Atau Tanaka

Atau Tanaka is a composer and performer of live computer music and, at the same time, Digital Media professor at Newcastle University.

He was born in Tokyo but he soon moved with his family to America where he then studied Biochemistry and, later music.

At Stanford he studied Computer Music and then continued research at the IRCAM in Paris. Later he was Artistic Ambassador for Apple France, then researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratory Paris, and was an Artistic Co-Director of STEIM ( Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam.

Tanaka had the fortune of attending lectures by John Cage, who according to him was one of the first musicians to have a strong conceptual approach. 

As Tanaka says “He made contact with the visual art world”.

His research is in embodied musical interaction. Also intersection of human computer interaction and gestural computer music performance.

This includes the use of physiological sensing technologies, muscle tension in the electromyogram signal, and machine learning analysis of this data.

On the other hand, he studies user experience through ethnographic methods of participatory design where activities of workshopping, scenario building, and structured brainstorming lead an understanding of a mediums affordances in bottom-up, emergent ways.

EAVI (Embodied AudioVisual Interaction) is a research group of which Atau belongs, which focuses on embodied interaction with sound and image. This group carries out research across topics including motion capture, eye tracking, brain computer interfaces, physiological bio-interfaces, machine learning, and auditory culture.

Another group that features Atau Tanaka is Sensorband, a trio of musicians using interactive technology. Gestural interfaces – ultrasound, infrared, and bioelectric sensors as musical instruments.  The other two members are Edwin van der Heide and Zbigniew Karkowski.

Atau plays the BioMuse, a system that tracks neural signals (EMG), translating electrical signals from the body into digital data.

Edwin plays the MIDIconductor, machines worn on his hands that send and receive ultrasound signals, measuring the hands’ rotational positions of and relative distance. 

Zbigniew activates his instrument by the movement of his arms in the space around him. This cuts through invisible infrared beams mounted on a scaffolding structure. 

They literally bring a visceral physical element to interactive technologies. 

He also did many installations, one of them is Global String, launched this installation in Rotterdam’s fifth bi-annual Dutch Electronic Arts Festival and made in cooperation with the Ars Electronica Center in Linz

Global String is a multi-site network music installation, connected via the internet, It is a musical instrument where the network is the resonating body of the instrument, by use of a real time sound synthesis server.

As he stated: 

“The concept is to create a musical string (like the string of a guitar or violin) that spans the world. Its resonance circles the globe, allowing musical communication and collaboration among the people at each connected site. The installation consists of a real physical string connected to a virtual string on the network. The real string (12 millimetres in diameter, 15 metres in length) stretches from the floor diagonally up to the ceiling of the space. On the floor is one end-the earth. Up above is the connection to the network, to one of the other ends somewhere else in the world. Vibration sensors translate the analog pulses to digital data. Users strike the string, making it vibrate.”

Here are some link to other works:

Bondage (Sonification and remix of a photo by Araki)

Biomuse (Biosignal sensor instrument performance)

Myogram (8 channel sonification of muscular corporeal states)


Music Hackspace – Atau Tanaka: Making music with muscle sensors

Goldsmiths University of London – Prof Atau Tanaka

Cafe Oto – Atau Tanaka

V2_Lab for the Unstable Media – Global String

V2_Lab for the Unstable Media – About Atau Tanaka