his own hermeneutics regarding the same text. Each written piece is an endless work, depending on whoever is reading it [2].

The text and instructions appear organized in a kind of Sonata Form with interior logic so that all makes sense random piano noises are unwanted.

This piece may be considered a fresh concept, bringing musical experimentation to a new level, allowing ordinary people not only to produce entertaining music, interacting with the new digital technologies, but also to increase their own cultural and symbolic capital by becoming artists in a performance for a live audience.

Click to read the entire article


[1] “The Piano”, Dir. Jane Campion, USA, 1993.
[2] Eco, Umberto, “The open work”, Harvard University Press, 1989

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance and support of the UT-Austin-Portugal Summer School Staff, namely Prof. Bruce Pennycook, for the development of this work.


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