Meet the Labbers: Akito van Troyer

MIT Media Lab/Margaret Evans

In our ongoing audio series, Meet the Labbers, we hear people from all roles across the Media Lab talk about what they do and why they do it.

Today, meet Akito van Troyer.

"My name’s Akito van Troyer. I’m a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab in a group called Opera of the Future. My work mostly relates to making new musical instruments. My passion was always with music, I would say, really interested in ethnomusicology, actually, like gamelan music, if you have heard of it, from Indonesia. And I also play classical guitar, mostly. But eventually, while I was doing that, I got into computers and computer music and things like that. That kind of started driving me towards, you know, what I do right now at the Media Lab.

People are so diverse here, in terms of their research. I’m a music background but other people are more heavily on the engineering side, like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and so forth. So, when I’m working on a project and I don’t know something, I can always ask somebody, and somebody would know the answer to what I’m trying to do. One of the musical instruments I created, called the Drum Top, I think had that kind of moment where the original idea was completely different from what I actually made.

It kind of forces me to think outside of what I’m working on, which is really, really unique to the Media Lab.

I wanted to originally create a musical instrument that turned any object, if you hold it in hand, into a musical instrument. So, I was thinking about doing some acoustic analysis—when you hold something in your hand, can I analyze the sound or the materiality of the object. And when I was doing that, I was using a tiny speaker and sending a pulse signal to it. Then from there, I thought, hmmm, what if I just make a sequencer out of this, like just have a bunch of these impulse response creators and put some things on top of it, and that becomes your musical instrument? I had many discussions with people—hey, I’m trying to do this, what kind of sensors should I be using? What should be the approach of measuring the object you are holding in your hands?

So, yeah, the series of events led to the final form of what the musical instrument became. And it kind of forces me to think outside of what I’m working on, which is really, really unique to the Media Lab, I feel like, yeah.”

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