Instruments & Interfaces

The master's programme “Instruments and Interfaces” is offered by the Institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague together with STEIM in Amsterdam, and started in September 2011. The deadline for new applications is 1 March 2015. Applications have to be made through Studielink. Information about the study fees can be found here:

The Institute of Sonology has its origins in the studio for electronic music established by the Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven. After the studio was taken over in 1960 by the university of Utrecht, and under the artistic direction of Gottfried Michael Koenig, it expanded into an internationally-renowned centre for research, education and production in the area of electronic music, algorithmic composition and (digital) sound synthesis. STEIM was set up in 1969 and has developed over the years into a world-famous laboratory for practice-oriented research into instruments and interfaces for the live performance of electronic music.

Sonology and STEIM have already collaborated for decades on the development of software and hardware that interfaces between performers and electronic instruments. The term “interface” applies here to the context of live electronic music, but also to other forms of artistic activity which depend on interaction between technologies and the users, for example installations, studios for electronic music production, software for spatial sound projection etc. Given the prominence that these issues have acquired in the contemporary arts, it is of utmost importance that both the technical aspects as well as the historical background are incorporated into this educational context.

This two-year master's programme will be oriented towards the realisation of individual projects. In addition, the programme is open to collaborative projects wherein both technical and performative aspects are shared with additional partner researchers. Candidates must be in possession of a relevant Bachelors degree. Examples of relevant studies would be: various design- or sound-related subjects (for instance composition, sonology, industrial design or interaction design), or related technical subjects such as artificial intelligence, computer studies or electronic engineering. The studies will be conducted in English and applicants are expected to be adequately fluent with the language.

The candidate must submit a detailed project proposal, together with a portfolio and two reference letters. On the basis of this material an initial selection will be made, followed by interviews with the selected candidates.

The well-equipped studios of Sonology and STEIM, along with a dedicated professional team, will provide students the possibility to develop, realize and document their work to the fullest extent. Furthermore, both institutes offer numerous public performance opportunities, making it possible to test out in practice the tools and implements developed in the course of the research.

Admission proposals should be oriented towards one the following categories:

Performance: use of interfaces approached from the perspective of playing and/or improvising. Here the emphasis is on making instruments or interfaces for specific uses, such as live performance, installations or mobile applications.

Instrumental: the use of sensors to design a playable instrument. Here the emphasis is on the conception, design and realisation of such an instrument on the basis of visualisations and/or sensors together with the appropriate playing techniques.

Protocol: the design of hardware for communication. Here the emphasis is more on the technical aspect of producing instruments and interfaces: hardware, sensors, software and the communication between different components on a technical level.

During the first year of study, the student, under the supervision of one or more mentors, will develop his/her hardware and/or software. Supervision can be provided by (among others):

Frank Baldé: advisor on matters of software for musical performance
Frank Baldé joined STEIM in 1985 and started his work there as software designer. A big influence has been the close collaboration with Michel Waisvisz, the artistic director of STEIM (who passed away in 2008), which resulted in a number of music software applications for live performance. His work includes a software sampling package called 'LiSa' for the Apple Macintosh platform and an application called junXion, which can read any kind of 'real-world' sensor data and process / translate it into MIDI or OSC. At STEIM, Frank Baldé actively supports visiting artists in helping them create new instruments using junXion. He also teaches at the Institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.

Richard Barrett: advisor on matters of live electronic music practice
Richard Barrett, born in Swansea in 1959, studied composition principally with Peter Wiegold. He taught at the Institute of Sonology from 1996 to 2001; during 2001-02 he was a guest of the DAAD Berlin Artists’ Programme and between 2006 and 2009 he was a professor of composition at Brunel University in London. In 2009 he rejoined the staff of Sonology. His work encompasses both composition and improvisation, ranging from chamber music to orchestral works, innovative uses of live electronics, and collaborations with installation artists. Much of his work arises from close long-term collaborations, such as his association with the ELISION ensemble (since 1990), Ensemble Champ d'Action (since 1995), the electronic duo FURT with Paul Obermayer (since 1986) and a voice/electronics duo with Ute Wassermann (since 1998). He has also worked as composer and/or performer with numerous ensembles, such as the Arditti, Diotima, Kairos and Pellegrini string quartets, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, KNM Berlin, Klangforum Wien, L'Itinéraire, London Sinfonietta, MusikFabrik, Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and many others. Since 2003 he has been a member of the Evan Parker Electroacoustic Ensemble; in 2005 he and Paul Obermayer formed the vocal/instrumental/electronic octet fORCH. His work as composer and performer is documented on over 20 CDs, including four discs devoted to his compositions and seven by FURT.

Justin Bennett: advisor for sound installations
Justin Bennett, (1964 UK) is an artist working with sound and visual media. The everyday sound of our urban surroundings at every level of detail is the focus of his work where he develops the reciprocity of music and architecture, and sound and image. Bennett often works with artists from other disciplines. These include the performance group B M B con., theatre maker Renate Zentschnig, choreographer Eva-Cecilie Richardsen and sound artist Cilia Erens. Recent solo work has focused on urban development and public space, resulting in sound, video, animation and graphic works. In addition he has developed software tools for spatialisation of sound in both live and installation contexts.

Lex van den Broek: advisor for electronic design
Ing. A.J. (Lex) van den Broek studied Electronics (Information Technology) at the University of professional Education (HTS) in Rotterdam. After his studies, he worked for Sound Projects, where he designed new amplifiers for active loudspeaker systems. At the moment Lex is head of the Electronic Studio (EWP) and teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague. At the departments of Sonology, Composition and Artscience he has developed an expertise in guiding students and teachers with the design and construction of electronics, in particular sensor-based (musical) instruments and multimedia installations.

Edwin van der Heide: advisor on matters of models of interaction
Edwin van der Heide is an artist and researcher in the field of sound, space and interaction. He extends the terms composition and musical language into spatial, interactive and interdisciplinary directions. His work comprises installations, performances and environments. The audience is placed in the middle of the work and challenged to actively explore, interact and relate themselves to the artwork.
Besides running his own studio he is lecturing at the ArtScience Interfaculty of the Royal Conservatoire and Arts Academy in The Hague and part-time assistant professor at Leiden University (LIACS / Media Technology MSc programme). He was Edgard Varèse guest professor at the Technische Universität Berlin (2009) and won the Witteveen+Bos Art+Technology Award 2009 for his entire body of work.

Johan van Kreij: advisor for programming
Johan van Kreij is a performer and composer of electronic music. He studied at the Institute of Sonology from 1994, graduating in 1998. It was then when he started devoting to the development of performance tools in order to perform with them. This development covers the fields of hardware, of sensors and equipment used as the gestural part of the instrument, and software, employing a wide range of synthesis models forming the sounding part of the instrument. These instruments are used in performances of music, dance and theatre. Johan van Kreij is active as such in the field of contemporary music, and teaches at Sonology. In the past years he has also done a great deal of software development, creating a wide variety of tools to be used in concert situations.

Byung Jun Kwon: advisor on matters of hardware and electronic engineering
Byung Jun Kwon (1971 South Korea) started his musical career in the early 90`s as a singer/songwriter and has released 7 albums ranging from alternative rock to minimal house. He creates music for records, soundtracks, fashion collections, contemporary dance, theatre plays and interdisciplinary events developing his own musical instruments and performance tools.  Since 2008 he has been working as a hardware engineer at STEIM realizing various art projects.

Dick Rijken: advisor on concepts and contexts
Dick Rijken is currently the director of STEIM. After studying sonology, artificial intelligence and computer science, Dick Rijken was head of several design curricula in the Netherlands (‘interaction design’ at the Utrecht School of the Arts, the postgraduate course ‘design’ at the Sandberg Institute) and did research for Apple Computer’s Advanced Technology Group. He is also associate professor at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the field of Information Technology and Society. His main interest is how mind and body can be integrated in musical instruments that have conceptual as well as physical interfaces.

Joel Ryan: advisor on matters of live electronic performance practice
Spawned in the first generation of computer music hackers in San Francisco’s silicon valley, Joel Ryan is a composer who has long championed the idea of performance-based electronic music. Drawing on his scientific background, he pioneered the application of digital signal processing to acoustic instruments. At STEIM in Amsterdam since 1984, he has collaborated extensively with artists and musicians including Evan Parker, William Forsyth, George Lewis, Steina Vasulka and Jerry Hunt. He has taught philosophy, physics, and mathematics. He is a researcher at STEIM in Amsterdam, tours with the Frankfurt Ballet and teaches at the Institute of Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. He has performed literally all over the world.

Applicants may express a preference for an individual supervisor, but the final decision on this will be taken by the faculty.

At STEIM the student will follow a weekly group class on the history of instruments and interfaces, and the substantive and methodological foundations of developing instruments and interfaces. Subjects which will arise in these classes include: the conceptual aspects of interfaces and instruments as the expression of an artistic vision, the use of sensors and software to make playable instruments, the significance of the intended context when developing instruments and interfaces, the construction of instruments and interfaces for live performance and improvisation, the “analogue versus digital” debate, the “thought versus intuition” debate, etc.

At the same time, students will take part in STEIM’s “research group”, a weekly meeting where STEIM’s researchers, together with guests and students work on current or innovative research subjects in the area of instruments and interfaces. Master's students may become full members of the research group, actively participating conceptually and practically in the development of future instruments and interfaces. Furthermore, on the basis of their particular project, students make a selection of supplementary classes from the curricula of the Institute of Sonology (see It is also possible to follow elective courses at the University of Leiden.

In the second year, emphasis is placed on putting the results of the project into practice, with presentations of the projects to students and the public at STEIM and Sonology. For this purpose proper methodical documentation of the project will be developed. During the period of study, results of the project will be regularly presented at external venues.

At the end of the first year an evaluation will take place, providing the basis for admittance into the second year of the program.

Candidates for the master's degree are expected to deliver a public performance / presentation of their work along with an accompanying dissertation. Attaining the degree will depend upon the level achieved in the overall project, the quality of the dissertation and the command and proficiency with the topics and its context at the final defense.