The Pearl

The Pearl is a multi-modal computer interface initially conceived as an interactive prop for a multi-artistic theatrical performance. It was designed for use in a theatrical production created by composer David Coubes and percussionist Krystina Marcoux. The production is an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel The Pearl, and was created for two performers — a dancer and a percussionist. As the centre of the plot the Pearl becomes almost a third character in its own right, a fact which led to the desire for an interactive prop which could respond appropriately over the course of the show. In addition, as the show is conceived as a multi-artistic production in which both the main performers act, dance, and perform music, it made sense that the Pearl would also be able to fulfill a multi-functional role.

Krystina Marcoux and Bryan Eliason in the original production of "La Perle".
Krystina Marcoux and Bryan Eliason in the original production of “La Perle”.
Beyond its use in the original production, the Pearl also serves as a platform for exploring visual feedback during computer music performances. Embedded within the Pearl are 24 individually controllable LEDs, as well as an array of sensors for detecting movement and touch. The lighting can be programmed to display information about any aspect of the musical performance, from visually indicating subtleties of performer gesture which might not be otherwise apparent, to indicating the status of computer music algorithms which the performer interacts with. This visual feedback can be useful not only to the performer, but also can help audiences understand the relationship between the performer’s gestures and the sounds generated by the computer.

The Pearl was first used in Lyon, France in March 2015 and has been presented at the New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference and the symposium Learning and Teaching Music in the Twenty-First Century. The instrument design was crowd-funded, and also supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
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Ian Hattwick: instrument design
Krystina Marcoux: percussion
Bryan Eliason: dance
David Coubes: composition