T-stick Notation

The music for the t-stick is represented in two associated forms: a printed musical score and a software graphical interface of my own design. In the printed score, music for the t-stick is notated on a three-line staff (see Example 1). The top and bottom lines of this staff coincide with the top and bottom of the touch sensing range, respectively. The top of the range denotes the end of the instrument that is furthest away from the USB port; the bottom of the range indicates the end nearest to the port.

Musical notes and thin vertical blocks on the staff indicate an approximate placement of single fingers (traditional note-heads) and hand grips (vertical blocks) on the t-stick. The range of sounds is variable and depends upon a musician’s control of timbre, which is indicated by t-stick tablature grids located above the staff. I speak more about the t-stick tablature  notation in relation to Examples 2 and 3, below. A slash through a note-head specifies a thrusting or jabbing motion with the t-stick and consists in: (1) selecting hand position; (2) tilting and rotating the instrument (and one’s own body); and (3) applying a proper degree of force not only in the direction of the jab but also to grip pressure. An encircled ‘X’ below the staff specifies a technique known as a ‘thrust-sustain’, which is an adaptation of the jabbing technique. The thrust-sustain requires a minimum of a 0.75-second preparation time during which the performer must maintain a consistent degree of pressure (on the pressure-sensing side of the DMI) before executing the jabbing movement. The result may be anything from a series of sustained cacophonous bell-like tones to a brittle and woody bubbling, depending on the degree of pressure used. Changes in volume are traditionally notated with standard dynamic symbols:  ƒ  ,  p , crescendo, etc.. In addition, the lv symbol, which is a standard mark for percussion music, is found above the staff and specifies that the sound of the t-stick be allowed to resonate.

The second component of t-stick notation concerns a graphical software interface for displaying a type of dynamically-changing tablature system. I invented both the interface and the tablature system. Generally speaking, the timbre of the t-stick results from both tilt and rotation; however several other factors concomitantly contribute to the resulting sound (e.g., degree and location of surface contact, pressure applied to surface). Symbols (Example 2) appearing on a computer screen and above the staff (Example 3) inform the performer about the current tilt and rotation of the instrument, as well as approximate contact positions (i.e., hand positions). In Example 2, we see three tablature grids. The circle and star contained within each grid correspond to control parameters of multiple synthesisers; the circle is related to one instance and the star, the other. The shaded top left corner of each grid has been used in previous versions of the on-screen interface. The shaded corner can be automated so that it moves from square to square.

During a performance, the grid elements (i.e., circle and star) shift up and down and from side to side corresponding to the physical handling of the t-stick. For instance, tilting the t-stick moves both elements horizontally. The star moves vertically as a result of rotating along the lateral access of the DMI while hand width, combined with hand position along the surface of the DMI, controls the vertical positioning of the circle. During a performance, a musician reads the notated tablature grids in the printed score along with information written on and below the staff. Next, he or she manipulates the t-stick in order to match the on-screen tablature to the notated grids. For instance, the three grids shown in Example 2 correspond to the notated musical score grids of Example 3. Furthermore, dotted lines appear between notated grids in Example 3 and indicate a gradual change from one grid to the next. T-stick playing technique, therefore, requires one to have a swift and accurate grasp of the tablature system so that one can smoothly shift from hand position to hand position while fluidly rotating and tilting the instrument.

One further symbol shown in Example 4 needs clarification. Throughout the development of the DMI, I found notated indications for t-stick orientation to be necessary (Example 4). While composing, I continued to use them even though some similar information was already conveyed by the tablature grids. From my experiences as both composer and performer on the DMI, I have observed that these orientation symbols provide a simple and coherent means of conveying basic tilt and hand position information. For instance, the first symbol of Example 4 specifies holding the t-stick upright (i.e., the top of the t-stick pointing upward) and vertical with the left hand on the bottom and the right hand on the top.


About dndrew

Orchestral, chamber and interactive music composer Digital musical instrumentalist Real-time software systems designer Computer music educator
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