Belle Isle and Beyond (2019)

In 2019, I participated in Belle Isle and Beyond: Cultivating Ecoliteracy Through the Arts, a project with the goal of employing the arts to encourage an embodied, imaginative, and reflective engagement with nature in order to cultivate environmental empathy and stewardship. I worked with a group of middle school students from the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences to learn about acoustic ecology and the sound environment. We made field recordings on Belle Isle in Detroit, which then became the basis for compositions by myself and my PAT student, Tessa Fornari. Our compositions were then used for a site-specific dance performance at the Belle Isle Nature Center. I describe my composition Belle Isle Reverie in a separate post.

The project was a collaboration with Jessica Fogel (SMTD Dance), Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez (Environment and Sustainability), Erika Stowall (Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences and Big Red Wall Dance Company), Christine McNulty (Detroit Zoological Society) and many others. The project was featured in a story by Model D Magazine.

We had many supporters, including notably the University of Michigan’s MCubed 3.0 and the Edward Ginsberg Center.

Belle Isle Reverie (2019)

As a part of the Belle Isle and Beyond project, I created my first fixed-media electroacoustic composition in some time.

We tend to think of sound recordings like photographs: as documents that reflect the time and place they were made, as well as the people who created them. Instead, I like to view sound recordings through the lens of the anthropologist Tim Ingold’s theory of making: as materials that I can work with in order to make something unique that would not otherwise exist, like a mason sees stone or a potter sees clay. Far from ‘raw’ or ‘inert,’ these materials—sound recordings, stone, clay—have lives; they bear the imprints of the process by which they came to be, and even with the most advanced technologies, the process of working with them is a push-pull negotiation of forces though which the finely-detailed form of the outcome, in my case a composition, is generated. Belle Isle Reverie (2019) is such a work; a fantasy on a collection of sound recordings made on Belle Isle in the Detroit River in March, 2019 by myself and a group of middle school dance students at the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences. Of course, the process I described also tells the story of how the place we currently know as Belle Isle came to be: a confluence of natural and human forces and materials, with significant technological mediation. Belle Isle today, like my composition, is a human-made invention of what an urban ‘natural’ place can be. It will change and take on new meanings over time in response to changes to the environment and its surroundings, as well as our cultural and scientific values.

Michael Gurevich – Belle Isle Reverie (c) 2019

Candelabras (2016)

In 2015 and 2016, my Electronic Chamber Music ensemble responded to the theme of “Techno.” In collaboration with the students, we developed a series of instruments for playing Techno. The first iteration was known as the Tridents.

Photocells embedded in the Tridents are activated by the colored light controllers, which emit light pulses according to sequences programmed live by one performer. Performers can use the proximity of the controllers to interpret the sequences

In 2016, the design evolved. We felt that the performers should have more rhythmic autonomy, and wanted to update the design. We added a third sensor to each instrument for a total of 15 possible voices, and migrated from PVC pipe to steel and stained wood. The controllers are slimmer and more compact. Performers can play rhythms in any note value down to 16th-note triplets with coded buttons on each controller, all synced to a master clock.

2 Improvisations With Candelabras

StringTrees (2010-2014)

This research is set against a theoretical/philosophical background regarding the nature of human-instrument relationships, from which I defined a conceptual space to explore through design, and then engage in reflective accounting of putting the design into practice. The first prototype, created at SARC, was extremely robust, but heavy, difficult to regulate, and a bit scary!

The final version was created at Michigan, working with MA student Simon Alexander-Adams.

Innovative performance techniques emerged in response to the system, bringing aesthetic priorities and biases with them, as well as whatever implements at hand. A feature of not having a priori musical goal.

  • Muting
  • Tuning with “slides”
  • Manual plucking

Emergent behaviors and musical surprises

  • A consequence of distributed control
  • Tendency to “go with” surprises
  • Improvisatory character

Different Modes at High Speeds

  • Primary interaction is tuning/timbre
  • Sense that “the system is in control,” akin to an ornamental mode


  • Facilitated collaborative improvisation
  • Performances are episodic: Stable state -> transition -> stable state
  • Temporal nature / speed of automated behavior enforced different modes of interaction

Music + Mushrooms II

On November 4, 2012, I led members of my PAT 101 class, and Prof. Tim James’s mycology lab — “The Mycotics” — on a mushroom foray in honor of John Cage’s 100th birthday. Cage was a friend of the late renowned UMich mycologist Alexander Smith and discussed foraging for mushrooms in the woods around Ann Arbor with Smith in his writings. What better way to honor him?

The Mycotics provided texts about mushrooms, which we used as the basis for musique concrète compositions. Fragments of these compositions were played on boomboxes and texts were read aloud according a score that used mushroom spore prints to generate event choices and timings.

Music + Mushrooms II (audio excerpt)

Keynote + Cage + Network Music in Colombia

On October 25, 2012 I delivered the opening keynote address at the Diseño+ conference in Cali, Colombia. The conference was the 5th International Meeting of Research in Design, a South American gathering of researchers in diverse areas of design, with a particular emphasis on music technology. My keynote explored the co-evolution of experimental music practice and electronic musical instruments, highlighting his recent research into the development of skill and style with digital musical instruments.

As a part of the Videosónica festival held in conjunction with the Diseño+ conference, I performed in a telematic concert of electroacoustic music on October 26, 2012. The concert featured performers in Cali and at Stanford University in California, joined by Stephen Rush’s Digital Music Ensemble in Ann Arbor. Although separated geographically, the performers were able to play together, supported by experimental technologies to deliver high-quality digital audio at low latency over dedicated research networks. This 3-way telematic concert was a first for Colombia as well as the University of Michigan.

The following night, I closed the festival performing a new realization of John Cage’s Rozart Mix in honor of the composer’s centennial. My gracious host Daniel Gomez took me on an adventure to find junk boomboxes and old cassette tapes to use as material for the performance.

Piano Phase Phone

I helped the students of the University of Michigan Digital Music Ensemble hack a rotary dial phone for their performance of Robert Ashley’s In Memoriam… Kit Carson. During one rehearsal, I heard Steve Rush say that he considered Ashley to be a minimalist like Reich and Riley. There was an extra phone lying around, and this gave me an idea.

I’ve been thinking about designing interfaces that are “bespoke” (to use a term I picked up in Ireland) to compositions. It made me consider whether we can embody a composition into an interface or instrument.

On Not Knowing (2009)

Ten singers begin reading a text at precisely the same moment, although for the majority of the piece the text is read silently in each performer’s head, at his or her own pace. Only occasionally does each switch from the voice in their head to the voice we can hear, according to dynamics and timings indicated on a score. At times, the singers overcome their internal voices by whistling unspecified pitches. Throughout, each performer ceaselessly tunes a radio, never stopping at a particular station or frequency. The content of any particular instantiation is therefore arbitrary, and the entirety of the piece – the text, the radio broadcasts, the internal voices – unknowable.

It took some time for it to become apparent that On Not Knowing is largely about Belfast. ‘About’ is an excessively reductive term here, as Belfast is by no means the subject of the text, nor is it reflected in the process by which the piece unfolds; it would be more accurate to say that the piece is indicative of one’s experience of being an outsider in Belfast. Although the extent to which any place can truly be known is always limited, one can always peel away the unknown, gradually revealing the known. However, no amount of excavation will uncover the unknowable; this is the difference between mysteries and secrets. More than other places, Belfast brings this contrast to the surface. History, geography, climate and trauma conspire to conceal a hidden city in its attics, back rooms and underground rivers. The intense warmth of its inhabitants etches a blind spot into your senses. On Not Knowing reflects the dilemma of Belfast onto the fundamental questions of existence and experience.

On Not Knowing, performed by Bird on a Wire

Whispering Places (2009)

with Dónal Donohoe and Stéphanie Bertet

Conceived more as a participatory durational performance than an installation per se, in Whispering Places three rooms in different geographic locations are acoustically superimposed onto one another, creating a shared environment. Using high-order ambisonics and multichannel real-time streaming, a sound in one place appears in the same spatial location in all the other places at the same time. But are we really in the same place at the same time? It may be the middle of the night in Ireland when there is daylight in America; we are thousands of miles apart. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, Whispering Places plays with the contradictions and paradoxes of sharing a virtual space. Pulled by gravity, sounds from one place move in space toward the direction of the others, just as the packets that represent them travel along wires. Visitors have to whisper to make their voices heard – we don’t want to wake anyone who may be sleeping.

Whispering Places sends uncompressed, 3rd-order ambisonic-encoded audio streams between sites via JackTrip. Different sites can decode the streams according to their local speaker setup, allowing for flexible but accurate spatial rendering on any multi-channel speaker system with known geometry.