The musical pencil project was a research and performance project, undertaken in 2012 between Wits University departments of electrical engineering, digital arts and music.

I proposed a pencil that could ‘realise’ the music as it was written as if the actual writing process or notating of the music generated the sound in the moment it occurred. In 2011 MIT had developed an audio enabled pencil which they called the drawdio and had made the circuit available to use.

This simple circuit involved using the graphite inside the pencil to ‘close’ a circuit on a sheet of paper, dense with graphite drawings. The length of the signal journey closed the connection and created and varied the pitches – so composers created fun and elaborate sheets to perform on.

These were then extensively explored, and rehearsed on, so that the performers and composers could generate pitch changes with some consistency. In the final concert performance pre-composed music for the ensemble of pencil players was synchronised on monitors and composers played this music with pencils on the sheets.

On a different occasion the same technology was used to explore a different tension – in that case a critic had to make notes about a performance occurring on stage, using this same pencil, yet every time they placed the pencil down on the paper it changed the performance or obliterated the audio being played back.

Imagine that pencil being given out in a boardroom!

Photos by Christo Doherty