Archive by Author



for virtual and robotic strings and percussion

by Scott Barton

robotic instruments by WPI’s Music Perception and Robotics Lab and EMMI

Mechanophore was inspired by the force-sensitive molecular units of the same name. As mechanophores are subjected to physical forces, they activate chemical reactions that can communicate their state (e.g. color change) or even heal themselves. The musical work represents this process of increasing tension to the point of ring opening, out of which a texture whose nature ascends and heals emerges. The second section represents a particular mechanophore, spiropyran, more literally by tracing the molecule’s skeletal structure in its pitch contours. Just as force makes spiropyran transform into a different molecule (merocyanine), the musical theme morphs into new configurations as it progresses. After another ring opening, the final section of the work represents interactions between individual polymers within a material, which can be characterized by entanglement, bridging, paths of motion, qualities, sizes, velocities, densities and loops. 

More philosophically, the piece shows the wonder and complexity of the microscopic world through sonic elements that border on the threshold of perceptibility. As polymer science brings the distinction between the ideas of organic and synthetic into focus, the music illustrates the continuum between these poles through various kinds of virtual and acoustic instruments (including the robotic string instruments PAM and Cyther) that are combined and manipulated in a panoply of ways. Spiropyran elastomers were used as membranes for PVC drums played by robotic actuators made from 3D-printed PLA, thus connecting the metaphors of the work to its physical realization. Mechanophore was commissioned by the Multiverse Concert Series in collaboration with the polymer scientists of the MONET group.

Tempo Mecho


for the robotic instruments PAM, modular percussion and percussive aerophone (built by WPI’s MPR Lab and EMMI)

by Scott Barton

A groove changes identity depending on the tempo it inhabits. Typically, there are small ranges within which a rhythm feels at home. Once there, a rhythm reveals the energy, detail and character of its true self. Some rhythms are travelers, able to assimilate into contrasting locales. Some rhythms are chameleons, changing their colors depending on their temporal context. tempo macho explores some of the ways that tempo change can affect our sense of musical material. Here, tempos can change gradually and also can shift abruptly according to a variety of mathematical ratios. These movements occur over a range of time scales to illuminate the rhythmic limits of short-term memory and what is required to entrain to a cyclic pattern that reveals a groove. A theme persists throughout the piece to make these rhythmic aspects, which also include unusual meters and polyrhythms, clear. The temporal complexity of these ideas finds a natural voice through mechatronic instruments.

Through the Rain

2 channel recording

Scott Barton – guitar

December, 2017

Through the Rain started with a chord progression written on guitar many years ago. The progression, played on electric guitar, is reflected in a number of virtual instruments and effects, blurring the line between acoustic and electronic, played and sequenced. The first section of the work illustrates movement from dislocation -> synchronization (an idea also interpreted in Eroding Mountains). In the second section of the piece, the parts have coalesced and begin to move as a unified whole. This journey takes a variety of paths, retakes steps, and encounters ephemeral electronic weather systems. The storms and disorientation relent as it arrives, leaving a new idea, connected to the previous, that announces idyllic perpetuation.

Carried by Currents

for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and electronics

August 2017

In the process of creating carried by currents, I imagined something ambient to balance the rather frenetic and fragmented character of other recent works. I felt motions that were smooth and rolling; that rippled through a surface in a variety of directions. I sought a hybrid character that radiated warmth in a tactilely organic and fuzzily electric way. I conceived a texture that was complex and heterogeneous but also whole. I envisioned something that metaphorically extended to both water and electricity, to human and technology, to illustrate the complexity and peace of the flows around us.  

Experiment in Augmentation 2

for human improviser, PAM (robotic string instrument), Cyther (human-playable robotic zither) and robotic percussion


Experiment in Augmentation 2 features a human-robot improvisation consisting of a human improviser and the musical robots PAM, percussive aerophone, and percussion built by WPI’s Music, Perception and Robotics Lab and EMMI. The robots respond to human-produced cues with algorithmically-generated statements. Their performative idiosyncrasies transform idealized pitch, rhythm and velocity information. The human performer nudges the machines in particular directions and pulls them back if they have become too adventurous. He indicates which gestures should persist, which should be recalled and which ones should be developed further by the machines. The human is thus both composer and conductor as the compositional process unfolds in performance. Enabling human control of higher-level musical elements (i.e. meter, rhythmic subdivisions, pitch set) and machine control of lower-level ones (e.g. pitch, temporal position) allows the performer’s attention to shift and roam, and thus highlights a way in which human expressive abilities can be augmented via physical computing technologies.

Experiment in Augmentation 1

Spring 2017

In the work, a human performer, Cyther (a human-playable robotic zither) and modular percussion robots interact with each other. The interaction between these performers is enabled by both the physical design of Cyther and software written by the composer. The perceptual aspects of the system distinguish auditory events, create groupings and find patterns. In response to perceived information, the system can mimic, transform and generate material. It stores information about past events, and thus has memory, which shape the expressive choices that it makes. It is used in improvisatory contexts to illuminate unique gestures that are only possible through electromechanical actuation, which inspire a human performer to explore new expressive territory. The improvisations provide structure and freedom in order to both present the possibilities of this ensemble and allow for spontaneity. In particular, the work explores rhythms and timbres that are enabled by these machines.


We often think of an instrument and the agent that plays it as unified. That is, we talk about a flautist or a violinist as a single thing that requires both human and instrument working symbiotically together. In other ways, performer and instrument are meaningfully distinct, and the boundary between the two is inflexible. What if this boundary is made porous, allowing the human to play the role of pseudo-static sound shaper while the instrument becomes dynamic and expressive? By integrating robotic actuation into a human-playable instrument, agency becomes amorphous and distributed as performer and machine interact through a shared medium. A human performer and the machine are able to fluidly move between the roles of impulse and filter. The robot inspires the performer with expressions made possible by mechanical actuation while the performer transforms these gestures by physically manipulating the instrument. Reciprocally, the performer can affect how the robotic system both interprets and generates ideas. The results illuminate the expressive spaces that are human, that are mechanical, that are shared between the two, and that emerge as these worlds synthesize. The actions of both become parts of a symbiotic whole, rather than self-contained instances that are co-located, thus the system exemplifies cooperative interaction. The project builds on the lineage of technology that seeks augmentation through human-machine symbiosis. The possibilities offered by such human-playable robotic musical instruments have been little explored (the vast majority of musical robots function autonomously).


Systematic Variation in Rhythm Production as Tempo Changes

Barton, S., Getz, L., & Kubovy, M. (2017). Systematic Variation in Rhythm Production as Tempo Changes. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 34(3), 303-312.

We investigated the effect of tempo on the production of the syncopated 3-2 son clave rhythm. We recorded eleven experienced percussionists performing the clave pattern at tempi ranging from 70 bpm to 210 bpm. As tempo increased, percussionists shortened the longest intervals and lengthened the shortest interval towards an intermediate interval that is located in the first and second positions in the pattern. This intermediate interval was stable across tempi. Contrary to prior studies, we found that the complexity of interval ratios had little effect on production accuracy or stability and the “short” interval in the pattern was not particularly stable. These results suggest that as tempo is varied, (1) experienced musicians systematically distort rhythmic intervals, (2) rhythmic configuration, and not just the complexity of interval ratios, affects the production of rhythmic intervals, and (3) the distinction between long and short intervals is context-dependent.


Music Perception


Summer-Fall 2016

2 channel recording; 5:59
In “Pleasure Beats: Rhythm and the Aesthetics of Current Electronic Music”, Ben Neill describes how popular and art music are distinguished along rhythmic lines. He predicts a future music where such distinctions are less clear; where the rhythmic vernacular of pop music is spoken in artistic territory. Much of my recent creative compositional efforts, including this piece, exemplify movement in this direction, both in terms of rhythm as well as other musical elements. Here, a foundation is set with materials from the pop world: verse-chorus form, 4/4 time signatures, fuzzy synth basses, rock grooves and EDM breaks. These materials are then manipulated in electroacoustic-art-music ways: timbres are transformed, grains are made and re-ordered, meters are changed, and earlier materials are restated in discontinuous sequences. The result is less a fusion and more a congeries where non-ironic choruses and dizzying jump-cuts cohabitate. These combinations are not motivated by a desire to influence the language of art music for its own sake, rather, they are expressions of cultural heterogeneity that is not compartmentalized.

Creativity in the Generation of Machine Rhythms

S. Barton (2016). In proceedings from The 1st Conference on Computer Simulation of Musical Creativity.

Abstract: This paper explores musical, psychological and philosophical ideas about how humans and machines interact in creative processes. It argues that creativity is a function of both generator and receiver, and that these roles can be amorphous in the creation and experience of electronic music. It offers an approach to structuring temporal spaces for rhythmic composition, which leads to the idea of machine rhythms, which are proposed as a promising area for creative expression.

Original Gravity Podcast: Rise of a City

Join Original Gravity Artistic Director Keith Kirchoff and Public Relations Guru Greg Carlson (both exceptional brewers) as they design a unique, homebrewed beer that will aesthetically pair with Scott Barton’s Rise of a City, a piece for musical robot and guitar featured on our Summer 2016 Mystic Brewery concert.


for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello, tom-tom, PAM (robotic string instrument), and robotic percussion

Fall 2014 – Spring 2015

commissioned by the Juventas New Music Ensemble

Machine expressivity is often thought of as involving precision, speed, rhythmic complexity, non-idiomatic (for human performers) pitch patterns and replication.  Human expressivity is often thought of involving groove, phrasing, affect, contour, variation, articulation, entrainment and communication.  While these attributes help shape our conceptions of what is human versus what is mechanical, they are not confined to one category or the other: humans can be precise and robots can groove.  Expressive identity is more analog than digital.  This does not preclude expressive spaces that are unique to humans and machines, rather, it suggests the areas between them are ambiguous and that the attributes that define them do not do so in a one-to-one fashion (instead, attribute-space relationships are a function of combination and context).  The music explores these areas of ambiguity and clarity.  Genre is treated in a similar way such that stylistic exemplars are presented authentically and in transformation.  The intersections in expressive identity and style illuminate what is exclusive and what is shared.

Rise of a City


for guitar and robotic ensemble (PAM, MADI and CADI)

produced and recorded by Scott Barton, mixed by Marc Urselli and Scott Barton at East Side Sound Studios, NYC

Rise of a City introduces a human performer to the robotic creations of EMMI (Expressive Machines Musical Instruments, for the first time. The piece features complementary string parts (one played by a human guitarist, one played by the robotic string instrument PAM) that are supported by a robotic percussion ensemble. The piece explores mechanical gestures, human expression, virtuosity and synchronicity by placing specific musical ideas in a variety of instrumental and temporal spaces. Material is soloed and shared between the parts, giving us a sense of the unique expressive characteristics of human versus robotic instrumentalists. From the perspective of narrative, the musical interactions between human and machine can be understood through the metaphor of how ideas develop. Sometimes multiple groups of people simultaneously cultivate ideas towards similar goals even though they don’t live in the same place. Sometimes the paths of this race are parallel. Sometimes they diverge. When they diverge, the separation can result in either an alternate route to the original goal or a new path(s) that clears the way to previously unimagined possibilities. This has become a familiar phenomenon to us via technological innovation, scientific discovery, stylistic innovation and the construction of physical communities (dwellings → cities). The construction of physical communities has particular metaphoric weight in the case of this piece. From small beginnings a city exudes reiterative processes in multiple directions. New neighborhoods spring up that incorporate and / or react to adjacent areas. The restatements are accumulative, so that the entirety of the city becomes perpetually more massive and complex. At the same time, the most recent individual additions, buildings in the case of a city, mirror the qualities of the whole in terms of grandeur and intricacy. This path is not purely linear of course, and the ability to start simply, small-ly, or differently is always preserved.

Dysrhythmia of timed Movements in Parkinson’s disease and freezing of gait

Tolleson, C. M., Dobolyi, D. G., Roman, O. C., Kanoff, K., Barton, S., Wylie, S. A., … & Claassen, D. O. (2015). Dysrhythmia of timed movements in Parkinson׳ s disease and freezing of gait. Brain research1624, 222-231.


A well-established motor timing paradigm, the Synchronization-Continuation Task (SCT), quantifies how accurately participants can time finger tapping to a rhythmic auditory beat (synchronization phase) then maintain this rhythm after the external auditory cue is extinguished, where performance depends on an internal representation of the beat (continuation phase). In this study, we investigated the hypothesis that Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients with clinical symptoms of freezing of gait (FOG) exhibit exaggerated motor timing deficits. We predicted that dysrhythmia is exacerbated when finger tapping is stopped temporarily and then reinitiated under the guidance of an internal representation of the beat. Healthy controls and PD patients with and without FOG performed the SCT with and without the insertion of a 7-second cessation of motor tapping between synchronization and continuation phases. With no interruption between synchronization and continuation phases, PD patients, especially those with FOG, showed pronounced motor timing hastening at the slowest inter stimulus intervals during the continuation phase. The introduction of a gap prior to the continuation phase had a beneficial effect for healthy controls and PD patients without FOG, although patients with FOG continued to show pronounced and persistent motor timing hastening. Ratings of freezing of gait severity across the entire sample of PD tracked closely with the magnitude of hastening during the continuation phase. These results suggest that PD is accompanied by a unique dysrhythmia of measured movements, with FOG reflecting a particularly pronounced disruption to internal rhythmic timing. link to paper

MARIE: Monochord-Aerophone Robotic Instrument Ensemble

T. Rogers, S. Kemper, S. Barton (2015). In proceedings from The 15th International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression.


The Modular Electro-Acoustic Robotic Instrument System (MEARIS) represents a new type of hybrid electroacoustic-electromechanical instrument model. Monochord-Aerophone Robotic Instrument Ensemble (MARIE), the first realization of a MEARIS, is a set of interconnected monochord and cylindrical aerophone robotic musical instruments created by Expressive Machines Musical Instruments (EMMI). MARIE comprises one or more matched pairs of Automatic Monochord Instruments (AMI) and Cylindrical Aerophone Robotic Instruments (CARI). Each AMI and CARI is a self-contained, independently operable robotic instrument with an acoustic element, a control system that enables automated manipulation of this element, and an audio system that includes input and output transducers coupled to the acoustic element. Each AMI-CARI pair can also operate as an interconnected hybrid instrument, allowing for effects that have heretofore been the domain of physical modeling technologies, such as a “plucked air column” or “blown string.” Since its creation, MARIE has toured widely, performed with dozens of human instrumentalists, and has been utilized by nine composers in the realization of more than twenty new musical works. link to paper