Full Dataset http://doi.org/10.17639/nott.7385

About Returns and Simulacra

Returns and Simulacra is a digital score that integrates sound, video projections, and live performance to explore themes of identity and reality. The performer, Zubin Kanga, interacts with a digital score using an instrument called Piano Hands, which incorporates mini bee accelerometers and touch-sensor attachments. This instrument allows Kanga to control a Max/MSP patch interface wirelessly, shaping the audiovisual elements of the performance in real time. The piece delves into the performer’s multiple identities on stage, blurring the lines between reality and virtuality. It incorporates footage of Kanga himself, as well as archived performances of British queer cabaret performers from the past, such as Douglas Byng from the 1930s. These different characters are matched with specific piano sound samples, creating a juxtaposition between traditional and modern, classical and comedic, and various other contrasts.


The creation of multiple characters for the performer served as a means to explore the diverse facets of his identity, both tangible and imagined, within the performance space. The primary aim was to establish an immersive environment featuring projected video images and a corresponding video score, guiding the performer to synchronise and interpret the work alongside these character representations. Furthermore, the Piano Hands gestural instrument functioned as a dynamic interface, allowing the performer to engage musically with the video images in lieu of a traditional piano. This integration not only facilitated a close interaction between the performer and the mediated elements but also enriched the live performance by blurring the boundaries between the digital and the live pianist on stage


The realization of this work spanned several years, with its original inception during the pandemic. Filming for the diverse video characters took place intermittently between lockdowns. It was not until the commencement of the DigiScore project that the interactive components of the piece began to take form. Initially, relying solely on the Piano Hands as a score for interaction proved challenging without the visual cues provided by the video score. Consequently, a solution was devised, incorporating a monitor for the performer to interact with the video score together with the Piano Hands. The calibration of the minibee accelerometers and touch sensors embedded within the Piano Hands instrument evolved significantly throughout the piece’s development. This calibration process was essential to seamlessly integrate the instrument’s functionalities with the video projection, facilitating a close interaction between the real and the mediated. Close embodiment of the pianist’s gestures was crucial to achieve this, necessitating ongoing adjustments throughout the creative process. Ultimately, these adjustments and refinements culminated in a performance that captured the intricate interplay between the performer, the digital score, and the visual elements.

Critical Insights from the Analysis


  • Video score integration: the performer established meaningful connections with the narrative and musical elements in the piece by following a video score, which guided his gestural and embodied performance.
  • Multifaceted performance identity: the incorporation of various characters, such as serious pianist, playful Liberace, serious pianist Yudina, and flapper girl pianist, allows the performer to embody different aspects of his identity, blurring the boundaries between reality and performance.
  • Piano Hands instrument interaction: the pianist’s connection with the Piano Hands gestural instrument enabled him to execute piano gestures in synchronisation with the video images, fostering a close interaction between the live performer and the mediated elements of the performance.
  • Memorization and imitation: the performer’s process involved memorizing and imitating sequences from the video score while also allowing for freedom in gesture and timing, creating a balance between structured performance elements and improvisation.
  • Sense of embodiment and control: the wearable nature of the Piano Hands instrument provides a sense of embodiment, extending performer’s movements into sound, offering a form of control and consequence of actions within the performance.
  • Challenges of virtual instrument interface: the lack of a physical piano interface presented challenges in terms of embodiment and tactile feedback, requiring the performer to adapt his technique to this situation.
  • Character-based stage gestures: the performer’s stage gestures are influenced by the characters portrayed in the video footage, connection to each character evokes different movement qualities and emotional expressions, enhancing the narrative depth of the performance.
  • Explorations of Piano Hands instrument: through rehearsal and experimentation, the performer explored the full range of possibilities offered by the gestural controller instrument, adapting his technique to suit the nuances of the performance to achieve a desired sonic outcome.


  • Structured progression: the performance evolves from a scripted format to a more improvisational approach as it unfolds, allowing the pianist to connect deeper to his interpretation of the piece.
  • Gradual openness: initially, the pianist closely imitates pre-recorded gestures, but as the performance progresses, he is encouraged to respond more openly to the videos, enhancing his engagement with the music and visuals.
  • Exploration of gesture response: as the piece advances, the pianist explores his gestural behavior in response to both sound and video characteristics, adding layers of expression and interpretation.
  • Increased control over sound selection: the pianist gains more control in the piece over selecting samples on-the-fly.
  • Integration of memorization and improvisation: memorizing the sequence of video appearances while allowing freedom in gesture and timing enabled the pianist to internalize the rhythm of the piece and anticipate upcoming cues.
  • Balance between technical and theatrical elements: balancing the technical aspects of using body sensors with the theatricality of the performance requires rehearsal and adaptation, connection to both functionality and aesthetic appearance are crucial to effectively communicate the work to the audience.

Digital Musicianship

  • Background in gestural interfaces: performer’s prior experience with gestural interfaces and digital music performance facilitate his ease in interacting with the gestural interface in this piece.
  • Embodied performance requirement: successfully executing the piece necessitates the performer’s embodiment of the pianist’s behavior, emphasizing the importance of physicality in the performance.
  • Skill expansion through character embodiment: embodying various characters throughout the performance enhances the performer’s skill set as a theatrical performer, offering opportunities to incorporate theatricality into future performances.
  • Benefit of pianistic background: a background in piano playing aids in controlling gestures and spatial awareness, contributing to the performer’s proficiency in navigating the piece’s spatial elements.
  • Exploration of gender and sexuality: the digital score allows the performer to experiment with different directions and challenge his usual stage persona, this adds depth to the performance’s thematic exploration.


  • Reflective performance experience: the performance offers the pianist an opportunity to reflect on his embodied pianistic behavior, enabling him to gain new insights into his performative style without a traditional piano interface.
  • Learning and growth: engaging with a different gestural interface, such as Piano Hands, allows the pianist to learn and adapt, potentially benefiting his future projects that utilize similar technology.
  • Exploration of body sensors: delving into the use of body sensors away from a piano or keyboard environment represents a new area of exploration for the pianist, expanding his technical skills and performance repertoire.
  • Informing future works: the process of creating, calibrating, and performing with the new instrumental setup will inform and influence the pianist’s future works, enriching his artistic practice.
  • Exposure and vulnerability: performing without the physical barrier of a piano or keyboard instrument exposes the pianist to a new level of vulnerability, heightening the theatrical and performative aspects of the experience.
  • Exploration of theatrical elements: the incorporation of theatrical elements, such as filming and dressing up in different characters, represents a departure from the pianist’s previous performances, adding new dimensions to his artistic expression.


Returns and Simulacra is a digital score for Zubin Kanga which explores identity and reality through sound, video projections, and live performance. Kanga interacts with a digital score using the Piano Hands instrument, incorporating accelerometers and touch sensors to manipulate audiovisual elements in real time via a Max/MSP patch. The piece delves into the performer’s multiple identities, blending reality with virtuality through footage of Kanga and archived performances of British queer cabaret performers. Different characters are matched with specific piano sound samples. The piece creates an immersive environment with projected video images to guide the performer’s interpretation alongside character representations. The Piano Hands instrument enables close interaction between Kanga and mediated elements, blurring digital and live performance boundaries. The process involved years of development, with intermittent filming and iterative adjustments to integrate the instrument with video projection. Critical insights highlight connectivity through video score integration, multifaceted performative identity, and challenges of virtual instrument interfaces. Performer felt in the flow of the performance when observing structured progression evolving into improvisation, gradual openness to video cues, and exploration of gestural responses to sound and visuals. Digital musicianship insights emphasize the performer’s background in gestural interfaces, embodiment requirements, and skill expansion through character embodiment. Transformations include reflective performance experiences, learning and growth with new technology, and exploration of theatrical elements, informing future works and enriching artistic practice.

Piece developed for Zubin Kanga as part of Cyborg Soloists’ commissioning project and DigiScore project case studies.


Zubin Kanga

Solomiya Moroz