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Atau Tanaka

(Tokyo, Japan)

Atau Tanaka, Sensorband, 1997
Sensorband, Sensorband performance, 1999 Sensorband, Sensorband Long Distance Concert With ISDN Connection, 1997 Atau Tanaka, Constellations, 1999
Atau Tanaka, a composer and performer in the field of technology and music, was born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in New England in the United States. Though he played classical piano until the age of 18, he decided to attend Harvard University to study biochemistry.

Eventually, to supplement his scientific education, Tanaka studied electronic music with Ivan Tcherepnin at Harvard Electronic Music Studios where he also came into contact with John Cage. Tanaka went on to study musical composition and recording at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland, and also attended Stanford University in San Francisco, California, to pursue graduate work in computer music.

In 1992, Tanaka moved to Paris on a fellowship for a residency at Stanford's atelier at the Cité International des Arts and also conducted research at the IRCAM. While in Europe, Tanaka benefited from a residency at STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) (Amsterdam) where he created an interactive art gallery for Fred Firth in 1994. He completed an additional residency at V2_Organisation, Institute for the Unstable Media (Rotterdam, the Netherlands). In 1995, Tanaka was selected as the artistic ambassador for Apple France. Tanaka moved to Tokyo in 1997 on a commission from the InterCommunication Center where he is now based. Tanaka's musical compositions can be heard on labels such as Digital Narcis Ltd. (Osaka, Japan), Alien8 Recordings (Montreal, Canada), Touch (London, England), (Tokyo, Japan), Caipirinha Music (New York, United States), and Staalplaat (Amsterdam, the Netherlands). He has received many prizes and awards, including the Cyberstar '98 prize sponsored by WDR Radio in Köln, Germany, and has participated in numerous festivals around the world including the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (Rotterdam, the Netherlands) and the Festival international des musiques actuelles de Victoriaville (Canada).

While studying at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Tanaka was commissioned to compose a piece of music for the BioMuse, a biomusical interface created by Hugh Lusted and Ben Knapp of BioControl Systems. It was developed at Stanford University in conjunction with the Medical School and the Electrical Engineering Department. Tanaka was in fact the first musician to be commissioned to work with the interface. (1) The BioMuse is a general-purpose neural interface/biocontroller that allows the performer to create music with muscular and neural activity. Tanaka adopted this instrument.

Atau Tanaka, Zbigniew Karkowski and Edwin van der Heide formed Sensorband in 1993. Sensorband is described as a sensor instrument ensemble, meaning that each member plays a unique instrument that uses the body to make music. Tanaka plays the BioMuse . Karkowski plays an invisible cage of infrared beams that, when broken, trigger a sample of sounds. Van der Heide plays a MIDI conductor using joystick-like controls.

The band performed together for the first time in 1993 at Voyages Virtuels, a virtual-reality exhibition organized by Les Virtualistes in Paris, France. Sensorband has also performed on Soundnet, "an architectural musical instrument of monumental proportions. It is a giant web, measuring 11 by 11 metres, strung with 16-millimetre thick shipping rope. At the end of the ropes, there are 11 sensors that detect stretching and movement." (2)

The three musicians are based in different parts of the world and cannot always perform together. But through ISDN video-conferencing technologies, they have devised a way to play at a distance, integrating the delay over the telephone wires into their performance. ISDN-connection concerts have taken place on several occasions. In 1995, the three members of Sensorband connected Amsterdam with the Sonar Festival in Barcelona, Spain. In 1996, they linked France, IAMAS (Japan), and Melbourne, Australia, during the Festival Aye Aye, organized by the Institut Européen de Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel in Nancy, France. And in 1997, they connected the Sonar Festival, in Barcelona with David Kristian at the FCMM in Montreal, Canada.

Atau Tanaka has also created several network-music installations independently, including Constellations (1999). This installation was premiered at Coexistencias during the Experimenta Design Festival in Lisbonne, Portugal in 1999. In the gallery space, Tanaka installed five computers that all ran the Constellations interface: software designed specifically for the project that can be downloaded from Tanaka web site. Visitors in the gallery navigated an onscreen gamut of planets, each planet a different sound file that could be streamed into the gallery. The sound files originated from servers throughout the Internet and weren't specifically files put in place by Tanaka. Each planet represented a contribution from a different composer. The sounds coming from the network space resonated in the acoustic space of the gallery, connecting the real and the virtual. (3)

Angela Plohman © 2000 FDL

(1) Tanaka premiered his composition in 1992 at Stanford University.

(2) Bert Bongers, "An Interview with Sensorband" Computer Music Journal vol. 22, no 1 (spring 1998) : 17.

(3) For a full project description see :