Tyler Cunningham

Research Assistant 2020-21


A native of the D.C. Metro Area, Tyler Cunningham is a New York based percussionist and electronic artist who is fiercely passionate about new music and the creation of interdisciplinary art. He has performed across the US and abroad in Europe and Asia, and has premiered over fifty solo and chamber works. Tyler’s performance practice and research incorporates theater and dramaturgy into concert music, and how musical spheres can be developed by considering the ocular. An advocate for new music, Tyler led a commissioning project in 2017 titled inquiry before snow, creating of five world premieres inspired by works of poetry. He is the co-founder of the PROMPTUS Collective, a NYC-based performance collective that focuses on researching and cultivating a trans-disciplinary practice. In past summers, Tyler has performed with Evolution Ensemble at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity, as a Contemporary Ensemble fellow at the Atlantic Music Festival, and in the Contemporary Performance Institute at the Composer’s Conference. Tyler received his Bachelor of Music at the Juilliard School, studying with Markus Rhoten & Greg Zuber. He is pursuing his Master of Music at the University of Toronto, studying with Aiyun Huang & with generous support of the Garnett Graduate Percussion Scholarship and a University of Toronto Fellowship.


The Theatre of Schizophonic Performance in John Cage’s Cartridge Music

John Cage’s Cartridge Music (1960) was one of the first works to break the acousmatic tradition of electronic music by incorporating live performers. Where, in acoustic performance, gesture and sound are typically concatenated, performance with live electronics makes this link less immediate and at times inscrutable. This alienation of sound from performative gesture, described by R. Murray Schafer as “schizophonia,” creates a unique theatrical scenario (Schafer 1969). In the liner notes for the first recording of the work, Cage wrote that one of his objectives was “to make a theatrical situation involving amplifiers and loudspeakers and live musicians” (Cage 1962d). Although the work developed into one of Cage’s most flexible compositions, there are a number of restrictions in the score that limit the theatrical potential of the electronic framework. We propose to perform a historically-informed version of Cartridge Music for four musicians with a number of modifications to Cage’s original framework. We created hand-held versions of the phono and piezo pickups which allows us to assemble a diverse array of sounding objects for producing “auxiliary sounds.” We suspended a number of these instruments, expanding the performance frame beyond the typical tabletop setting of the piece. The results of these modifications are twofold. First, the sonic palette is significantly expanded. Along with additional “auxiliary sound” objects, freestanding contact microphones and pickups allow for creative variation in the placement and usage of the sensors which contributes a significant textural and timbral depth. Second, incorporation of the pickups as implements and extension of the performance frame unfetters the performing bodies, opening up the piece as a more dynamic theatrical vehicle. In this way, our interpretation refines Cage’s goal of creating theatricality in a live electronic environment while maintaining the integrity of the original framework.

Group Projects

compound. oblique. transverse.

compound.transverse.oblique. explores concepts of fragility and fracture through simple electronic instruments built with Arduino microcontrollers and percussion instruments.

The Arduino instrument’s exposed circuitry presents a vulnerable and fragile aesthetic that became the central focus of the composition.

Throughout the work frail sounds dissolve as delicate textures breakdown and snap under pressure, creating an abstract composition that is intense and unpredictable.

compound. uses simple speaker electronic instruments that are extremely precarious both in their playability and its sound. Two percussionists coerce cracks, whispers, and buzzy screeches by scraping amplified coins across Almglocken while one percussionist plays a large woodblock with a vibra bullet and another rips large pieces of paper.

In oblique. a single timpano is used as a resonator for the Arduino electronic instrument speaker and the performer’s voices. Multiple percussionists perform overtone singing into the drumhead and manipulate its tension to create a delicate polyphony between humans and machine.

transverse. is characterized by electronic and acoustic sounds that are melted down and synthesized to create a bright, sharp timbre. Pitches begin in unison and gradually shift by microtones to illustrate harmonic cracks and fractures.


For Mari’s MUGIC workshop, Tyler composed a piece using video, electronic sound, and voice. This piece uses MUGIC, attached to the hand of the performer, to track emotive hand motions controlling synthesizer and vocal manipulation paramaters.

Click here for more information on TaPIR Lab’s MUGIC workshop with Mari Kimura


These four lab members (Tyler Cunningham, Timothy Roth, Joyce To, and Jasmine Tsui) were living together at the time of the workshop, so they opted to work as a group. They added a second breadboard to one Arduino Uno, making for a total of eight buttons. The buttons on one breadboard controlled pitches that blinked on and off at regular intervals, and the buttons on the second breadboard controlled the speed of the pitches. They built a second, similar instrument and performed with one person on each breadboard. The quartet performed a three-part étude featuring different styles. The first part featured a shifting melody-accompaniment relationship between instrument pairs; the second part generated musical ideas using time signature 7/8; the third part explored the instrument’s timbral extremes.