Featured Compositions


July 2020 – January 2021
for the robotic instruments by WPI’s Music Perception and Robotics Lab and EMMI
Program Notes

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

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

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.

Opus Palladianum (Voice and Drums)

2 channel recording
Composed, recorded and mixed by Scott Barton in Winter
Program Notes

Opus Palladianum: voice and drums explores relations and contrasts, from those that are clear, such as the juxtaposition of opposites (soft, loud), to those that are ambiguous, such as the juxtaposition of synthetic and intimate.  Contrast is created by presenting the voice and percussion elements in a variety of rhythmic, harmonic, stylistic and technological settings.  These organizations illuminate timbral identities, associations that are connected to production processes, and the relationship between an object and its development.  Such juxtapositions and superimpositions invite listeners to consider how context, and not just timbre, influences the aesthetics of recorded, sampled, and synthesized sound.  The piece creates unity and connections among these disparate elements through its formal construction.  As a result, there is connection despite heterogeneity; there is fluidity despite disruption; there is peace despite agitation; there is continuity despite discontinuity.