The Hands

image of The Hands in 2005

Recently the importance of new physical devices to play electronic music live is being discovered by many in the field. The industry keeps providing relatively traditional faderboards, button boxes and other 'technical' solutions. However the work of the few in the field that developed personal, sensitive and more 'musical' electronic instruments is getting an increasing professional attention from a new breed of electronic music performers.
Upon consistent and repeated requests from visitors of this site we are happy to let you know that soon we will publish more about The Hands on this page!



The Hands

by Michel Waisvisz

written: winter 2006

After having experimented many years with a great variety of ways to design and play electronic music instruments in a musical way, by making the electronics literally touchable and mobile (see Crackle instruments elsewhere on this site), the emergence of MIDI in 1984 provided an excellent way to create new electronic instruments that would be revolutionary, easy to build, portable, affordable and playable on stage. MIDI suddenly allowed me to think of mini-keyboards, fitted to my hands and littered with various movement sensors to translate hand, arm and finger movements immediately into sounds. It would make it possible to trigger and manipulate sounds, but also to conduct streams of sounds. Also I would be able to walk, move and even dance while making electronic music. This was such a liberating prospect after having had to work with big chunks of unmovable analog electronica tied up in the early electronic music studio's. Also I experienced that the early synthesizers didn't bring the real grip op electronic sound. Beautiful promising electronic sound worlds were hidden in these instruments, but fitted with traditional organ/piano keyboards they seemed better suited for melodic music than for 'sound-music'. At that time I was on a quest to create electronic music in it's purest sense. With it's own sonic rules and a narrative purely expressed through sequences of flow, rhythm and sound. What was needed was an instrument that would allow you to 'touch' sound. I wanted to operate, navigate, compose, mold and play sound in a sensible, refined and even sensual and groovy way! Something that was, at that time, not associated with electronic music at all!

At STEIM it took us three months after the arrival of MIDI and our first DX7 midi synthesizer to build a first raw version of The Hands and perform it's first concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in June 1984. The Hands were remote controlling three Yamaha DX7's programmed with special, very responsive, sounds. Even though a crucial cable broke during the concert causing a hilarious situation - because some of the sounds kept stupidly repeating until I managed to reconnect the cable, while still sort of playing, in full spotlight ! - this premiere of The Hands was an immediate success.
After this concert a long range of developments, improvements and experiences follows. As well as a long series of concerts, presentations and lectures that also attracted the attention from pioneers in the field. Early encounters with enthusiastic supporters like Vladimir Ussachevsky, Don Buchla, Bob Moog, Wendy Carlos, David Wessel, Marie-Hélène Serra, François Bayle, Clarence Barlow, George Lewis, Joel Ryan and Martin Bartlett were stimulating and rewarding. But most of all performing solo and with other musicians (for a list of them see bio) contributed to a new practice of what now has the become the first MIDI controller with, by now, the longest (!) history of a reliable, frustrating, humbling but exciting musical practice. And most of all creating a performer that got a chance to learn to play a new electronic music instrument by not developing and changing it all the time...
The following story (soon to be published here) will tell in more detail how the development of The Hands grew and created this new MIDI controller design and performance practice. A practice that not only consisted of sensors and sensor handling hardware but also of a new approach for ultra responsive performance software that is finally being discovered by a greater circle of musicians and composers and will hopefully create a nice community of creative and adventurous people with which i can finally exchange my experiences !

Check the older pages about the early Hands:1984 and 1989

Find more info about Michel Waisvisz' work --->>>

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