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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.
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Contemporary Music Review
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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
George Meikle
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:
© 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 HumanComputer
Interaction in Music
George Meikle
This article focuses on how the development of humancomputer 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 wholeboth
in the way that we, as listeners and audience members, purchase and consume music as
well as conceptualise and think about it.
Keywords: HumanComputer Interaction; Interactive Computer Music System; Brain
Computer Interfacing; User-Interface; Graphical User Interface; Digital Audio
Introductory Notes
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, 224241,
© 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
(, 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 humancomputer 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., 19842006) 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 Sonamis Ladys Glove
(Sonami, n.d.; Sonami, DeMarinis, & Bongers, 19912001), which was developed
and manufactured in conjunction with Bert Bongers in its 4th and 5th generations,
is conceptually similar to The Handsutilising hand/wrist-mounted controllers to
capture gestural, non-musical input data used to influence the musical output of the
systemyet 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, 2011present), NodeBeat (Sandler, Windle, & Muller,
2011present) and PolyFauna (Yorke, Godrich, & Donwood, 2014all 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., 1987present; 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, 19982001) 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
ICMS design.
Further examples of interactive sound-art installations designed for public gallery
spaces include Gestationby Paine (19992001,2013) and Bystanderby Gibson
and Richards (20042006,n.d.)part of the larger project Life after wartime. Both
Gestationand Bystanderinterpret and respond accordingly to the number and
movements of individuals within a multichannel installation environment; however,
Bystanderincorporates 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 trustof 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 dataespecially in Gestationit
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 installationalthough 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., 20132014) 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, 1998present), 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
braincomputer 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 Maritimeby Rowe (1992,1999; Drummond, 2009),
Voyagerby Lewis (1993,2000; Drummond, 2009), Music for Clarinet and ISPW
by Lippe (1992,1993) and Plutonby 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 [19842006] and Ladys
Glove [19912001]) 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,
1986present) 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., 2011present),
Kinetic (humbleTUNE, 2011present) 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 nodesand 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
gravitywhich 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,
2011present) and Patatap (Brandel, 2012present; 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 characterseach of which has assigned to it a particular
loopin order to create a lineup of characters who appear to singthe instrumental
sounds/effects and lyrics of the arrangement as it plays. Patatap, on the other hand,
requires users to trigger short samplesdifferent banks of which can be accessed by
pressing the spacebarusing 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, 2005present), Rock Band
(Harmonix & MTV Games, 2007present) and DJ Hero (FreeStyleGames & Exient
Entertainment, 2009). Specifically, Cytus (Rayark Inc., 2012present) and Dynamix
(C4Cat Entertainment, 2014present) are almost carbon-copies of these games,
despite the musical content being far more electronically/dance-oriented; Deemo
(Rayark Inc., 2013present), 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, 2003present). 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
ones 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, 2011present; Subatomic Software Audulus, 2014)
and Jasuto (Wolfe, 2008present) 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, 1988present) and Pure Data (Puckette, 1996present). 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,
respectivelyin 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 tabletapplications
like these make taking the first steps as an electronic musician accessible to anyone.
KORGs 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.,
2010present), iM1 (KORG Inc., 2015; Rogerson, 2015; synthhead, 2015) and iElec-
tribe (Korg iElectribe, 2010; KORG Inc., 2010) for iOS, and Arturias 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, 2014present), Ether Surface (Batchelor, 2014), Ethereal Dialpad (Smith,
2011) and Photophore (Dika, 2014present; 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,
2008present), Livkontrol (Imaginado, 2011present; synthhead, 2014g), touchAble
(Blomert, Garcia, Keppmann, Blomert, & Kapp, 2010present) and Lemur (Slater
et al., 2011present)a software iteration of JazzMutantsfamous 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 Pros emulated version
of the famous MPC series of hardware samplers (1988present), iMPC (2012
present), and Native Instrumentsemulation of their Maschine range of grooveboxes
Contemporary Music Review 231
(2009-present), iMaschine (2011present); as well as more DAW-like examples,
namely Image-Lines FL Studio Mobile (2011present), KORG Gadget (2014
present; Aisher, 2014; Nagle, 2014), Caustic 3 (Single Cell Software, 2013present)
and G-Stomper Studio (Planet-H, 2013present).
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 lockedin 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 interactivein 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, 2011present)for Windows/Macand PolyFauna (Yorke et al., 2014)
for Android/iOSare 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., 2003present), 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 remixthe music video using the keys on their computer keyboard
to trigger short GIFs as the track playsand there are numerous websites, such as
DaftPunKonsole (Dellidj, n.d.) and iDaft (Najle, 2010present), which implement
the same technique to enable users to re-imagine popular dance songsin 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 undergroundmusic 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, 2011present)—‘an exploratory action adventure [game] with an empha-
sis on audiovisual style(Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery, n.d.), much like FRACT
OSC (Flanagan et al., 2011present) 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 (2001present) and
Traktor (Native Instruments, 2000present) along with specific MIDI controllers
like the Midi Fighter (DJ TechTools, 2009present) or Ableton Push (2013) and,
more recently, the introduction of Native Instrumentsnew 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 liveelectronic 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 mixesof 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
record label.
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 (2009present) paved
the way for spontaneous, improvisatory liveperformances 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 combinationsresulting in the
ideal solution for artists looking to construct imaginative and bespoke live perform-
ances. The idea of the VIP mixalso 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 livenessin 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. 52cited in Moorefield, 2005, p. 105106)
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 centuriesan era made
famous by the music publishers of Tin Pan Alley in New York Citywhen 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 specialqualities (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 experiencesthrough live remixing and officially commissioned/boot-
legged remixes respectivelyfavour 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 factorsalong 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.
Disclosure Statement
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
(grand number AH/J000531/1), for which I express my appreciation.
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... In [26], Meikle assesses the current state of interactive music making tools adapted to the mainstream audience. In particular, he notes that since the last decade, the rise of touchscreen devices has led to a reinvigorated interactive music software and hardware market, as well as the current musical trends: ...
... (George Meikle in [26]) ...
Interactive media design is a field which has been researched as soon as computers started showing audio-visual capabilities. A common research theme is the temporal specification of interactive media objects: how is it possible to create multimedia presentations whose schedule takes into account events external to the system.This problem is shared with another research field, which is interactive music and more precisely interactive scores. That is, musical works whose performance will evolve in time according to a given score.In both cases, it is necessary to specify the medias and musical data orchestrated by the system: this is the subject of the first part of this thesis, which presents a model tailored for the design of multimedia applications. This model allows to simplify distributed access and remote control questions, and solves documentation-related problems.Once this model has been defined, we construct by inspiration with well-known data-flow systems used in music programming, a computation structure able to control and orchestrate the applications defined previously, as well as handling audio-visual data input and output.Specifically, a notion of permanent environment is introduced in the data-flow model: it simplifies multiple use cases common when authoring interactive media and music, and improves performance when comparing to a purely node-based approach.Finally, a temporal graph structure is presented: it allows to score parts of the data graph in time. Especially, nodes of the data graph are studied in the context of both synchronous and delayed cases.A visual edition language is introduced to allow for authoring of interactive scores in a graphical model which unites the previously introduced elements.The temporal structure is then studied from the distribution point of view: we show in particular that it is possible to earn an additional expressive power by supposing a concurrent execution of specific objects of the temporal structure.Finally, we expose how the system is able to recreate multiple existing media systems: sequencers, live-loopers, patchers, as well as new multimedia behaviours.
... Glee Karaoke (Hamilton, Smith, and Wang 2011) allows users to upload their vocal renditions of popular songs, and add layers to other performers' contributions. More conventional digital audio workstations offer social or collaboration features on mobile devices (Meikle 2016), such as uploading whole tracks or short audio clips that other users can incorporate into their compositions. Our app, MicroJam, is distinguished from these other examples by its focus on constrained and ephemeral music-making, as well as online collaboration. ...
The widespread adoption of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, has made touchscreens a common interface for musical performance. Although new mobile music instruments have been investigated from design and user experience perspectives, there has been little examination of the performers' musical output. In this work, we introduce a constrained touchscreen performance app, MicroJam, designed to enable collaboration between performers, and engage in a data-driven analysis of more than 1,600 performances using the app. MicroJam constrains performances to five seconds, and emphasizes frequent and casual music-making through a social media–inspired interface. Performers collaborate by replying to performances, adding new musical layers that are played back at the same time. Our analysis shows that users tend to focus on the center and diagonals of the touchscreen area, and that they tend to swirl or swipe rather than tap. We also observe that, whereas long swipes dominate the visual appearance of performances, the majority of interactions are short with limited expressive possibilities. Our findings enhance our understanding of how users perform in touchscreen apps and could be applied in future app designs for social musical interaction.
... These limitations rule out many musical possibilities such as assembling orchestras of many remote participants and improvisation. More conventional DAWs (digital audio workstations) are also available on mobile devices [Meikle 2016]. Some of these apps (e.g., KORG's Gadget) offer social or collaboration features, such as uploading whole tracks or short audio clips that other users can incorporate into their compositions. ...
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Moorefield Virgil, The Producer as Composer: Shaping the Sounds of Popular Music (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), ISBN 0 262 13457 8 (hb) - Volume 4 Issue 1 - Allan Moore Book review prior to editing
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The authors discuss their work on developing technology to interface the brain directly with music systems, a field of research generally known as Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI). The paper gives a brief background of BCI in general and surveys various attempts at musical BCI, or Brain-Computer Music Interface (BCMI) systems designed to make music from brain signals, or brainwaves. The authors present a technical introduction to the electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures brainwaves detected by electrodes placed directly on the scalp. They introduce approaches to the design of BCI and BCMI systems and present two case study systems of their own design: the BCMI-Piano and the Inter-Harmonium.
The groundbreaking Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (Continuum; September 2004; paperback original) maps the aural and discursive terrain of vanguard music today. Rather than offering a history of contemporary music, Audio Culture traces the genealogy of current musical practices and theoretical concerns, drawing lines of connection between recent musical production and earlier moments of sonic experimentation. It aims to foreground the various rewirings of musical composition and performance that have taken place in the past few decades and to provide a critical and theoretical language for this new audio culture. This new and expanded edition of the Audio Culture contains twenty-five additional essays, including four newly-commissioned pieces. Taken as a whole, the book explores the interconnections among such forms as minimalism, indeterminacy, musique concrète, free improvisation, experimental music, avant-rock, dub reggae, ambient music, hip hop, and techno via writings by philosophers, cultural theorists, and composers. Instead of focusing on some “crossover” between “high art” and “popular culture,” Audio Culture takes all these musics as experimental practices on par with, and linked to, one another. While cultural studies has tended to look at music (primarily popular music) from a sociological perspective, the concern here is philosophical, musical, and historical. Audio Culture includes writing by some of the most important musical thinkers of the past half-century, among them John Cage, Brian Eno, Ornette Coleman, Pauline Oliveros, Maryanne Amacher, Glenn Gould, Umberto Eco, Jacques Attali, Simon Reynolds, Eliane Radigue, David Toop, John Zorn, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and many others. Each essay has its own short introduction, helping the reader to place the essay within musical, historical, and conceptual contexts, and the volume concludes with a glossary, a timeline, and an extensive discography.
In this eighth edition of his award-winning Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, John Storey presents a clear and critical survey of competing theories of and various approaches to popular culture. Its breadth and theoretical unity, exemplified through popular culture, means that it can be flexibly and relevantly applied across a number of disciplines. Retaining the accessible approach of previous editions, and using appropriate examples from the texts and practices of popular culture, this new edition remains a key introduction to the area. New to this edition: revised, rewritten and updated throughout brand new chapter on class and popular culture updated student resources at The new edition remains essential reading for undergraduate and postgraduate students of cultural studies, media studies, communication studies, the sociology of culture, popular culture and other related subjects.
The author discusses his computer music composition, Voyager, which employs a computer-driven, interactive & virtual improvising orchestra that analyzes an improvisor's performance in real time, generating both complex responses to the musician's playing and independent behavior arising from the program's own internal processes. The author contends that notions about the nature and function of music are embedded in the structure of software-based music systems and that interactions with these systems tend to reveal characteristics of the community of thought and culture that produced them. Thus, Voyager is considered as a kind of computer music-making embodying African-American aesthetics and musical practices.
This article examines differing approaches to the definition, classification and modelling of interactive music systems, drawing together both historical and contemporary practice. Concepts of shared control, collaboration and conversation metaphors, mapping, gestural control, system responsiveness and separation of interface from sound generator are discussed. The article explores the potential of interactive systems to facilitate the creation of dynamic compositional sonic architectures through performance and improvisation.