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An Early-Stage Autobiographical Account of a New Performance Technology

Abstract

This manuscript aims to present the Magpick, a new technology for electric guitar, and to describe an autobiographical account of the early explorations of this new technology in a performance context.
International Symposium on Performance Science STRUCTURED ABSTRACT
16-20 July 2019 Theoretical/Review Paper
An Early-Stage Autobiographical Account of a
New Performance Technology
Fabio Morreale
Creative Arts and Industries, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Background
Digital musical instruments (DMIs) are undergoing a prosperous period
thanks to the proliferation of sensing technologies. Despite this prosperity,
however, virtually all DMIs have so far failed to go mainstream as most of them
have disappeared after a handful of performances only. If, on the one hand,
this lack of success necessarily limits their artistic legacy, on the other hand
their very creation gives rise to literacy and knowledge of instrument design
and performance. It thus becomes of primary importance to document the
evolution of new DMIs from their early stages to build theoretical and practical
knowledge to be used by future instrument creators.
Aims
This manuscript aims to present the Magpick, a new technology for electric
guitar, and to describe an autobiographical account of the early explorations
of this new technology in a performance context.
Main contribution
At the outset of the project, I aimed to create a technology for guitar that
could use the subtle gestures of the plucking hand as a performance material.
With the help of Andrew McPherson and Andrea Guidi from Queen Mary
University of London, I recently created the Magpick to answer to this need.
The Magpick is a custom-designed guitar pick with a hollowed body
containing several loops of wire. By exploiting the laws of electromagnetism,
when the pick is moved on the area above the guitar pickups an induced
electromotive force is generated in the coil. This force is proportional to the
rate of change in magnetic flux and thus provides detailed information on the
gestures of the plucking hand. The force is then amplified and connected to
an audio processor, where it is combined with the signal from the guitar to
produce a new output signal that modifies or extends the sound of the guitar.
This solution accurately responds to the speed, location, and intensity of the
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pick movement in the pickup area, enabling a very subtle control on the
sound of the guitar, which can’t be achieved by any other means.
As I began using the Magpick in my performance, the aspects of it that I came
to value the most were features that I have not purposely designed, and that
are gradually defining the very nature of the Magpick. One of these features is
connected to the way in which it disrupts the magnetic field. When the
Magpick moves across a magnetic field it does not just sense it, but also
modifies it. I empirically observed that when the movement of the pick
terminates the force created in the Magpick bounces for a few instants before
going back to zero. The rhythm created by this bouncing is of the most
interesting behavior that I have found so far and that I am currently using in
my performance practice.
Implications
I shared initial reflections on my own experience with the Magpick that might
be useful to other instrument creators: be prepared for the unexpected and
avoid be open to reassess the role of you creation in your performance.
Keywords
Augmented guitar pick; technology for performance; Magpick; musical
instrument design; augmented instruments
Address for correspondence
Fabio Morreale, Creative Arts and Industries, University of Auckland, 6 Symonds St,
Auckland, 1010, New Zealand; Email: f.morreale@auckland.ac.nz
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