A person holding the VHS Can(n)on


The VHS Can(n)on explores the appropriation of everyday interfaces for musical performance. The indecisive parenthetical in the name is a nod to the idea that the object is canonical in that it draws from the canon represented by video cassette tapes, and also cannonical in that it shoots video onto a wall.

At the instrument’s core is an unmodified VCR player, its play controls and jog dials repurposed for live performance. The VCR hails from an era when consumer electronic products were differentiated and often promoted on the basis of the complexity and power of their controls — in contrast to the subsequent decades’ trends towards simplicity and minimalism.

The expressive potential of these core controls are augmented by an adjacent control panel with additional affordances for live performance, including audio mixing, loop sequencing, and effect modulation. The instrument is used slung over the shoulder, like a guitar.

A Wii Remote embedded at the front of the instrument tracks its orientation relative to a projection surface. Frames of looping video sequences from the loaded VHS tape are spatially “painted” into the projection by physically pointing and panning the device across the projection canvas. These looping layers of video and sound accumulate to create an increasingly chaotic soundscape.

Contact microphones embedded inside the VCR are amplified and optionally mixed into the audio stream, turning the borborygmi of the machine’s tape transport and ejection mechanisms into another layer in the live performance. Several VHS tapes from a holster adjacent the control panel selected and loaded and played back over the course of the performance.

Simultaneously switching two toggles on the control panel invokes an intentional software crash, which is designed to conclude the performance with a nod to the many layers of digital mediation grafted onto the simple analog VCR. The crash-as-denouement also references the general instability associated with time-pressured software production at ITP, and embraces the “worst case scenario” of a crash during a live performance by turning it into an inevitability.


Eric Mika performing the VHS Can(n)onAnother view of Eric Mika performing the VHS Can(n)on

Screenshot of VHS Can(n)on software

VHS Can(n)on hardware overviewVHS Can(n)on hardware with VHS tape holster visible


VHS Can(n)on performance for NIME at Glasslands:

Video: Nisma Zaman

VHS Can(n)on performance for GeekDown at 92Y:

Video: Nisma Zaman


  • VCR
  • Nintendo Wii Remote
  • Custom control panel
  • Custom electronics
  • Custom software
  • VHS Tapes
  • Projector
  • Contact Microphones


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