a cellphone / web-based interactive music system



Automata was coded primarily in Cycling 74’s Max/MSP language using a collection of objects written by the co-author V.J. Manzo called the Modal Object Library,  a collection of algorithms to control and define modality. This Max/MSP coding represents the main visual and performance elements starting at the point where the phone number is received from the user.

The part of automata that receives the phone number from an email address and transmits the numerical data to the application is coded in PHP and MySQL. The co-author Dan Manzo modified an existing open-source mail client Squirrel Mail to accomplish the task of routing a number from an email address to a webpage. The webpage data will drive the Max/MSP portion of the program providing it with numbers to synthesize. Thus, automata requires constant internet activity in order to function properly.

The system was designed in Fall 2009 and demonstrated in December 2009 at Temple University. Original source code is available upon request. Contact

Similar Research

V.J. Manzo has been conducting similar research through the use of interactive music systems with his EAMIR project. EAMIR (Electro-Acoustic Musically Interactive Room) is an open-source interactive music system project that allows individuals to create a unique, tonal musical expression without the physical and technical limitations found in the performance of traditional acoustic instruments.

Interactive music systems and installations are emerging in popularity as venues for performance. The idea contrasts the traditional “performer before a seated audience” paradigm that has dominated western music for centuries. Interactive music systems can easily become learning environments if a proper educational impetus exists.

In the case of automata, a user creates a unique composition specific to them because it involves only their phone numbers. Composers typically begin a composition with some thematic material that is then modified or treated in some way. By presenting some compositional tools that enable a user (even those without formal music training) to treat the thematic material (their phone number) in an accessible way, users can explore new musical ideas with a repeating musical figure.


created by

V.J Manzo & Dan Manzo

© 2009








Automata is an interactive music system designed to give individuals without any formal music training the opportunity to compose and perform an original piece of music.

A user sends a blank text message from their phone to automata [at] vjmanzo [dot] com . Automata gets the numbers from that person’s cell phone and equates each digit (0 – 9) to one of the scale degrees of a major scale (1-8, 9 = 2, 0 = 3).

The user can then impose a rhythm and tempo for which these scale degrees are played sequentially, determine they key and build chords from these scale degrees, and control the timbres used to synthesize these numbers. Up to four phone numbers can be loaded before a new number replaces and old one.

One of the goals of this project is to present standard music terminology in a way that makes their function implied intuitively. For instance, when a user adjusts the numerical value for the tempo, they hear the change and associate the music term with an outcome. From within the program, a user can record their performance for later editing and distribution which can include conversion to a ring tone.