The t-sticks grew out of a collaborative project undertaken by Joseph Malloch and composer D. Andrew Stewart at the Input Devices and Music Interaction Laboratory (IDMIL) and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) at McGill University, and also in cooperation with performers as part of the interdisciplinary McGill Digital Orchestra project. The first prototype was completed in 2006.
The t-sticks form a family of tubular digital musical instruments, ranging in length from 0.6 metres (soprano) to 1.2 metres (tenor). They have been designed and constructed to allow a large variety of unique interaction techniques such as: touching, gripping, brushing, tapping, shaking, squeezing, jabbing, swinging, tilting, rolling, and twisting. As a result, a significant emphasis is placed on the gestural vocabulary required to manipulate and manoeuvre the instrument. The musical experience for both the performer and audience is intensified by a unique engagement between performer body and instrument.
Additionally, the t-sticks are designed for the use of expert users. To this end, more emphasis is put on extending any “ceiling on virtuosity” rather than on lowering the “entry-fee.” New users should be able to produce sound from the t-sticks, but not necessarily musically pleasing sound. The instrument design of the system aims at keeping the performer’s focus on the sound and its relation to the entire instrument, rather than individual sensors. Technological concerns are subsumed under performance or musical concerns.
The sound of the t-sticks are entirely synthesised in real-time without any type of automation, live score following or computer-assisted composition.