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EP/K032046/1 - Hackable Instruments: Musical Interface Design for Appropriation, Modification and Creative Destruction

Research Perspectives grant details from EPSRC portfolio

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Dr A P McPherson EP/K032046/1 - Hackable Instruments: Musical Interface Design for Appropriation, Modification and Creative Destruction

Principal Investigator - Sch of Electronic Eng & Computer Science, Queen Mary, University of London

Scheme

First Grant Scheme

Research Areas

Digital Signal Processing Digital Signal Processing

Human-Computer Interaction Human-Computer Interaction

Music and Acoustic Technology Music and Acoustic Technology

Start Date

05/2013

End Date

07/2014

Value

£97,982

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Grant Description

Summary and Description of the grant

Digital musical instrument design presents several unique challenges in comparison to the design of most human-computer interfaces. For musical instruments, as for any tool for creative expression, the standards of success in a design are difficult to quantify, since standard HCI (human-computer interaction) metrics of accuracy and speed do not necessarily correlate with what musicians find expressive. More problematic still is the fluid and unpredictable relationship between designer and user. From the saxophone to the electric guitar to the turntable, musicians have been appropriating and even subverting instrument designs to produce music in ways the designer never anticipated. Some of the past century's most transformative changes in musical performance practice have arguably come from performers radically reinterpreting an instrument's capabilities and limitations. Digital musical instrument researchers therefore face a quandary: how can an interface be designed which embraces the user's wilful subversion of its original goals?

This project will produce a design methodology and a hardware-software platform for the creation of 'hackable instruments': instruments which embrace the performer's reinterpretation and modification. This kind of end-user (mis)appropriation is currently more prevalent among acoustic and analogue electronic instruments than digital musical instruments. The typical computer music interface is designed such that arbitrary modification by non-experts is more likely to produce catastrophic failure than interesting results. Moreover, in comparison to acoustic instruments, whose operation is easy to understand, a lack of transparency in how a digital instrument works can discourage the performer from fully exploring its capabilities.

User studies with musicians and instrument designers form the foundation of the project. The goal of these studies is to understand the exploration process musicians employ when adapting an instrument to their needs and to establish what features of an instrument design facilitate creative repurposing. In parallel, fundamental research on audio processing on embedded devices will lead to a hardware instrument platform that is robust to modification by the end user. Using this platform, several instrument designs will be created to test specific hypotheses about the factors promoting 'hackability' in an instrument. These designs will be evaluated in extended user trials which culminate in a public concert performance.

Many of the transformative changes in musical performance practice originated with the creativity of a few individuals, but their impact depended on dissemination throughout a larger community. Community-building is critically important in digital musical instrument research, and the results of this project will be publicly distributed as an open platform for instrument creation. Several initial instrument designs will be created to encourage exploration and modification, and all hardware and software designs will be released under open-source licenses. Thorough documentation will be provided to enable researchers and self-trained hackers alike to make use of the platform well beyond the duration of the project.

Structured Data / Microdata


Grant Event Details:
Name: Hackable Instruments: Musical Interface Design for Appropriation, Modification and Creative Destruction - EP/K032046/1
Start Date: 2013-05-01T00:00:00+00:00
End Date: 2014-07-31T00:00:00+00:00

Organization: Queen Mary, University of London

Description: Digital musical instrument design presents several unique challenges in comparison to the design of most human-computer interfaces. For musical instruments, as for any tool for creative expression, the standards of success in a design are difficult to quan ...