Thierry De Mey (1957- )

Light Music (2004, rev 2021)


The Player's Shifting Role



Light Music was written in in 2004 and is the fifth piece in a series of works ‘which explore the state of tension at the border between gesture and sound, visual and sound, [and] choreographic writing and music’. [1] Thierry De Mey wrote the piece in collaboration with two computer scientists, Laurent Pottier (GMEM) and Christophe Lebreton (GRAME), and the original performer, percussionist Jean Geoffroy. At the time, they employed ‘emerging technologies of movement capture’ [2] to allow the solo-conductor to use only his/her hands to ‘trigger sounds and musical sequences, make them resonate, tear them apart and manipulate them in space’. [3] Since its creation the piece has undergone continued updates and small revisions up to and including 2014, when the composer and his original team reentered the studio to replace a fair amount of the electronic samples with recorded acoustic percussion sounds (all played by Geoffroy).


Light Music remained unrevised until 2020, when the computer scientists at Centre Henri Pousseur (CHP), De Mey and I decided to update, revise, and reimagine the piece with the aim of performing it in front of new audiences. There were several reasons we decided to update and revise Light Music. First of all, the 2014 technical revision was based on the original 2004 Max/MSP patch. Under current circumstances, use of this patch was no longer possible due to advancements in both soft- and hardware. That meant that, in order to perform the piece, we needed to work from the ground up and write a brand-new piece of performance software. Xavier Meeus and Patrick Delges of CHP decided to continue to use Max as the platform but spread the computer’s workload out between two patches instead of the original one patch version. (This does not lessen the workload for Max, but it was simpler for the team to work in this way.) According to CHP’s computer scientists, the major software update they enacted entailed using Max’s (Jitter) openGL (i.e. deploying the GPU instead of the CPU based matrix computing). [4]


Secondly, motion capturing is no longer an ‘emerging technology’. In 2004 [5] they employed a Finger User Information Protocol (FUIP) motion tracking tool and the video capturing was made via an analog camera. We decided to replace the FUIPs with the more reliable Bitalino RIoT motion trackers that run over a dedicated wifi-network. And in order to be more flexible and expand the capabilities of the projection, we updated the camera to a 4K digital model. The aim of introducing more advanced and reliable hardware was to expand our capacity to perform a greater portion of the piece live. In other words, our aim was to put more control of the electronics in the performer’s hands. [6]


And lastly, the piece had only been interpreted by one musician since its creation, Geoffroy. De Mey notes that Geoffroy influenced him greatly in both the musical and visual aspects of the piece. This is logical, especially when a piece has only been performed by one person and all the updates and revisions were aimed to improve his performance and the audience’s appreciation thereof. By profession, Geoffroy is a percussionist and the trained and acquired movement repertoire of a percussionist is very much prevalent in his interpretation of Light Music. However, the piece is for ‘solo-chef’. This is what first drew my attention to the piece in the first place. I will discuss this more in the next paper, but for now I wanted to share my motivation for revising the piece in a manner that would more reflect a conductor and thus purposefully approached it with conductors’ movement repertoire as the preferred medium. I wanted to know what it was to perform this piece as a solo-conductor, but to be able to do that we first needed to rethink, with the assistance of De Mey, how each notated gesture could be conducted instead of beaten or struck. My timing needed to be exact, however the audience would need to discern my movements ‘not as generating sound, but as directing an external sound source’. [7]


I would like to take this opportunity to thank Xavier Meeus and Patrick Delges from CHP for their incredible work rewriting and revising the electronics. A lot of the work was archeological in nature as not all of the documentation was consistent across the mediums (spreadsheets, videos, and text files) provided. Without their patience and persistence, we would not have been able to bring this piece to fruition.


Full documentation of the 2021-revised version of Light Music will be available by the end of 2022.

[1] “Light Music, Thierry De Mey,” accessed June 11, 2021,
[2] “Light Music, Thierry De Mey.”
[3] “Light Music, Thierry De Mey.”
[4] Email conversation with Patrick Delges, 03/08/21
[5] Early on, GRAME used LatKitchen’s kroonde system, however decided in the end to use FUIP.
[6] One drawback we noticed to using the digital technology instead of the analog was the introduction of a noticeable latency in the video re-production.
[7] Email conversation with Prof. Dr. Mark Delaere.

the revised score and full documentation will be available upon request per email: thomas[at]

live stream concert for Framing the Normal, 3 May 2021

performers: Centre Henri Pousseur and Thomas R. Moore

camera & live video editing: Steven Reymer

Light Music by Thierry De Mey provided an excellent opportunity to study a work in which the conductor is clearly the subject of the piece. De Mey explicitly instrumentalizes both the conductor’s role and the gestures typically associated with that role. I approached this case study and piece first from the perspective of a performer, meaning that I first learned and carried out everything necessary to bring the piece to stage. This included performance meetings and workshops with the composer, initiating a complete revision of the electronics and score, memorizing the piece, rehearsing with the technician, finding performance venues, and finally performing it in front of live audiences. 


By preparing and performing the piece, I was able to more deeply reflect upon the roles played throughout Light Music itself. I began by analyzing and determining five sub-roles present in the piece, noting their characteristics and the particular way in which the soloist’s movement repertoire was deployed. Armed with these newly defined sub-roles, I now had the framework through which to describe two evolutions at work in the piece. The first evolution sees the piece move in an arc from technician-cued towards a conducted solo work. The second evolution is more linear and reflects a development of the complexity in the conductor’s (manual) role and gestures. Both of these evolutions I have visualized in animated bar graphs found on this page. 


Furthermore, besides recordings of two performances, I also devote some room on this page te detail why revisions  were necessary and what exactly was revised. 

Thierry De Mey’s Light Music was written in 2004. It was most recently revised in 2021 for solo-conductor, projection, and interactive device. The work provides an excellent opportunity to further research the instrumentalization of the conductor’s role. It was De Mey’s express intention to utilize a conductor as a solo performer, especially its key gestures, the generally recognizable conductor’s movement repertoire. This paper will delve into the specific manner in which De Mey casts the solo-conductor in Light Music and how that role and its sub-roles evolve throughout the piece.

download paper via: Solo-Chef

Case Study 2

Light Music

Case Study 2

Light Music

interview, video, and editing by Melissa Portaels from MATRIX [Centre for New Music]

live stream concert for MATRIX [Centre for New Music] for Erfgoeddag, Leuven, 16 May 2021

performers: Nadar Ensemble, Centre Henri Pousseur and Thomas R. Moore

cameraman: Johann van Gerwen

Video editing: Thomas R. Moore

Presets in Light Music Visualized

created using Flourish

Conducting with Light, Making Music with Air 

An interview with Thomas R. Moore by Melissa Portaels


On April 16, 2021, Melissa Portaels visited during a residency I had at La Raffinerie in Brussels. Just over a year ago Centre Henri Pousseur, composer Thierry De Mey and I conceived the plan to perform Light Music (2004). As a means to being her interview, I introduced the piece in the following manner:


'Light Music is a solo work of about 20 minutes and was originally written for the percussionist Jean Geoffroy. The piece combines movements from a conductor's movement repertoire (or at least recognizable movements that a conductor would make for an orchestra or ensemble) and movements from the performer's movement repertoire. What makes it really interesting is that it becomes a live multimedia experience. The performer actually plays with a technician: together they control video, light and sound. With a motion capturing camera and live motion sensors  I have two Wi-Fi sensors on my wrists  not only are drawings and beautiful images created, but live presets are triggered.'

download interview (in Dutch) by Melissa Portaels from MATRIX [Centre for New Music] or follow this link: spOren

Roles in Light Music Visualized

created using Flourish

© Melissa Portaels