Skip to main content

Advancements in Actuated Musical Instruments

  • Dan Overholt (a1), Edgar Berdahl (a2) and Robert Hamilton (a2)

This article presents recent developments in actuated musical instruments created by the authors, who also describe an ecosystemic model of actuated performance activities that blur traditional boundaries between the physical and virtual elements of musical interfaces. Actuated musical instruments are physical instruments that have been endowed with virtual qualities controlled by a computer in real-time but which are nevertheless tangible. These instruments provide intuitive and engaging new forms of interaction. They are different from traditional (acoustic) and fully automated (robotic) instruments in that they produce sound via vibrating element(s) that are co-manipulated by humans and electromechanical systems. We examine the possibilities that arise when such instruments are played in different performative environments and music-making scenarios, and we postulate that such designs may give rise to new methods of musical performance. The Haptic Drum, the Feedback Resonance Guitar, the Electromagnetically Prepared Piano, the Overtone Fiddle and Teleoperation with Robothands are described, along with musical examples and reflections on the emergent properties of the performance ecologies that these instruments enable. We look at some of the conceptual and perceptual issues introduced by actuated musical instruments, and finally we propose some directions in which such research may be headed in the future.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Anderson, C. 2005. Dynamic Networks of Sonic Interactions: An Interview with Agostino Di Scipio. Computer Music Journal 29(3) (Fall): 1128.
Berdahl, E. 2009. Applications of Feedback Control to Musical Instrument Design, PhD thesis, Stanford University. Available online: (accessed on 28 October 2010).
Berdahl, E., Smith, J., III. 2006. Some Physical Audio Effects. 9th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects (DAFx), Montreal, Canada, 16–20 September, pp. 165–8.
Berdahl, E., Backer, S., Smith, J., III. 2005. If I Had A Hammer: Design and Theory of an Electromagnetically Prepared Piano. Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, Barcelona, Spain, 5–9 September.
Berdahl, E., Kontogeorgakopoulos, A., Overholt, D. 2010. HSP v2: Haptic Signal Processing with Extensions for Physical Modeling. Proceedings of the Haptic Audio Interaction Design Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark, 16–17 September, pp. 61–2.
Berdahl, E., Smith, J. III, Niemeyer, G. 2010. Mechanical Sound Synthesis: And the New Application of Force-Feedback Teleoperation of Acoustic Musical Instruments. Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects (DAFx–10), Graz, Austria, 6–10 September.
Besnainou, C. 1999. Transforming the Voice of Musical Instruments by Active Control of the Sound Radiation. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Active Noise and Vibration Control, Fort Lauderdale, USA.
Bloland, P. 2007. The Electromagnetically Prepared Piano and its Compositional Implications. Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), Copenhagen, Denmark, pp. 125–8.
Boutin, H., Besnainou, C. 2008. Physical Parameters of an Oscillator Changed by Active Control: Application to a Xylophone Bar. Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects, Espoo, Finland, 1–4 September.
Bryan, N.J., Herrera, J., Oh, J., Wang, G. 2010. MoMu: A Mobile Music Toolkit. Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. Sydney, Australia.
Cáceres, J.-P., Chafe, C. 2009. JackTrip: Under the Hood of an Engine for Network Audio. Proceedings of International Computer Music Conference, Montreal, Canada.
Cadoz, C., Luciani, A., Florens, J.-L. 1981. Synthèse musicale par simulation des mécanismes instrumentaux. Revue d'acoustique 59: 279292.
Cadoz, C., Luciani, A., Florens, J.-L. 1993. CORDIS-ANIMA: A Modeling and Simulation System for Sound and Image Synthesis – The General Formalism. Computer Music Journal 17(1) (Spring): 1929.
Celi, P., Doidic, M., Fruehling, D., Ryle, M. 2004. Stringed Instrument with Embedded DSP Modeling. US Patent No. 6,787,690.
Collins, N. 2004. Pea Soup. New York: Apestaartje, CD.
Di Scipio, A. 2003. ‘Sound is the Interface’: From Interactive to Ecosystemic Signal Processing. Organised Sound 8(3): 269277.
Emerick, G., Massey, H. 2007. Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. New York: Gotham Books.
Gùerard, J., Boutillon, X. 1997. Real Time Acoustic Wave Separation in a Tube. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Musical Acoustics, Edinburgh, UK, 19–22 August, pp. 451–6.
Hajian, A., Sanchez, D., Howe, R. 1997. Drum Roll: Increasing Band-width through Passive Impedance Modulation. Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Albuquerque, USA, 20–25 April, pp. 2294–9.
Hamilton, R. 2008. q3osc: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Game. Proceedings of the International Computer Music Association Conference, Belfast, UK.
Hamilton, R. 2010. UDKOSC Development Wiki. (accessed in October 2010).
Heet, G. 1978. String Instrument Vibration Initiator and Sustainer. US Patent 4,075,921.
Hoover, A. 2000. Controls for Musical Instrument Sustainers. US Patent 6,034,316.
McCartney, J. 2002. Rethinking the Computer Music Language: SuperCollider. Computer Music Journal 26(4): 6168.
McPherson, A., Kim, Y. 2010. Augmenting the Acoustic Piano with Electromagnetic String Actuation and Continuous Key Position Sensing. Proceedings of the 2010 International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME 2010), Sydney, Australia.
Overholt, D. 2005. The Overtone Violin: A New Computer Music Instrument. Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC 2005), Barcelona, Spain, 5–9 September.
Reich, S. 1974. Writings About Music. Nova Scotia: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
Sayer, T. 2007. Using Technology to Ride the Reflex/Volitional Continuum in Improvised Musical Performance. Proceedings of the 2007 International Computer Music Conference. San Francisco: International Computer Music Association.
van Driem, G. 2004. Language as Organism: A Brief Introduction to the Leiden Theory of Language Evolution. In Ying-chin Lin, Fang-min Hsu, Chun-chih Lee, Jackson T.-S. Sun, Hsiu-fang Yang and Dah-ah Ho (eds.), Studies on Sino-Tibetan Languages: Papers in Honor of Professor Hwang-cherng Gong on his Seventieth Birthday (Language and Linguistics Monograph Series W–4). Taipei: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica, pp. 19.
Verplank, B. 2003. Interaction Design Sketchbook. Class lecture for Music 250A, Stanford University, available online: (accessed on 28 October 2010).
Waters, S. 2007. Performance Ecosystems: Ecological Approaches to Musical Interaction. Proceedings of the Electroacoustic Music Studies Network. Leicester: De Montfort, pp. 120.
Weinreich, G., Caussé, R. 1986. Digital and Analogue Bows: Hybrid Mechanical-Electrical Systems. Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing, vol. 11, pp. 1297–9.
Zoran, A., Maes, P. 2008. Considering Virtual and Physical Aspects in Acoustic Guitar Design. Proceedings of New Instruments for Musical Expression (NIME) Conference, Genova, Italy, 5–7 June.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Organised Sound
  • ISSN: 1355-7718
  • EISSN: 1469-8153
  • URL: /core/journals/organised-sound
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Overholt supplementary material
Movie example.mp4

 Video (116.1 MB)
116.1 MB
Supplementary materials

Overholt supplementary material
Sound example 1.aac

 Unknown (12.5 MB)
12.5 MB
Supplementary materials

Overholt supplementary material
Sound example 3.aac

 Unknown (7.2 MB)
7.2 MB
Supplementary materials

Overholt supplementary material
Sound example 2.aac

 Unknown (10.0 MB)
10.0 MB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed