Musical Instrument Interface Displays Complex, Layered Composition


Nomis by Jonathan Sparks makes loop-based music an expressive and visual experience.

Leah Gonzalez
  • 10 july 2014

Created by Brooklyn, New York-based artist, musician and maker Jonathan Sparks, Nomis is a new musical instrument interface that aims to make loop-based music more complex, expressive and visually-entertaining through gestures and lights.

Sparks, who is currently pursuing his masters degree at NYU’s Interactive Telecomunications Program, combined Arduino, Max/MSP, and Ableton Live to allow the musical instrument to loop and display MIDI sounds across two light towers and a polyphonic octagonal interface.

The light towers and polyphonic octagonal interface respond to gestures to create layered melodies. The melodies are illustrated via colorful lights, with each sound represented by a different color. What results is a stunning musical and light show.

The music player first selects MIDI sounds which are displayed on the first light tower and represented by different colored lights. The MIDI sounds then become available to be performed and displayed on the polyphonic octagonal interface in the middle of the instrument. Through gestures, the player creates a melody and the performances are recorded and looped by spinning the entire polyphonic octagonal interface. The recorded loops are then displayed on the second light tower where they can be individually turned on and off alternately to create a dynamic composition from the sound loops that were created in real time by the player.


On his website, Sparks writes,

Loop based music is a powerful way for an individual musician to create a complex, multi-voiced composition by looping and layering melodies in real time. The devices that make it possible to achieve this are powerful, but often lack the expressiveness and clarity that make for compelling live performances. Nomis is an attempt to get that looping capability up off of the floor, out from behind the laptop, and feature it in an instructive and stimulating way.

Sparks designed his Nomis musical instrument to allow musicians to display their loop-based music performances in a more expressive and compelling way, rather than from behind a computer or from on the floor.


To demonstrate how Nomis works, Sparks worked with a fellow Brooklyn-based artist, Tanya Phattiyakula, who shot and edited a video showing the creator playing the musical instrument. Take a look at the video below.

Jonathan Sparks


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