Synthesizers and Sensors: ‘Soundscapes’ at Kaneko


August 14th, 2017

Photo Credit: Ben Semisch

Omaha, NE—This week, the Kaneko will host its next music performance as part of the Kinetic series, “Soundscapes” with multi-instrumentalist Graham Ulicny. Ulicny has played with several popular bands like Thick Paint, Reptar, Icky Blossoms and The Faint, but his role in this solo show might be engineer as much as musician.

Following Kaneko’s spirit of experimentation, Ulicny has created a way to turn the space itself into the basis for the music.

“I was kind of trying to do something a little different and incorporate some more tech stuff into it,” Ulicny said. “So I’m using a computer program called MaxMSP and these two sensors that basically shoot really high frequency sounds and bounce off stuff, and by doing that they can range the distance of what the closest object near them [is]. They give out a number that represents that and with those numbers and this program kind of using that to turn that into musical information to control the rhythms and sounds and timbres of some synthesizers that I’m going to be using for the performance.”

It’s hard to say what the ultimate product will sound like, even for Ulicny. Significant work has gone into figuring out how sensor data will translate to pitch, rhythm, triggers, and parameters on hardware and software synthesizers—technology ranging from the ’70s to today.

Regardless of what was planned, the installment’s interactive feature will make the sounds somewhat unpredictable.

“If you cross into where the beams are—the beams are about three feet by thirty feet—so if you are in the area and you walk through, them depending on where you walk through them, will change the sounds in the room, and you’ll hear the difference of how you’re interacting with the sounds. So in that way I’m hoping that it will be kind of generative too so that everybody who walks into the gallery will have a different experience.”

As changes in the room affect what the hardware and software are doing, Ulicny will be accompanying, matching the movement.

“The main idea for this is something I had been rolling around for a while, and I think that with the technology that’s available now it was pretty easy to source all the different things for it. It is more just conceptualizing the musical part of it and trying to figure out what the different sounds in the room would be. But it kind of just came out to the gallery space there. [It] is so enormous and beautiful and it has a nice concrete floors and a huge cavernous gallery upstairs and so I was just thinking of the space and had that basic abstract idea of it in my head and was just like let’s see what happens with this. It’s changed a lot kind of the what it has become through trial and error.”

As for what this setup will look like, other than a computer and keyboards?

“It will probably be fairly underwhelming, because as of right now I’m trying to figure out what to put it in—to house it in—and the best thing I could find is an actual shoe box. So it might just look like a spray painted shoe box, but rest assured, there’s a bunch of other stuff inside the shoe box that is cool. Cooler than shoes.”

Ulicny will perform Soundscapes at the Kaneko this Thursday, August 17 at 7:00pm. For more information or tickets, visit


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