The sponge is a digital music instrument invented by Martin Marier. Visually, it looks like a big rectangular sponge: however, this unassuming foam block is fitted with buttons, gyroscopes, accelerometers and a radio transmitter that can detect all kinds of twists, deformations and movements of the sponge. Sound synthesis is then handled by Supercollider using custom code written by Martin.

Along with Martin Marier, Émilie Payeur, Preston Beebe and Ana Dall’Ara Majek, I was part of the first-ever Sponge Quintet. The quintet’s first public appearance was part of the 2017 edition of the Akousma festival, where it performed the world premiere of Sponge Quintet #1, composed by Martin Marier.

Program notes:

In this first quintet, each performer uses the exact same instrument based on FM synthesis, but the five parts are different. The instrument produces very raw electronic sounds, but because it responds to extremely delicate gestures, the sounds are deeply connected to the physicality of the performers.

The main musical discourse is built on drones that vary in thickness and textures, but harmonies and melodies also play an important part. The polyphony is strictly limited to five voices: one for each performer, meaning that nothing is prerecorded or looped in anyway.

The instrument was designed to play electronic sounds while allowing a type of expressivity that is traditionally associated with acoustic instruments. The sponge quintet inherits from the (very formal) classical chamber music ensemble while proposing a novel approach to composition, performance and interaction with the audience.