Digital Care: The Hands by Michel Waisvisz

The Hands by Michel Waisvisz, 1984-2000

Michel Waisvisz, inspired by the desire to be touched by sound, created The Hands (1984), asdigital musical instrument that consists of controllers that can be attached to the user's hands. Each controller has a tiny keyboard with a number of sensors and keys that interprets the movements of the hands, arms, and fingers into sounds. Waisvisz started using The Hands as his main tool for performances and concerts where he was interacting with the instrument by touch and movement.

The fundamental idea behind Waisvisz’ The Hands was to free the performer from the immobile equipment that electronic music artists typically had to use. The Hands gave the performer freedom of movement and allowed the musician and instrument to build a deeply physical bond. The sound-producing and -manipulating capabilities of this work make it an excellent instrument for improvised performances. Waisvisz conducted several compositions for The Hands, when the instrument was also suitable for the performance of symphonies.

Song from The Hands, Michel Waisvisz. Photo by Jan Sprij, 1992.

Michel Waisvisz (The Netherlands, 1949-2008) was a pioneering sound performer and composer. For 27 years, he served as the artistic director of STEIM, an Amsterdam-based studio for electro-instrumental music. Waisvisz invented a number of electronic musical instruments, including Cracklebox (Kraakdoos 1974) and The Hands (De Handen 1984). With those inventions he showed his strong commitment to a material, physically-based approach to electronic music through his hardware and software instruments.

The Hands have undergone a few reconstructs and programming changes over the course of 25 years since the first prototype. There have been three versions of The Hands made, released in 1984, 1990, and 2000. For each version, the tools and design were updated, and the number of sensors was increased. In the Digital Care Programme, The Hands are seen as both an instrument and an extension of the performer, which presents particular challenges for the presentation, documentation and preservation of the artwork.

Event Digital Care: Evening of The Hands

On September 14, we will look at artistic work of Michel Waisvisz that he composed and performed for The Hands and take you on a tour inside The Hands to understand the intricacies of their working.

Vocal performers Franziska Baumann and Alex Nowitz have both created instruments at STEIM that were inspired by The Hands, and they will perform with their idiosyncratic instruments that give them gestural control over their voice. In between the performances, we will jointly discuss how their approach is inspired by, yet also different from Michel Waisvisz' approach.

For more information about the event, please visit the event page by clicking here or in the section on the right of this page. 

About Digital Care and REBOOT

Nieuwe Instituut and LI-MA present the exhibition REBOOT: Pioneering Digital Art. Featuring key works from the Netherlands from 1960 to 2000, plus new work by contemporary makers, REBOOT reveals the influence of digital technology on art and society. The Digital Care trajectory functions as a strong basis for the run-up of this public exhibition which runs from 8 October 2023 to 1 April 2024 at Nieuwe Instituut. The exhibition presents the impact of digital technology in art and society and builds on the Digital Canon of the Netherlands, compiled by experts in 2017-2019 commissioned by LI-MA.

Digital Care and REBOOT are supported by Creative Industries Fund NL, Mondriaan Fund, and Network Archives Design and Digital Culture.