A few minutes later, another MEME PhD student, Peter Bussigel, arrives with the contraption that recently won him top prize at the UK's Improvisation and Digital Arts Festival at Kingston University: the ndial. It is a sleek, turntable-sized contraption covered with — you guessed it — switches, buttons, and knobs. Bussigel cues up a Sade song from his laptop then filters it through the ndial, where he chops up and rearranges snippets of drums and voice by tapping blinking buttons. It sounds like the song has gone through a blender.

What is the purpose of all of this?

All three machines are instruments of exploration, Bussigel says.

"Let go of sense," he tells me with a smile. "We're going for some type of nonsense."

I'm not sure whether he's joking.

To learn more go to specialstagesystems.comillucia.com, and bussigel.com/pb/projects/ndial/.

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