Reporter 452, 22 May 2000

Dancers to call the tune

Dancers can now become composers and performers of music that mirrors their every movement - thanks to software created by Kia Ng, a researcher and lecturer in both Music and Computer Studies.

Dr Ng developed a package called MvM - music via motion - which uses a video camera to track a dancer’s movements in real time, ‘translating’ horizontal and vertical changes of position into music.

Science meets style: Claire Nicholson and Edward Copp create their own musical score via the camera monitoring the direction and pace of their movement

The performer’s motion dictates the pitch, volume and timbre of the music in a way that changes the usual relationship between dance and music: instead of responding to a composer’s vision, the dancer takes full control of the creative process.

"It’s quite a challenge for dancers, until they get used to the idea," said Dr Ng, deputy director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music (ICSRiM). "The ability to relate music to a gesture or a jump, or a movement toward the back or front of the performance area, adds another dimension to the experience."

The MvM project, undertaken with support from Yorkshire Arts, is exploring ways to make the technology prototype more versatile. One ICSRiM experiment involves connecting up a synthesiser with a database of musical phrases, composed by research fellow in Music Dr Ewan Stefani, to respond to particular movements by the dancer.

Sita Popat, a choreographer at Bretton Hall School of Dance and Theatre and a PhD candidate under Dr Ng’s supervision, is developing new choreography inspired by the way MvM frees the performer to concentrate on the physicality of the dance.

Freelance costume designer Christine Hughes is collaborating in another venture, creating special costumes in a variety of colours and textures which the MvM technology can be programmed to recognise and respond to in musical terms.

Dr Ng is experimenting with the use of sound samples like breaking glass and household noises ‘to experiment with the comic potential’ of the technology.

He believes the system also has serious potential in creating musical scores for the cinema, ambient music for public spaces, or as a means of stimulating response in people with severely restricted mobility.

An abstract submitted to the ISEA2000 can be found at

A short description of the MvM with special costumes (taken from a recent funding proposal) is available at

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