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Contemporary Music Review
ISSN: 0749-4467 (Print) 1477-2256 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/gcmr20
Examining the Effects of Experimental/
Academic Electroacoustic and Popular Electronic
Musics on the Evolution and Development of
Human–Computer Interaction in Music
To cite this article: George Meikle (2016) Examining the Effects of Experimental/Academic
Electroacoustic and Popular Electronic Musics on the Evolution and Development of
Human–Computer Interaction in Music, Contemporary Music Review, 35:2, 224-241, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/07494467.2016.1221634
© 2016 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Published online: 15 Sep 2016.
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Examining the Effects of Experimental/
Academic Electroacoustic and Popular
Electronic Musics on the Evolution and
Development of Human–Computer
Interaction in Music
This article focuses on how the development of human–computer interaction in music has
been aided and influenced by both experimental/academic electroacoustic art music and
popular electronic music. These two genres have impacted upon this ever-changing
process of evolution in different ways, but have together been paramount to the
establishment of interactivity in music as we understand it today; which is itself having
wide-ranging implications upon the modern-day musical landscape as a whole—both
in the way that we, as listeners and audience members, purchase and consume music as
well as conceptualise and think about it.
Keywords: Human–Computer Interaction; Interactive Computer Music System; Brain–
Computer Interfacing; User-Interface; Graphical User Interface; Digital Audio
The concept of interactivity has its roots in post-structuralist theory and the open
interpretation of art and literature (cf. Barthes, 1991; Eco, 1989; Storey, 1997).
When applied within a musical context, it could be used to describe anything
ranging from free improvisation in jazz, and individual interpretations of the score
in the performance of orchestral works, to the touchscreen-based interactive music
applications and games for Android and iOS devices which are so prevalent today.
In order to maintain the focus of this article, the wider scope of the concept of inter-
activity with regards to music will not be addressed, and the article will instead deal
Contemporary Music Review, 2016
Vol. 35, No. 2, 224–241, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07494467.2016.1221634
© 2016 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and repro-
duction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
directly with the recent history and development of interactivity in music using
Early and Experimental Interactive Works and Systems
Experimental/academic electroacoustic music is, for the most part, responsible for
laying the foundations upon which human–computer interaction (HCI) in music
has been built. Long before the emergence of interactive computer music systems
(ICMS) in popular electronic music culture, the potentialities of HCI within music
were being explored by pioneering individuals such as Michel Waisvisz. The Hands
(Waisvisz, 2006; Waisvisz et al., 1984–2006) was a sensory-based interactive system
responsive to non-musical gestures transmitted via wearable controllers attached to
the fingers and hands of the user, and thus showcased a loose basis for the design of
ICMSs to be used by non-expert musicians. Laetitia Sonami’s Lady’s Glove
(Sonami, n.d.; Sonami, DeMarinis, & Bongers, 1991–2001), which was developed
and manufactured in conjunction with Bert Bongers in its 4th and 5th generations,
is conceptually similar to The Hands—utilising hand/wrist-mounted controllers to
capture gestural, non-musical input data used to influence the musical output of the
system—yet in some ways is more refined in terms of operational simplicity and effi-
ciency; especially in the later incarnations, the designs of which were subject to the
added influence of Bongers. Despite the dependence of these systems upon non-
musical control-gestures, which have been inherent in the evolution of ICMSs
aimed at non-expert users (as evidenced by many more modern examples such as
Incredibox (So Far So Good, 2011–present), NodeBeat (Sandler, Windle, & Muller,
2011–present) and PolyFauna (Yorke, Godrich, & Donwood, 2014—all of which
will be discussed later on), it can be assumed that the fluid and efficient operation
of both of these devices would be subject to a relatively steep learning curve, due to
the fact they were both designed to be used in performance only by their respective
creators. The work and performances of electronic ensemble HyperSense Complex
(Burton, 2003; Langley, n.d.; Riddell, 2005,n.d.; Riddell, Langley, & Burton, 2002–
2005) also exemplify sensory/gestural musical interaction for trained/professional per-
formers and musicians utilising wearable motion-sensor controllers.
Another electronic ensemble, The Hub (Bischoff et al., 1987–present; Brown, n.d.;
Early Computer Network Ensembles, n.d.) is responsible for advancing the field of
‘Computer Network Music’—a genre of electronic/electroacoustic music which
explores the potentialities of enabling multiple performers to collaborate and interact
with each other in improvisational composition and performance through a shared,
connective ICMS via individual user interfaces or instruments. In this instance, The
HUB itself acts as the central computer juncture through which each of the participat-
ing members can connect via a wired local network. Global String (Plohman, 2000;
Tanaka, n.d.; Tanaka & Toeplitz, 1998–2001) is another example of an ICMS represen-
tative of Computer Network Music. In contrast to The HUB, however, the system was
designed not for use by a specific ensemble of musicians involved in its development,
Contemporary Music Review 225
but as a gallery installation for public use. In developing Global String, Tanaka and
Toeplitz expanded upon the ideas established by The Hub through the use of the inter-
net as the central juncture through which a potentially infinite number of remote users
could interact with the users in the installation performance-space. The installation
consisted of a physical string connected to a virtual string network, which would trans-
fer analogue pulses of the real string, measured by vibration sensors and converted to
digital data to any users actively connected to the virtual string network. The responses
of these users, performed on the virtual string, would provide audible and visual feed-
back directly to the physical performance space. The concept of Computer Network
Music is still relevant today although, as in the examples provided, it is far more
common within the context of experimental electroacoustic sound-art/audiovisual
gallery installations and performances than it is within popular electronic music
Further examples of interactive sound-art installations designed for public gallery
spaces include ‘Gestation’by Paine (1999–2001,2013) and ‘Bystander’by Gibson
and Richards (2004–2006,n.d.)—part of the larger project ‘Life after wartime’. Both
‘Gestation’and ‘Bystander’interpret and respond accordingly to the number and
movements of individuals within a multichannel installation environment; however,
‘Bystander’incorporates the use of an additional parameter by responding dynamically
to the collective attentiveness of the audience. By collecting this data and applying it as
an influential factor in the generation and evolution of the audiovisual output from the
system, the audience can systematically learn, during the process of experiencing and
interacting with the system, how to impart a certain level of control over the resulting
The central premise of Bystander is that the more quiet and attentive the audience,
the more aesthetically coherent and semantically divulgent the ‘world’. Ideally visi-
tors can gain the ‘trust’of the space and perform a dance of intimacy with the ‘world’
and its complex narrative matrix. (Gibson & Richards, n.d.,p.1)
Although both systems allow for the generation of musical output without assuming or
requiring any prior knowledge of the operational protocols on behalf of the participants,
they offer little or no direct and precise control over the subsequent soundscape to any
one individual within the collective group, whose movement through the various sec-
tions of the installation space over time is expressed in the composition generated by
the algorithms encoded into the system architecture. When coupling this with the
lack of feedback provided to the audience defining to some extent how the musical
output of the system is influenced by the input data—especially in Gestation—it
could be construed that both systems are more randomly reactive than interactive.
This is also true of the La Maison Sensible system, or The Sensitive House (Emory,
2015; Lasserre & met den Ancxt, 2015; Lasserre, met den Ancxt, Ajima, & Nagemi,
2015), which is another, more modern audiovisual gallery installation—although it is
instead designed to respond to the physical interactions between the audience/users
226 G. Meikle
and the walls/objects within the performance environment. Again, the design of such
systems is heavily influenced by the stylistic/aesthetic traits of experimental/academic
electroacoustic music, as their functionality is largely geared towards generating
arrhythmic, at times chaotic musical results and soundscapes inherent to the genre;
as opposed to the more rigidly structured form/style typical of popular electronic music.
This trend is exemplary of the majority of ICMS installations designed for non-
expert public use. The design and functionality of Stepsequencer (Stepsequencer,
n.d.; synthhead, 2014a; Timpernagel et al., 2013–2014) by schnellebuntebilder,
however, stands in contrast to this observation. An audiovisual installation designed
to be controlled simultaneously by a small number of participants via both physical
and digitally projected control-objects located on the floor of the performance
space, in a manner reminiscent of the classic arcade game Dance dance revolution,
or Dancing stage (DDR, n.d.; Konami, 1998–present), Stepsequencer affords precise
control to the users over specific aspects of the musical output, and generates
popular electronic/dance music in response to their actions. 1000 Hands by Universal
Everything (Kaganskiy, 2013; Pyke et al., 2013; Tucker, 2014) is another multichannel
interactive gallery installation, the musical output of which is somewhat inspired by
popular electronic music, although its primary focus is on generating visual responses
to the interactions of the audience as opposed to audible ones. Interfacing with the
system requires audience members to use their own touchscreen devices in order to
draw images and shapes which are then transmitted to and shown on the display of
the installation. This reliance upon screen-based interfacing as the mode-of-inter-
action with the system is something which is paramount to the design of the vast
majority of ICMSs inspired by popular electronic music, most of which exist as
apps and games to be controlled via either handheld touchscreen devices or non-
touch-sensitive, web-browser-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
There are numerous other approaches to ICMS design that have contributed greatly
to the development of HCI in music throughout its history but have become less
common in recent years; likely due to the increasing influence of popular electronic
music upon the area. Inter-Harmonium (Miranda, n.d.a; Miranda & Brouse,
2005a), BCMI-Piano (Miranda, n.d.b; Miranda & Brouse, 2005a,2005b) and
Eunoia (Chow, 2013; Park, 2013; Park, n.d.; synthhead, 2014b) are all exemplary of
brain–computer interfacing systems and are reliant upon a technique known as Elec-
troencephalography, or EEG, which is used to measure brain-patterns as voltage fluc-
tuations by attaching sensors to the scalp.
EEG is a difficult signal to handle because it is filtered by the meninges, the skull and
the scalp before it reaches the electrodes. Furthermore, the signals arriving at the elec-
trodes are sums of signals arising from many possible sources, including artefacts like
the heartbeat, muscle contractions and eye blinks. (Miranda & Brouse, 2005b,p.2)
As a result, the data collected by the EEG can only be used to modify the sound gen-
erated by these systems in a very general and flexible way; and it is because of this that
Contemporary Music Review 227
the technique is best applied to experimental electroacoustic systems and very rarely
adopted by those which aim to enable users to interact with the system and/or other
users through the system in the collaborative, improvisatory composition and per-
formance of popular electronic music.
Additionally, pieces such as ‘Maritime’by Rowe (1992,1999; Drummond, 2009),
‘Voyager’by Lewis (1993,2000; Drummond, 2009), ‘Music for Clarinet and ISPW’
by Lippe (1992,1993) and ‘Pluton’by Manoury (1988; Puckette & Lippe, 1992) are
examples of score-driven ICMSs, or ‘score-followers’. These type of systems are
responsive solely to musical input from acoustic instruments and are often specifically
created for the performance of a particular composition. For a modern-day interactive
system to be designed in this way is very uncommon as most are tailored towards facil-
itating the composition and performance of electronic music (popular or experimen-
tal) in fun, exciting and unique ways that are able to captivate the creativity and
imagination of both novices and experts alike. In a similar vein, and one which epit-
omises the changing approach to ICMS design over time from systems intended for use
in performance only by their designers (such as The Hands [1984–2006] and Lady’s
Glove [1991–2001]) as well as ‘score-followers’(such as those described above),
both of which require from the user a level of expertise in interacting with the
system and/or instrumental proficiency, to those which we regularly encounter
today as installations, apps and games aimed at both novices and more experienced
users alike, the HyperInstruments project (Hyperinstruments, n.d.; Machover,
1986–present) originally focused on the expansion of traditional acoustic instruments
to allow for an extension of range in performance techniques and possibilities for pro-
fessional musicians but has, since 1992, devoted much of its attention to the develop-
ment of sophisticated interactive music systems for non-expert musicians such as
Drum-Boy (Machover, n.d.a) and Joystick Music (Machover, n.d.b).
Web and Touchscreen-Based Interactive Music Apps and Games
The shift in focus of ICMS developers to designing systems which accommodate
novice-level users and musicians, along with increasing internet speeds and, in particu-
lar, the ever-growing presence of touchscreen devices such as smartphones and tablets
have, together, paved the way laid out by the above systems for the expansion of
musical interaction into mainstream popular culture from the relatively niche area
of experimental/academic art and research. NodeBeat (Sandler et al., 2011–present),
Kinetic (humbleTUNE, 2011–present) and Bloom (Eno & Chilvers, 2008) are all rela-
tively similar ICMS apps for Android/iOS devices designed around gravity mechanics/
physics modelling and generative algorithms to create audible results which are stylis-
tically ambient, and which blur the boundaries between popular and experimental
electronic musics. Both NodeBeat and Kinetic are fundamentally dependant upon
the principle of motion, with the former generating musical output from the inter-
actions between moving ‘nodes’and ‘generators’,which float around the display
and form temporary connections when coming within close proximity of one
228 G. Meikle
another, and the latter generating sound as a result of node/ball-like objects impacting
and bouncing off the four sides of the screen. In NodeBeat, the user is able to influence
the generation of musical output in a number of ways, including: key signature/scale
and lowest octave, oscillator wave-shape and ADSR envelope shape, reverb/delay level;
the number and variable velocity and connection-proximity of nodes/generators as
well as disabling movement altogether for either nodes and/or generators and enabling
‘gravity’which uses the accelerometer within the smartphone or tablet to manually
influence the directional movement of the nodes/generators; tempo and quantisation
value. The background of the display is also playable as a key-locked keyboard. Kinetic
offers a similar but less in-depth level of control, while the GUI background of Bloom
is also playable as a keyboard, but the generation of musical output is subject entirely to
evolutionary algorithms. The simple mode-of-interaction, engaging GUI/animations
and musical constraints of these systems are attributes which lend themselves well
to supporting intuitive interaction for non-expert users, as well as the generation of
musically coherent results which should appeal to the same demographic. The draw-
back, however, of imposing these limitations is that this type of system can struggle to
captivate more experienced users/musicians beyond the point of initial intrigue.
Two web-based ICMSs, which are also aimed at novice musicians but are more
directly influenced by popular electronic music due to their reliance on sample/loop
playback as opposed to algorithmic generation, are Incredibox (So Far So Good,
2011–present) and Patatap (Brandel, 2012–present; Brandel, 2015); while this influ-
ence is also evident in that the generated musical output is much more akin to
dance music than the ambient music of NodeBeat, Kinetic and Bloom. At the time
of writing, Incredibox exists in four iterations comprised of different, loop-based
material, but the user interacts with all of them in exactly the same way: by choosing
between multiple cartoon characters—each of which has assigned to it a particular
loop—in order to create a lineup of characters who appear to ‘sing’the instrumental
sounds/effects and lyrics of the arrangement as it plays. Patatap, on the other hand,
requires users to trigger short samples—different banks of which can be accessed by
pressing the spacebar—using their computer keyboard.
Finally in this category, there are a large number of interactive music games available
for iOS/Android touchscreen devices which draw influence from the classic Xbox
game series which includes titles such as Guitar Hero (Harmonix, Neversoft,
Budcat Creations, Vicarious Visions, & FreeStyleGames, 2005–present), Rock Band
(Harmonix & MTV Games, 2007–present) and DJ Hero (FreeStyleGames & Exient
Entertainment, 2009). Specifically, Cytus (Rayark Inc., 2012–present) and Dynamix
(C4Cat Entertainment, 2014–present) are almost carbon-copies of these games,
despite the musical content being far more electronically/dance-oriented; Deemo
(Rayark Inc., 2013–present), Beat Beat Volcaloid (Kestrel Games Studio, 2013–
present) and Full of Music (Handicrafter, n.d.–present) all also operate in the same
manner, although the first two bring a story-based structure to the format and the
latter allows users to play along to their own music collection. The global appeal of
these games over the past decade demonstrates more clearly than anything else the
Contemporary Music Review 229
potential within mainstream popular music culture on the whole for HCI in music to
Music-Creation Apps/Virtual Instruments
The increased prevalence in recent years of touchscreen technology in everyday life has,
of course, also contributed to a sharp rise in the development of applications to be used
in tandem with, or even to take the place of, professional audio software and outboard
gear such as digital-audio workstations (DAWs), hardware synthesisers and Musical
Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) controllers as an integral part of the composition,
production and performance of electronic music. The most prominent of these is
Reactable Mobile (Jordà, Kaltenbrunner, Geiger, & Alonso, 2003–present). First con-
ceived as a touchscreen-based tabletop hardware instrument before being developed as
an application for Android and iOS devices, the Reactable systems are better defined as
digital modular synthesisers than ICMSs due to a lack of two-way communication
functionality between the user and computer. Because of this, Reactable and Reactable
Mobile are primarily aimed at experienced electronic musicians and, as a result, the
ability to interact with the system to the full extent of its possibilities is subject to
one’s knowledge and experience-level in relation to the GUI, which requires users to
form connections between different objects or ‘crystals’—each with a specific function
(oscillator, filter, sequencer, etc.)—in order to generate sound. This is, however, some-
thing which Reactable have recently moved to address through the introduction of a
new table-top hardware instrument, the Reactable Experience, developed for
implementation in museum and gallery installations as well as other public spaces
such as hotel lobbies, etc. (The New Reactable Experience, n.d.).
Similarly, Audulus (Holliday, 2011–present; Subatomic Software Audulus, 2014)
and Jasuto (Wolfe, 2008–present) are both music-creation applications that do
not incorporate the use of any two-way communicative capabilities between user
and computer. Like Reactable, they are both modular in their design; allowing
users to connect different sound-source/effect objects, etc. together to create
virtual instruments and the like. Jasuto is focused entirely on synthesis, while
Audulus offers greater potential for experimentation with not only sound-design
but also control of external instruments, MIDI devices, etc. and is more like a
stripped-down, simplified version of the modular programming environments
Max/MSP (Puckette, 1988–present) and Pure Data (Puckette, 1996–present). Both
of these systems aim to provide intermediate-level electronic musicians with an
introductory route into the areas of modular sound-design and visual programming,
respectively—in particular Audulus, which allows for novice programmers with little
or no experience to explore the creative potentialities of working within a modular
programming environment and to incorporate this into their music-making process
without the need to undergo the extensive learning-curve required to gain a relative
level of knowledge and proficiency with regards to the visual programming
languages used in Max/MSP and Pure Data.
230 G. Meikle
Like those discussed above, there exists a multitude of music-creation apps and
games designed for handheld consoles and Android/iOS devices with more experi-
enced electronic musicians in mind. Although this is the target demographic, and
the majority of these apps are not so much ‘interactive’, they all promote music-
making for non-experts in some capacity. Be it through their design and intended
functionality or their market-placement in terms of price-range when compared to
that of professional audio hardware and software, as well as only requiring the use
of technology most novice musicians will already possess (as opposed to potentially
expensive, specialised computer equipment)—a smartphone or tablet—applications
like these make taking the first steps as an electronic musician accessible to anyone.
KORG’s DS-10 (Sano & Mitsuda, 2008), DSN-12 (KORG Inc., 2014; synthhead,
2014c) and M01D (KORG Inc., 2013) for Nintendo DS/3DS, iMS-20 (KORG Inc.,
2010–present), iM1 (KORG Inc., 2015; Rogerson, 2015; synthhead, 2015) and iElec-
tribe (Korg iElectribe, 2010; KORG Inc., 2010) for iOS, and Arturia’s iProphet
(2014; Arturia iProphet, 2014; synthhead, 2014d) are all fully functional
virtual-analogue/digital emulations of their classic hardware counterparts. An abun-
dance of traditional analogue/digital synthesisers from small, independent developers
such as Heat Synthesizer (Schneider, 2013-present) and FM Synthesizer/SynprezFM II
(Desprez, n.d.–present) for Android are also available; as are many more experimental/
forward-thinking synthesisers, which aim to take advantage of the potentialities
afforded through interfacing with the instrument via a touchscreen, like Arpio
(Randon, 2014–present), Ether Surface (Batchelor, 2014), Ethereal Dialpad (Smith,
2011) and Photophore (Dika, 2014–present; synthhead, 2014e), also for Android
and iOS. Additionally, Novation have released a free-to-download iOS version of
their Launchpad MIDI controller (2009), Novation Launchpad (Focusrite Audio,
2013), while plenty of third-party developers have released their own imitations of
the hardware/software, such as Launch Buttons (Nowak, 2015) for Android. Even
more developers, however, have exploited the advantages software holds over hard-
ware in order to improve upon the original concept of the hardware button-matrix
MIDI controller by allowing for users to create entirely unique and fully customisable
control-surface layouts from scratch. Such applications include TouchOSC (Fischer,
2008–present), Livkontrol (Imaginado, 2011–present; synthhead, 2014g), touchAble
(Blomert, Garcia, Keppmann, Blomert, & Kapp, 2010–present) and Lemur (Slater
et al., 2011–present)—a software iteration of JazzMutant’sfamous Lemur (Largillier,
Joguet, & Olivier, 2007) MIDI/OSC multi-touch hardware controller which, along
with the discontinuation of the hardware version, serves perfectly to exemplify the
changing music production/performance market and thus the development priorities
of pro-audio companies.
As well as virtual instruments and MIDI/OSC controllers, there are a number of iOS
and Android apps which aim to negate entirely the need to work within a DAW when
producing electronic music. Included in this category are Akai Pro’s emulated version
of the famous MPC series of hardware samplers (1988–present), iMPC (2012–
present), and Native Instruments’emulation of their Maschine range of grooveboxes
Contemporary Music Review 231
(2009-present), iMaschine (2011–present); as well as more DAW-like examples,
namely Image-Line’s FL Studio Mobile (2011–present), KORG Gadget (2014–
present; Aisher, 2014; Nagle, 2014), Caustic 3 (Single Cell Software, 2013–present)
and G-Stomper Studio (Planet-H, 2013–present).
Likewise, the influence professional audio hardware and software has had on the
development of mobile music-making solutions and ICMS design is reflected in the
design of applications within more recent, professional-level hardware devices
aimed at providing an introduction to electronic music production for beginners.
For instance, the Ableton Push (2013), Novation Launchpad Pro (2015) and Native
Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series MIDI keyboards (2014; Griffiths, 2014) all
utilise intelligent back-lighting of pads/keys to denote the notes and root-notes
within a chosen key signature/scale, while the Ableton Push even allows for the
entire button-matrix grid to be ‘locked’in key, meaning chromatic notes are not avail-
able unless chosen by the user, and standard triads within the key can be formed using
the same hand-shape anywhere on the control-surface.
Again, none of the apps mentioned here can be described as ‘interactive’in terms of
facilitating communicative collaboration in composition and performance between
human and computer; there are, however, a number of systems which aim to
achieve this in interesting and engaging ways. FRACT OSC (Flanagan, Nguyen, &
Boom, 2011–present)—for Windows/Mac—and PolyFauna (Yorke et al., 2014)—
for Android/iOS—are both examples of open-world musical exploration games
whereby, as you move through and interact with the virtual environment, the gener-
ated musical output evolves in accordance with your actions. FRACT OSC also
includes elements of traditional synthesis and problem solving which enhance the
overall level of immersion when experiencing the game. Synthesizer 7DRL (Hybrid
of an RPG and Synthesizer, 2015; TheBroomInstitute, 2015) is another web-based
ICMS in the form of a complex role-playing game (RPG) based around the fundamen-
tal concepts of subtractive synthesis. In addition, there are various other ways in which
HCI manifests within mobile applications and games; both within the context of music
and outside of it. For example, 80 Days (Inkle Studios Ltd., 2014) is an interactive
novel-based game, while Navichord (Kutuzov, 2014; synthhead, 2014f) is an edu-
cational tool for learning the fundamentals of music theory and harmony.
HCI in Popular Electronic Music Records/Releases
One of the more significant developments in terms of HCI in popular electronic music
in particular has been the emergence of official music releases from established artists
being packaged as interactive apps and games, as opposed to the traditional recorded
format. Possibly the most important and well-publicised of these is Biophilia by Björk
(2011), who has not only provided a platform for interactive performance techniques
in more popular veins of electronic music through extensive performances utilising the
Reactable modular synthesiser (Jordà et al., 2003–present), but has also been a pio-
neering figure in composing and designing ICMSs for screen-based interfaces aimed
232 G. Meikle
at providing non-expert musicians with the freedom to engage actively in creating and
influencing musical pieces as they listen to them, through her work on Biophilia. Each
composition embodies its own unique interactional model and interface, many of
which rely on generative algorithms inspired by biological and physical processes
found in nature to provide appropriate responses to the input of the user. Lady
Gaga also released the album Artpop (2013) as an interactive application for
Android and iOS, Skrillex has created an audiovisual interactive website for the
single Doompy poomp (2014; Division Paris, Skrillex, & Creators Project, 2014)—
enabling users to ‘remix’the music video using the keys on their computer keyboard
to trigger short GIFs as the track plays—and there are numerous websites, such as
DaftPunKonsole (Dellidj, n.d.) and iDaft (Najle, 2010–present), which implement
the same technique to enable users to re-imagine popular dance songs—in this case
Harder,better,faster,stronger (Daft Punk, 2001) and Technologic (Daft Punk,
2005)—by triggering loops and one-shot samples over the top of an underlying
groove. The concept has even been transferred to more ‘underground’music genres,
as evidenced by the Teengirl Fantasy EP Thermal (2014; DJ Pangburn, 2014; Teengirl
Fantasy & 4real, 2014)—a web-based application enabling users to enter and interact
in different ways with a unique virtual world for each song on the EP (four in total)—
and the Sword and sworcery EP by Superbrothers (Superbrothers, Jim Guthrie, & Capy-
bara Games, 2011–present)—‘an exploratory action adventure [game] with an empha-
sis on audiovisual style’(Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery, n.d.), much like FRACT
OSC (Flanagan et al., 2011–present) and PolyFauna (Yorke et al., 2014).
There are also examples, such as Reactable Gui Boratto (Boratto, Jordà, Kaltenbrun-
ner, Geiger, & Alonso, 2012) and Reactable Oliver Huntemann (Huntemann, Jordà,
Kaltenbrunner, Geiger, & Alonso, 2012), of established dance music producers and
DJs releasing select compositions for use with pre-existent music-creation systems,
whereby users are able to simply watch back the recorded performances of the
artists themselves, or to interact with them on whatever level they choose, be that
the evolution and development of the form and structure, sounds and effects, the
addition of newly synthesised melodic, harmonic and rhythmic material, or a complete
reassembly of the constituent parts with the addition of new parts and lines in order to
create an entirely unique reinterpretation of the piece. The same is true of sound packs,
released by artists such as Mad Zach, for use with Ableton Live (2001–present) and
Traktor (Native Instruments, 2000–present) along with specific MIDI controllers
like the Midi Fighter (DJ TechTools, 2009–present) or Ableton Push (2013) and,
more recently, the introduction of Native Instruments’new audio format Stems
(Ramley, 2015), which allows musicians to purchase music in the form of its individual
constituent parts/stems (drums, percussion, bass line, vocals, etc.) with the aim of pro-
viding amateur remixers/bootleggers with higher quality materials, and thus promot-
ing ingenuity and creativity in the popular electronic music scene.
The release of popular electronic music in these formats, either as standalone inter-
active applications, or as source material which effectively transforms previously reac-
tive music-making software into an interactive, collaborative environment shared by
Contemporary Music Review 233
user and composer, is a direct result of the ideologies posited by post-structuralism
with regards to openness in a work (cf. Barthes, 1991; Eco, 1989; Storey, 1997),
which have had particular resonance within popular electronic music and ‘club
culture’. Rather than playing the original recorded version of a piece during a perform-
ance, ‘DJs often favour remixes because they keep their playlists fresh …but still
deliver a level of familiarity that they can be confident crowds will respond to’(This
is the Remix, 2010, p. 25). In fact, prior to the emergence of ‘live’electronic music per-
formance (as opposed to playing records/CDs/WAVs as part of a DJ set) made possible
by technological advancements in both hardware and software, many producers would
create one-off ‘VIP mixes’of their compositions and distribute the recording to a select
few of their counterparts, in order to provide audiences with yet another unique take
on the original work among the numerous official remixes commissioned by the
Following on from this, the integration between Ableton Live software (2001–
present) and button-matrix MIDI controllers such as the Akai APC40 (2009), Nova-
tion Launchpad (2009) and DJ TechTools Midi Fighter series (2009–present) paved
the way for spontaneous, improvisatory ‘live’performances of recorded works to be
fluidly and efficiently crafted through a process of breaking down a composition
into its constituent parts and further dividing these up into individual loops/clips, to
then be played back in any order and number of combinations—resulting in the
ideal solution for artists looking to construct imaginative and bespoke live perform-
ances. The idea of the ‘VIP mix’also evolved so that producers/DJs would distribute
the stems of their compositions to allow others to individualise and re-contextualise
a work in a manner unique to their particular performance-style; as did the process
of composition whereby similar techniques to those implemented in performance
are now utilised to capture an essence of ‘liveness’in the recording.
The acceptance of the [‘live’] remix in popular electronic music culture has
rewarded DJs with ‘the status of artist, and this has necessitated a redefinition of
such familiar concepts as musical instrument, performer and the role of audience
in performance. (Fikentscher, p. 52—cited in Moorefield, 2005, p. 105–106)
The recent progression, outlined above, towards widespread interest in and explora-
tion of interactive music systems (particularly games and album/single releases), on
the part of the audience and composers/programmers, respectively, was the next
logical step in the development of popular electronic music. Coincidently, this most
recent development also addresses an issue pointed to by Barthes (1977) in his
paper ‘Musica Practia’, when he proposes the existence of ‘two musics …the music
one listens to [and] the music one plays’(p. 149). Barthes argues that ‘passive, recep-
tive music, sound music, [has] become the music (that of concert, festival, record,
radio): playing has ceased to exist’(Barthes, 1997) and that, in contrast to the
popular music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—an era made
famous by the music publishers of Tin Pan Alley in New York City—when the
234 G. Meikle
written score, rather than the recording, acted as the primary musical artefact and sim-
plified piano/vocal lead-sheets were the common unit of sale, ‘The amateur, a role
defined much more by a style than by a technical imperfection, is no longer anywhere
to be found’(p. 150). Not only do interactive releases encourage novice musicians to
engage in actively exploring their creativity and musicality, they also go some way to
replacing some of the ‘special’qualities (aesthetics, artwork, etc.) that are missing
from the sterile experience of purchasing music from digital downloads stores.
To summarise, experimental/academic electroacoustic music was of great importance
to the initial stages of exploration into HCI in music; in large part due to the melodic/
harmonic, rhythmic and timbral/textural freedom associated with the genre. The rela-
tive lack of strict stylistic constraints lends itself well to experimentation with a wide
range of design-models and techniques, as is exhibited by the examples discussed in
this article. Although experimental interactive audiovisual installations are still rela-
tively commonplace nowadays, it is the rise in popularity in recent years of popular
electronic music that has been the driving force behind the transition of HCI in
music into mainstream popular culture. Not only do the ideological values with
regards to what is expected by the audience/listener from live performance and per-
sonal listening experiences—through live remixing and officially commissioned/boot-
legged remixes respectively—favour HCI as a way of consuming music, but the more
rigid generic construct of popular electronic music, in comparison to that of exper-
imental electroacoustic music, also promotes the facilitation of more precise depth-
in-control over the musical output of the system, whilst still achieving coherent and
satisfying results, which is appealing to both novice and expert users/musicians
alike. The combination of these two factors—along with technological advancements
responsible for the recent surge in the availability and affordability of touchscreen
devices such as smartphones and tablets for billions of people around the world—
has, on the one hand, reined-in the experimentation inherent in the development of
HCI in music throughout the eighties, nineties and early-mid two-thousands but,
on the other, has enabled the field to reach new heights, and audiences that were
before out of reach of what was once a relatively niche field of art/research.
I would like to thank Stephen Davismoon, Alan Williams and Brendan Williams for providing advice
and guidance throughout the course of that research.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
Contemporary Music Review 235
This paper comes as a direct result of research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council
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