Percussive Poppin’

The Pop-O-Metre was inspired by a style of dance within Hip Hop/Breakdancing called Popping. Particularly theatrical, it is named for the Pop, a sharp contraction of some large muscle group (arms, legs, chest) but it is equally characterised by subtle isolations and often incredible muscle control. Some familiar subgenres and associated dance forms are the Robot, waving, cutting, tutting, the marionette, liquid dancing and the growing form of flex dancing. In breakdancing contexts, it is often considered the “nerdiest” style, requiring a lot of discipline to look weird and sometimes grotesque on the dance floor when many other forms focus on expressing physical power, dexterity and sexuality.

Like other circle dances, popping is mostly improvised in competition contexts, and the degree of control and overall calmness allows more interaction with the music than higher intensity styles like House or Breaking. One of the masters of the form, Poppin’ Pete, is famous for how closely his motions fit with both the instrumental (the beats) and vocal lines of the music. For his own words on music and dance, and an excellent example of the style, check out this video:

As a novice popper trying to develop stronger and more controlled contractions, I decided to look for means of getting aural feedback on the power and timing of pops. Having access to biosensor technology through McGill’s Music Perception and Cognition Lab and learning interactions between sensors and computers for music control and porcessing in the context of MUMT 307, here was the opportunity to build the perfect tool: the Pop-O-Metre.

In its simplest form, the Pop-O-Metre triggers midi drum note messages when it detects a sharp muscle contraction through surface electromyography sensors (sEMG). But once the path has been established from muscle contraction to sound, the range of possibilities is innumerable.

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