A Contemporary Approach to Expressiveness in the Design of Digital Musical Instruments
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AdvisorsMarshall, Lindsey, Grimshaw, Mark
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractDigital musical instruments pose a number of unique challenges for designers and performers. These issues stem primarily from the lack of innate physical connection between the performance interface and means of sound generation, for the latter is usually dematerialised. Thus, this relationship must instead be explicitly determined by the designer, and can be essentially any desired. However, many design issues and constraints remain poorly understood, from the nature of control to the provision of performer-instrument feedback. This practice-based research contends that while the digital and acoustic domains are so different as to be fundamentally incompatible, useful antecedents for digital musical instruments can be found in the histories of electronic music. Specifically, it argues that the live electronics of David Tudor are of particular prescience. His home-made circuits offer an electronic music paradigm quite antithetical to both the familiar keyboard interface and the electronic music studios that grew up in the years after World War II, and are seen to embody a number of aspirational qualities. These include performer-instrument interaction more akin to steering rather than fine control, the potential for musical outcomes that are unknown and unknowable in advance, and distinct instrumental character. This leads to the central contribution of this research; the development of a Tudor-inspired conceptual framework that can inform how digital musical instruments are designed, played, and evaluated. To enable more detailed and nuanced discussion, the framework is broken down into a series of sub-themes. These include both design issues such as nuance, plasticity and emergence, and human issues such as experience, expressiveness, skill, learning, and mastery. The notion of sketching in hardware and software is also developed in relation to the rapid iteration of multiple designs. Informed by this framework, seven new digital musical instruments are presented. These instruments are tested from two different perspectives, with the personal experiences of the author supplemented with data from a series of smallscale user studies. Particular emphasis is placed on how the instruments are played, the music they can produce, and their capacity to convey the musical intentions of the performer (i.e. their expressiveness). After the evaluation of the instruments, the Tudorian framework is revisited to form the basis of the conclusions. A number of modifications to the original framework are proposed, from the addition of a dialogical model of performerinstrument interaction, to the situation of digital musical instruments within a wider musical ecology. The thesis then closes with a suggestion of possibilities for future research.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy