::vtol:: – Reading My Body, skin player


The historical development of music in the west has been described in terms of a distancing of the body: the identification of music with music notation and the progressive automation of musical instruments are two sides of this process. Dmitry Morozov a.k.a ::vtol:: turns this linear trajectory around. His Reading My Body is a sound controller that uses a tattoo as a musical score. The instrument is based around a mechatronic prosthesis mounted on the player’s forearm that generates a stream of digital audio by reading a pattern inscribed on the performer’s skin. A sensor carried by a stepper motor along a rail running the length of the forearm scans the tattoo and outputs data that is fed to a digital audio synthesis engine. The performer controls the speed and direction of this scanning unit and introduces additional gestural variations by using a three-axis accelerometer scavenged from a Wii remote that captures the movement of the arm. The instrument presents an intriguing design concept which collapses onto the body elements of notation and automation, forming a hybrid in which each individual component is placed in an ambiguous relation with the other and expressing a difference though redundancy that could be taken to absurd conclusions. For example, the suggestion that musical notation could be indelibly inscribed onto the body might be read as a provocative solution to the problems deriving from excessive historicization. By forcing scores to be buried along with their authors, the competition between the dead and the living would be likely to decrease. Addressing perhaps more contemporary issues, Morozov’s tattoo, which finds a precedent in the identification marks used to label prisoners, reflects a not completely unlikely future scenario in which hackers could be making music by sonifying the human RFID-chip implants that have been attracting considerable attention both from technophile and technophobic fronts. Furthermore, the pose of the performer, focused on the interior portion of the forearm, also calls for associations with the injection of addictive substances into the body. What emerges from these readings is not the typical exoticism of the body as a kind of lost Eden (physical bodies can be subject to external control as much as digital data) but rather a complex process of mediation between the physical and the augmented self that expresses a search for a personal synthesis. Matteo Marangoni