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Musical Instruments for Novices: Comparing NIME, HCI and Crowdfunding Approaches: Methods and Protocols

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Abstract

Designing musical instruments to make performance accessible to novice musicians is a goal which long predates digital technology. However, just in the space of the past 6 years, dozens of instrument designs have been introduced in various academic venues and in commercial crowdfunding campaigns. In this paper, we draw comparisons in design, evaluation and marketing across four domains: crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo; the New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) conference; conferences in human-computer interaction (HCI); and researchers creating accessible instruments for children and adults with disabilities. We observe striking differences in approach between commercial and academic projects, with less pronounced differences between each of the academic communities. The paper concludes with general reflections on the identity and purpose of instruments for novice musicians, with suggestions for future exploration.

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... Despite the publication of studies dedicated reviewing the state-of-the-art of ADMIs [8,19,9,25], there is still a lack of contributions towards a systematic analysis of the most important dimensions of their design. As an example, Frid [8] categorizes instrument reviewed in her work in terms of control interface type (tangibles, wearables, gaze-based, etc.), for the purpose of making statistics on the literature. ...
... These three broad categories are often employed in the literature of accessible HCI [31,. Previous reviews on ADMIs [8,25,20] suggest that target user groups can be classified into these three categories. Moreover, the multidimensional character of disability also means that physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments are often intertwined. ...
... However, here we use this term in a wider sense: the degree of simplification of an ADMI along this axis refers to all the aspects of the instrument design aimed at aiding the user in completing musical tasks. These may include enlarging of elements of the visual interface, but also temporal quantization of musical events to compensate for rhythmic difficulties, simplified gestures to play chords or arpeggios, etc. Related concepts have been investigated in the context of DMIs for novices and non-musicians (beginning with the "low entry fee with no ceiling on virtuosity" claim by Wessel and Wright [36]), and are discussed by McPherson et al. [25]. Correspondingly, the Birnbaum space includes the dimension "Required expertise". ...
Conference Paper
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Research on Accessible Digital Musical Instruments (AD-MIs) has received growing attention over the past decades, carving out an increasingly large space in the literature. Despite the recent publication of state-of-the-art review works, there are still few systematic studies on ADMIs design analysis. In this paper we propose a formal tool to explore the main design aspects of ADMIs based on Dimension Space Analysis, a well established methodology in the NIME literature which allows to generate an effective visual representation of the design space. We therefore propose a set of relevant dimensions, which are based both on categories proposed in recent works in the research context, and on original contributions. We then proceed to demonstrate its applicability by selecting a set of relevant case studies, and analyzing a sample set of ADMIs found in the literature.
... In this paper, we explain why this lack of critical work should be a matter of concern. With a few notable exceptions [32], our community has overlooked political issues connected to new instruments. This might be due to reasons such as an outward-looking perspective running counter to the practical, geeky, crafty interests of most members rather than any intentional negligence or self-indulgence. ...
... McPherson et al. express scepticism for this anyone can play sentiment: "Music is not one homogeneous entity but rather an umbrella term encompassing a huge variety of genres, styles and techniques. Few people would learn a traditional instrument to generically create music of any arbitrary style; most people are motivated to participate in particular genres, often ones they also listen to" [32]. ...
... The idea of an easily-accessible musical instrument is not new and, in fact, far predates digital technology [32]. Inventors have been promising music for the masses for centuries: the hurdy-gurdy, autoharp, harmonica, and Suzuki Omnichord all promised to unlock the musician in anyone. ...
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So far, NIME research has been mostly inward-looking, dedicated to divulging and studying our own work and having limited engagement with trends outside our community. Though musical instruments as cultural artefacts are inherently political, we have so far not sufficiently engaged with confronting these themes in our own research. In this paper we argue that we should consider how our work is also political, and begin to develop a clear political agenda that includes social, ethical, and cultural considerations through which to consider not only our own musical instruments, but also those not created by us. Failing to do so would result in an unintentional but tacit acceptance and support of such ideologies. We explore one item to be included in this political agenda: the recent trend in music technology of "democratising music", which carries implicit political ideologies grounded in techno-solutionism. We conclude with a number of recommendations for stimulating community-wide discussion on these themes in the hope that this leads to the development of an outward-facing perspective that fully engages with political topics.
... museums, art exhibitions, public parks, etc..) where players of all skill levels can participate in the activity. This often requires being accessible to novice musicians, which in turn guides system design [2,19]. Additionally, CME's have a range of methods for including collaboration in musical experiences. ...
... Polymetros does this by allowing players to contribute to a single piece of music, inputting only one instrument and sequence at a time. In addition, like many CME's [1,2,6,19], Polymetros also uses a sequencer to limit the musical range, which makes playing music less physically demanding, but also limits the open-endedness of the system. ...
... The distinction between novices and expert performers is crucial. While interaction with music in some form is almost universal, DMIs may be designed for a number of target groups, including non-musicians, amateurs, experts, and individuals with disabilities [17]. The difference in musical skill level across these groups is significant, and the nature of interaction is likely to change over time as users interact, practice, compose, and perform with a DMI. ...
... Researchers have dedicated considerable energy and resources toward the design of instruments for novices. However, participatory design methods have not been so prominent (see, e.g., an overview of recent work in McPherson, Morreale, & Harrison, 2019). In a study by Mazzone, Iivari, Tikkanen, Read, and Beale (2010), three different design activities were carried out for the design of a musical device for children. ...
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A class of master of science students and a group of preschool children codesigned new digital musical instruments based on workshop interviews involving vocal sketching, a method for imitating and portraying sounds. The aim of the study was to explore how the students and children would approach vocal sketching as one of several design methods. The children described musical instruments to the students using vocal sketching and other modalities (verbal, drawing, gestures). The resulting instruments built by the students were showcased at the Swedish Museum of Performing Arts in Stockholm. Although all the children tried vocal sketching during preparatory tasks, few employed the method during the workshop. However, the instruments seemed to meet the children’s expectations. Consequently, even though the vocal sketching method alone provided few design directives in the given context, we suggest that vocal sketching, under favorable circumstances, can be an engaging component that complements other modalities in codesign involving children.
... The term "accessible DMIs" (ADMIs) refers to instruments designed for persons with disabilities. A distinction can be drawn between "performance-focused" and "therapeutic" instruments [7], where the former include ADMIs designed to enable masterful performances by musicians with disabilities, while the latter include instruments designed to elicit therapeutic or wellbeing aspects of music making, even for non-musicians. Some recent works have provided broad surveys of ADMIs, including both research projects and commercial products. ...
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Exponential increases of available computational resources, miniaturization, and sensors, are enabling the development of digital musical instruments that use non-conventional interaction paradigms and interfaces. This scenario opens up new opportunities and challenges in the creation of accessible instruments to include persons with disabilities into music practice. This work focuses in particular on instruments dedicated to people who can not use limbs, for whom the only means for musical expression are the voice and a small number of traditional instruments. First, a modular and adaptable conceptual framework is discussed for the design of accessible digital musical instruments targeted at performers with motor impairments. Physical interaction channels available from the neck upwards (head, mouth, eyes, brain) are analyzed in terms of potential and limitations for musical interaction. Second, a systematic survey of previously developed instruments is presented: each is analyzed in terms of design choices, physical interaction channels and related sensors, mapping strategies, performer interface and feedback. As a result of this survey, several open research directions are discussed, including the use of unconventional interaction channels, musical control mappings, multisensory feedback, design, evaluation, and adaptation.
... Since the advent of electronic sound production, a strain of idealistic discourse has posited that the new technology could create any sound imaginable (Théberge 1997). Such claims have been made of early recording, analogue synthesis and digital synthesis, and they feature prominently in the marketing of novel digital musical instruments (McPherson, Morreale and Harrison 2019). Indeed, utopian predictions accompany the introduction of many new technologies. ...
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It is widely accepted that acoustic and digital musical instruments shape the cognitive processes of the performer on both embodied and conceptual levels, ultimately influencing the structure and aesthetics of the resulting performance. In this article we examine the ways in which computer music languages might similarly influence the aesthetic decisions of the digital music practitioner , even when those languages are designed for generality and theoretically capable of implementing any sound-producing process. We examine the basis for querying the non-neutrality of tools with a particular focus on the concept of idiomaticity: patterns of instruments or languages which are particularly easy or natural to execute in comparison to others. We then present correspondence with the developers of several major music programming languages and a survey of digital musical instrument creators examining the relationship between idiomatic patterns of the language and the characteristics of the resulting instruments and pieces. In an open-ended creative domain, asserting causal relationships is difficult and potentially inappropriate , but we find a complex interplay between language, instrument, piece and performance that suggests that the creator of the music programming language should be considered one party to a creative conversation that occurs each time a new instrument is designed.
... In both the academic and commercial spheres of Music Technology there is a longstanding interest for Digital Musical Instrument (DMI) design and innovation [20]. Particularly within the sound and music computing, digital arts and human-computer interaction research communities there is a substantial body of studies that explore New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIMEs). ...
Conference Paper
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A substantial number of Digital Musical Instruments (DMIs) are built upon existing musical instruments by digitally and physically intervening in their design and functionality to augment their sonic and expressive capabilities. These are commonly known as Augmented Musical Instruments (AMIs). In this paper we survey different degress of invasiveness and transformation within augmentations made to musical instruments across research and commercial settings. We also observe a common design rationale among various AMI projects, where augmentations are intended to support the performer's interaction and expression with the instrument. Consequently, we put forward a series of minimally-invasive supportive Guitar-based AMI designs that emerge from observational studies with a community of practicing musicians preparing to perform which reveal different types of physical encumbrances that arise from the introduction of additional resources beyond their instrument. We then reflect on such designs and discuss how both academic and commercially-developed DMI technologies may be employed to facilitate the design of supportive AMIs.
... The authors debate how specific features of DMIs could benefit music therapy sessions and propose future lines of research concerned with designing multimodal and empowerment-based technologies. Finally, work presented in [55] focused on accessible instruments for disability, considering both commercial products and instruments presented at NIME (International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression) and related research. Results suggested that the commercial instruments mainly were MIDI controllers that, whatever their physical configuration, managed musical events on a note-by-note or sequence-level basis. ...
Article
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Current advancements in music technology enable the creation of customized Digital Musical Instruments (DMIs). This paper presents a systematic review of Accessible Digital Musical Instruments (ADMIs) in inclusive music practice. History of research concerned with facilitating inclusion in music-making is outlined, and current state of developments and trends in the field are discussed. Although the use of music technology in music therapy contexts has attracted more attention in recent years, the topic has been relatively unexplored in Computer Music literature. This review investigates a total of 113 publications focusing on ADMIs. Based on the 83 instruments in this dataset, ten control interface types were identified: tangible controllers, touchless controllers, Brain–Controlled Music Interfaces (BCMIs), adapted instruments, wearable controllers or prosthetic devices, mouth-operated controllers, audio controllers, gaze controllers, touchscreen controllers and mouse-controlled interfaces. The majority of the AMDIs were tangible or physical controllers. Although the haptic modality could potentially play an important role in musical interaction for many user groups, relatively few of the ADMIs (15.6%) incorporated vibrotactile feedback. Aspects judged to be important for successful ADMI design were instrument adaptability and customization, user participation, iterative prototyping, and interdisciplinary development teams.
... Within the NIME community 'instrument-like' controllers, or DMIs that resemble traditional instruments, have been a persistently popular area of exploration [29]. Similar trends can also be seen in the commercial world where many novel instruments and controllers resemble traditional instruments [22]. It is often suggested that a reason for this focused energy is that it allows the re-use of playing techniques from traditional instruments and hence offers a route to faster uptake. ...
Cover Page
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The design of traditional musical instruments is a process of incremental refinement over many centuries of innovation. As a result, the shape and form of instruments are well established and recognised across cultures. Conversely, digital musical instruments (DMIs), being unconstrained by requirements of efficient acoustic sound production and er-gonomics, can take on forms which are more abstract in their relation to the mechanism of control and sound production. In this paper we consider the case of designing DMIs that resemble traditional instruments, and pose questions around the social and technical acceptability of certain design choices relating to physical form and input modality (sensing strategy and the input gestures that it affords). We designed four guitar-derivative DMIs to be suitable for performing strummed harmonic accompaniments to a folk tune. Each instrument possesses a combination of one of two global forms (guitar-like body and a smaller tabletop enclosure) and one of two control mechanisms (physical strings and touch sensors). We conducted a study where both non-musicians and guitarists played two versions of the instruments and completed musical tasks with each instrument. This study highlights the complex interaction between global form and input modality when designing for existing musical cultures and varying levels of expertise.
... This article proposes that these values, rather than being peculiar of individual musicians' practices, are often common among several other artists, contributing determining some of the greatest identifying factors of NIME performances. However, the extent to which these values are idiosyncratic traits of NIME performances, as opposed to more general DMIs, is left for future work (a comparisons between instruments presented at NIME versus instruments presented at other HCI conferences and on crowdfunding platforms is discussed at [31]). ...
Conference Paper
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The term 'NIME'-New Interfaces for Musical Expression-has come to signify both technical and cultural characteristics. Not all new musical instruments are NIMEs, and not all NIMEs are defined as such for the sole ephemeral condition of being new. So, what are the typical characteristics of NIMEs and what are their roles in performers' practice? Is there a typical NIME repertoire? This paper aims to address these questions with a bottom up approach. We reflect on the answers of 78 NIME performers to an on-line questionnaire discussing their performance experience with NIMEs. The results of our investigation explore the role of NIMEs in the performers' practice and identify the values that are common among performers. We find that most NIMEs are viewed as exploratory tools created by and for performers, and that they are constantly in development and almost in no occasions in a finite state. The findings of our survey also reflect upon virtuosity with NIMEs, whose peculiar performance practice results in learning trajecto-ries that often do not lead to the development of virtuosity as it is commonly understood in traditional performance.
Chapter
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Conference Paper
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Chapter
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This paper reports on the design and audience evaluation of a collaborative interactive music system titled Polymetros. Designed for broad audiences, Polymetros aims to enable users without musical skills to experience collaborative music-making. First, we describe our design approach with reference to related research. A particular interest was to investigate how to provide novices with individual musical control within a collaborative context. We then present an audience evaluation that was conducted during an exhibition at a major art museum in the UK attended by large numbers of the general public across the age range. The results lead us to evaluate our design approach and reflect on implications for facilitating collaborative music-making for broad audiences. Furthermore, the findings provide interesting indications how the context of a public exhibition setting affects the audience interaction with such an interactive multi-player experience.
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There is small but useful body of research concerning the evaluation of musical interfaces with HCI techniques. In this paper, we present a case study in implementing these techniques; we describe a usability experiment which eval-uated the Nintendo Wiimote as a musical controller, and reflect on the effectiveness of our choice of HCI methodolo-gies in this context. The study offered some valuable results, but our picture of the Wiimote was incomplete as we lacked data concerning the participants' instantaneous musical ex-perience. Recent trends in HCI are leading researchers to tackle this problem of evaluating user experience; we review some of their work and suggest that with some adaptation it could provide useful new tools and methodologies for com-puter musicians.
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Background in digital musical instruments. A digital musical instrument (DMI) comprises a control surface that controls the parameters of a digital synthesis algorithm in real time. In the Digital Orchestra Project, a three-year research/creation project, the synthesis engine was hosted on a general-purpose computer, while the gestural control surfaces were new hardware devices created for the project. The mapping between gestural data and synthesis parameters was carried out through the use of custom-written software: The Mapper. Background in music performance. From a performance perspective, a successful DMI should allow the performer to feel that he or she has accurate control of the musical result of their performance. This sensation results from a number of different factors, including the responsiveness of the instrument (low, consistent latency), haptic feedback, the mapping strategies used, and the reproducibility of musical ideas, among others. Aims. The aim of the project was to develop and use a number of new DMIs with musical potential comparable to that of existing acoustic musical instruments. An important goal was to foster long-term interdisciplinary collaborations between instrument designers, composers and performers. We also wanted to address the issue of reproducibility in the performance of digital musical instruments by developing appropriate notation methods. Main contribution. The Digital Orchestra resulted in of the development of several new DMIs, from laboratory prototypes to fully-fledged concert instruments. Composers created new works for small ensembles that included these instruments. A musical notation based on dynamic visual elements displayed on a computer screen was developed. The project notably included three years of intensive training on these instruments by performers who had previously already achieved a high level of expertise on acoustic musical instruments. Implications. The McGill Digital Orchestra presents a number of paradigms for the design, creation and performance of digital musical instruments in the context of a long-term interdisciplinary, collaborative environment. Based on our experience, we propose that one effective measure for the evaluation of a digital musical instrument is its ability to reproduce a performance of a particular piece, either by the same performer or by different performers. This involves the ability to realize a piece based on a notated score, whether on paper or using software-based visual feedback in a graphical environment. We suggest that this may aid in ensuring the viability and longevity of a novel digital musical instrument. The results of this approach to DMI design include instruments that have been used in high-profile professional performances and that are still being actively used by several performers world-wide.
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