In a paper entitled 'Not Hyper, Not Meta, Not Cyber but Infra-Instruments', given at the 2005 NIME (New Interfaces for Musical Expression) Conference in Vancouver, Canada, John Bowers and Philip Archer criticised recent developments in instrument making, arguing that all the 20 'hyper' and 'meta' instruments extend the capabilities of existing instruments with a view to increasing the virtuosity and complexity of the music made. The same is true of virtual instruments, but often replacing the hand gesture with some kind of controller or motiontracking device. They identify a different kind of instrument, called an 'infra-instrument', which 'engenders relatively simple musics' and is 'restricted in its virtuosity and expressivity', but is 'nonetheless aesthetically engaging and technically intriguing for all that'. They offer a number of examples. This project uses a couple of those.

The Project

Make, and perform on, an infra-instrument. Do this by using materials that are 'partway to instrumenthood' but do not make them into a recognised instrument. For example: a guitar is made of wood and metal and, possibly, nylon. An infra-guitar would use those materials, but would not be a guitar. (Sounding materials might include: wood, metal, string, water, stone, skin, plastic, glass, etc.)


Bowers and Archer's own instructions include the following additional notes that may be helpful in realising this project: Take an instrument and make it less. Break an existing instrument (irreversible procedures) or restrict its operation and/or how one interacts with it (reversible procedures). Build an instrument but include obvious mistakes. Like selecting fresh vegetables as the material for construction. Take something non-instrumental and find the instrument within. A DTMF phone dialer can be regarded as an infra-synthesizer, a Geiger counter as infra-percussion, and so forth. Find infra-instruments readymade. In contrast to the above, here we have in mind instruments which already are infra in status, at least in the minds of aesthetic snobs. This would include many musical toys or musical boxes and other 'amusements'.