Prosthetic Instruments



John Sullivan


These instruments are the culmination of a three-year long project in which the designers worked closely with dancers, musicians, composers and a choreographer. The goal of the project was to develop instruments that are visually striking, utilise advanced sensing technologies, and are rugged enough for extensive use in performance.

The complex, transparent shapes are lit from within, and include articulated spines, curved visors and ribcages. Unlike most computer music control interfaces, they function both as hand-held, manipulable controllers and as wearable, movement-tracking extensions to the body. Further, since the performers can smoothly attach and detach the objects, these new instruments deliberately blur the line between the performers’ bodies and the instrument being played.

The prosthetic instruments were designed and developed by Ph.D. researchers Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick under the supervision of IDMIL director Marcelo Wanderley. Starting with sketches and rough foam prototypes for exploring shape and movement, they progressed through many iterations of the design before arriving at the current versions. The researchers made heavy use of digital fabrication technologies such as laser-cutters and 3D printers, which they accessed through the McGill University School of Architecture and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology, also hosted by McGill.

Each of the nearly thirty working instruments produced for the project has embedded sensors, power supplies and wireless data transceivers, allowing a performer to control the parameters of music synthesis and processing in real time through touch, movement, and orientation. The signals produced by the instruments are routed through an open-source peer-to-peer software system the IDMIL team has developed for designing the connections between sensor signals and sound synthesis parameters.

Although evolution of the new instrument designs has not ceased, the current versions were featured in recent productions of the piece “Les Gestes” for two dancers and two musicians. The piece was developed in collaboration with the IDMIL researchers, and toured parts of Canada and Europe during the spring of 2013.

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2014/Spring  Headway Magazine – Instrumental Experiment // Harmonizing Art and Technology

2013/12/27  Financial Times – Test your knowledge of 2013 with the FT’s quiz of the year

2013/09/17  SSENSE Editorial – Instrumented Bodies

2013/09/10  NewsMoves – Instrumented Bodies: Create Digital Music Through Body Movements

2013/08/13  Fast Company – Watch: With Cyborg Instruments, Dancers Turn Movement Into Music

2013/08/12  Dezeen – Instrumented Bodies by Joseph Malloch and Ian Hattwick

2013/08/09  The Guardian – Do you play the spine? Introducing prosthetic musical instruments

2013/08/09  Paste Magazine – Learn to Play the Spine with Prosthetic Musical Instruments

2013/08/08  Wired UK – Prosthetic instruments create music through body movements

2013/08/07  Gizmag – Instrumented Bodies gives music and dance some backbone

2013/07/29  Ideas Lab – Instrumented Bodies (Romanian)

2013/07/28  Geekboy – IDMIL Create Prosthetic Digital Instruments, as a Musical Extension of the Human Form

2013/07/25  PIG Magazine – Instrumented Bodies: strumenti musicali come protesi digitali (Italian)

2013/07/25  Huffington Post – 3D Printed Wearable Instruments Turn Movement Into Music

2013/07/25  FoxNews.com – Wearable artificial spine plays music

2013/07/23  McGill University – 3D-Printed Prosthetics Turned into Musical Instruments

2013/07/23  Mashable – 3D-Printed Prosthetics Turn Into Musical Instruments for Dancers

2013/07/23  ToneDeaf – 3D Printed Prosthetics Turn Human Body Into Musical Instruments

2013/07/23  Laughing Squid – Instrumented Bodies: Digital Prostheses For Music and Dance Performance

2013/07/22  CNET – 3D-printed prosthetics turned into musical instruments

2013/07/22  Vice – Wearable Digital Instruments That Can Be Played Through Movement

2013/07/20  io9 – Instrumented Bodies: Digital Prostheses for Music and Dance

2013/07/19  33rd Square – Researchers Examine Augmenting the Body With Musical Prosthetics

2013/07/19  3ders.org – Prosthetics become musical instruments

2013/07/18  DVICE – Researchers turn prosthetics into musical instruments

2013/07/18  UberGizmo – Prosthetics Double Up As Musical Instruments

2013/07/16  Geek.com – Creepy acrylic spine turns dancers into instruments

2013/07/16  Hackaday – Prosthetic spines become musical instruments