Performing bodies, sounds and machines

DEV | Marco Donnarumma | sound art and performance art, human body and biotechnology


Marco Donnarumma Sound Art Performance and Technology0-Infinity at TodaysArt Festival, NL, 2015. Photo: Fanny Fazakas.

PhD Thesis

Marco is about to defend his practice-based PhD thesis in Arts and Computational Technology from Goldsmiths, University of London. He worked under the supervision of Prof. Atau Tanaka (Dpt. of Computing) and Prof. Matthew Fuller (Center for Cultural Studies). The thesis is entitled Configuring Corporeality: Performing Bodies, Vibrations and New Musical Instruments, and examines, theoretically and practically, the nature and politics of human-machine corporeality. This is intended as a particular kind of corporeality emerging from the intimate arrangement of human bodies and technological instruments. His examiners committee include Prof. Sergi Jordà (Music Technology Group, Universitat Pompeu Fabra) and Prof. Lisa Blackman (Dpt. of Media and Communication, Goldsmiths). The thesis will be published following Marco’s VIVA, as soon as any correction the committee may require is completed.


How to define the relationship of human bodies, sound and technological instruments in musical performance? This enquiry investigates the issue through an iterative mode of research. Aesthetic and technical insights on sound and body art performance with new musical instruments combine with analytical views on technological embodiment in philosophy and cultural studies. The focus is on corporeality: the physiological, phenomenological and cultural basis of embodied practices.

The thesis proposes configuration as an analytical device and a blueprint for artistic creation. Configuration defines the relationship of the human being and technology as one where they affect each other’s properties through a continuous, situated negotiation. In musical performance, this involves a performer’s intuition, cognition, and sensorimotor skills, an instrument’s material, musical and computational properties, and sound’s vibrational and auditive qualities.

Two particular kinds of configuration feature in this enquiry. One arises from an experiment on the effect of vibration on the sensorimotor system and is fully developed through a subsequent installation for one visitor at a time. The other emerges from a scientific study of gesture expressivity through muscle physiological sensing and is consolidated into an ensuing body art performance for sound and light. Both artworks rely upon intensely intimate sensorial and physical experiences, uses and abuses of the performer’s body and bioacoustic sound feedback as a material force.

This work contends that particular configurations in musical performance reinforce, alter or disrupt societal criteria against which human bodies and technologies are assessed. Its contributions are: the notion of configuration, which affords an understanding of human-machine co-dependence and its politics; two sound-based artworks, joining and expanding musical performance and body art; two experiments, and their hardware and software tools, providing insights on physiological computing methods for corporeal human-computer interaction.