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Previous research on musical embodiment has reported that expert performers often regard their instruments as an extension of their body. Not every digital musical instrument seeks to create a close relationship between body and instrument, but even for the many that do, the design process often focuses heavily on technical and sonic factors, with relatively less attention to the bodily experience of the performer. In this paper we propose soma design as an alternative approach to explore this space. Soma method aims to attune the sensibilities of designers, as well as their experience of their body, and make use of these notions as a resource for creative aesthetic design. We report on a series of workshops exploring the relationship between the body and the guitar with a soma design approach. The workshops resulted in a series of guitar-related artefacts and NIMEs that emerged from the somatic exploration of balance and tension during guitar performance. Lastly we present lessons learned from our research that could inform future Soma-based musical instrument design, and how NIME research may also inform soma design.
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Soma Design for NIME
Juan Martinez Avila1, Vasiliki Tsaknaki2, Pavel Karpashevich2, Charles Windlin2, Niklas Valenti2,
Kristina Höök2, Andrew McPherson3, Steve Benford1
1Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham; 2MID Department, KTH Royal Institute of Technology;
3Centre for Digital Music, Queen Mary University of London
1{psxjpma, pszsdb}; 2{tsaknaki, pavelka, windlin, khook};
Previous research on musical embodiment has reported that
expert performers often regard their instruments as an extension of
their body. Not every digital musical instrument seeks to create a
close relationship between body and instrument, but even for the
many that do, the design process often focuses heavily on technical
and sonic factors, with relatively less attention to the bodily
experience of the performer. In this paper we propose soma design as
an alternative approach to explore this space. Soma method aims to
attune the sensibilities of designers, as well as their experience of
their body, and make use of these notions as a resource for creative
aesthetic design. We report on a series of workshops exploring the
relationship between the body and the guitar with a soma design
approach. The workshops resulted in a series of guitar-related
artefacts and NIMEs that emerged from the somatic exploration of
balance and tension during guitar performance. Lastly we present
lessons learned from our research that could inform future Soma-
based musical instrument design, and how NIME research may also
inform soma design.
Author Keywords
Soma design, augmented guitar, breath control, bodily experience
CCS Concepts
Applied computing Sound and music computing; • Human-
centered computing Interaction design theory, concepts and
Playing a musical instrument is a performative bodily act.
Some parts of the body are used to excite or control the
instrument while others shape an overall bodily posture that
enables but also constrains instrumental technique. Some
instruments require many years of training and attuning of the
body to reach a state of expertise. In the process, skilled
performers often come to consider the instrument as an
extension of their body [22]. The musical body is also aesthetic,
moving with the instrument in ways that may both look and feel
good. However, the body can also pose problems for musicians
through injury, tension and symptoms of anxiety that can affect
immediate performance or long-term wellbeing.
There have been many discussions about the human body
within NIME literature, especially on how the body can be used
to control new kinds of musical instruments, either directly
through touch or indirectly through gesture or even sensing its
internal state. However, the dominant focus of attention
remains in the instrument. In other words, NIME research often
talks about what the instrument is, what the instrument does,
and the relationship between the instrument, the performer and
the audience. With a few exceptions [2,7,16,25], we seldom
refer to the internal subjective experience of the performer's
body and the sensations that arise while playing an instrument
as a fundamental component of the design process.
However, there has been an increasing interest in body-
centred approaches within interaction design, including
innovation in more overtly body-oriented methods. One of
these methods is soma design, which puts the focus squarely on
designing with and through the body [8]. Soma design is
mainly concerned with the first-person perspective of aesthetic
and sensuous experiences and on honing the ability of designers
to discern such somatic experiences and harness them to devise
interactive experiencesin turn honing users’ aesthetic skills
when engaging in those interactions. Among the tactics of soma
design are the exploration of non-habitual movements and
estrangement methods [8,27] as well as engaging in various
bodily practices thoughtfully and deliberately, including for
example Feldenkrais exercises, which aim to refocus attention
on the fine nuances of bodily experience [4]. It would seem
from this description that soma design might potentially speak
to the design of NIMEs, offering a route to realising more
body-centred and aesthetic musical instruments.
Our paper therefore explores the application of soma design
to NIMEs. We report a design process in which we brought
together a team of people with expertise in music performance,
NIME design and soma design, for two workshops. We focused
on the bodily experience of playing the guitar, as a familiar and
commonplace musical instrument which is widely available and
associated with various bodily practices across different
cultures and musical genres, ranging from the formality of
classical training to the expressivity of pop and rock. The
workshops involved a combination of bodily exercises and
exploratory lo-fi prototyping aiming to understand and de-
familiarise previous notions of guitar playing. Ultimately, they
led to a series of design concepts for new musical
instrumentsmost notably the concept of breathing guitars
that refocus musicians on their own bodily sensations and
practices and shape a physically tightly coupled bodily
engagement between instrument and performer.
2.1 Soma design
The soma design framework offers a design stance grounded in
evolutionary biological models of human morphology [23] as
well as theories pertaining to aesthetics, or more precisely
somaesthetics [24]. Somaesthetics is a term that combines
somaour non-dualistic subjective self, body, emotion, and
thinkingand aestheticsas in our ability to perceptually
appreciate the world around us, what we feel, hear, see and
engage with. Beyond providing a firm grounding in human
morphology and somaesthetic appreciation ideals, the soma
design framework adds an active, creative, design attitude. The
fundamental promise of soma design is that if designers train
their somaesthetic sensibilities, engaging in form-giving
processes, gaining tacit knowledge of the technological
materials at hand, they can learn how to better shape the
somaesthetics of the interaction gestalt [14].
When we hone and care for aesthetic qualities of the
technologies we use to construct our interactions and when we
attend to our own experiences, the designs we bring forth will
orchestrate experiences that in turn spur improved aesthetic
engagement for our prospective users. By questioning,
deconstructing or simply providing alternative ways of
walking, breathing, touching or experiencing in our everyday
lives, the meaning and experiential potential of our everyday
activities come into focus. From this fertile ground, a whole
range of new interactions can be imagined [8].
In this light, guitar playing illustrates an interesting somatic
practice to be explored. With growing expertise the player
enters into what Ingold frames as a ‘correspondence’
relationship with the guitar [9]. The guitarist becomes ‘one’
with the instrument and the sound it emanates. Expertise is
gained slowly and it involves developing bodily control,
dexterity, musicality and emotional expression. As the whole
body is involved, it becomes unclear what comes first:
strumming on the strings, hearing the sound, engaging the
fingers, the whole arm, the muscles in the back, breathing,
swayingall of it rather becomes an integrated whole.
2.2 The body and embodiment within NIMEs
The human body, its motions and its embodiment relationship
with musical instruments have been extensively studied and
employed as resources for the design of NIMEs. Within music
research there is an extensive corpus of work that explores the
relationship between the human body and its interactions with
traditional musical instruments, as well as the associated
enaction and embodiment of musical activities.
Previous work has addressed the physical and sensory
correspondence between the performer’s body and the musical
instrument, as well as how the latter can become an extension
of the body [22]. However, existing arguments call to attention
that NIMEs may lack the inherent acoustic affordances of
traditional musical instruments, which may affect the resulting
embodied experience of the performer [15].
Correspondingly, there have been attempts to imbue NIMEs
with the acoustic “feel” of traditional instruments by simulating
their vibrotactile feedback [19], with the aim of enhancing the
engagement of the performer with the instrument. This
discourse however puts the instrument at the centre of the
discussion and the design process.
Alternatively, there is extensive work within NIME research
which draws the attention towards the human body, such as
investigating the bodily gestures of musicians during
performance, i.e. musical gestures [12]. These gestures have
been abstracted by different means, such as motion capture and
detailed observation. As a result, multiple classifications of
musical gestures have emerged from this research, which in
turn have influenced the design of several NIMEs. For
example, ancillary gestures, i.e. the subtle movements of the
body that accompany performance gestures but are not directly
involved in producing sound (e.g. the swaying of the guitar
neck), have been harnessed as a way to control sound effects
with a guitar whilst minimizing the interruption of performance
[13,21]. Likewise, these measurements of movement are
reflected in the abundant use of motion capture and gesture
recognition systems within NIME projects [6,26]. Nonetheless,
this design approach mainly seeks to repurpose bodily gestures
as inputs for sound control in NIMEs.
Yet another area that has been widely explored is the
sonification of the bioelectrical signals of the body. In contrast
with the external motion-capture data used to map musical
gestures to sound, this approach exploits the ‘internal’ data of
the human body. In particular, electromyographic data from the
muscles has been frequently used to exploit subtle bodily
movements as sonic mappings. In this sense, the performance
of music becomes tightly coupled with the human body,
arguably transforming it into a musical instrument [11,25].
Nevertheless, we see an absence of works within NIME that
explore soma design as an approach to NIME design, or as a
resource to inspire new concepts for musical expression based
on the somatic experience of performing an instrument, such as
the sensations that arise in the body when doing so. To the best
of our knowledge, only a few existing projects have considered
somaesthetics as a framework for design [2].
Let us now turn to an account of a soma design process as it
unfolded over the course of six months, throughout two design
workshops, with reflection and prototyping in between. The
process involved interaction design researchers with a mixed
expertise in soma design and guitar playing. Although the
structure of both workshops varied there was a core thread that
provided continuity throughout the process as we now describe.
3.1 The first Soma workshop
The first workshop addressed the theme of bodily balance,
lasted two days and involved 16 participants with strong
backgrounds in interaction and soma design. In total, four
groups were formed to explore the theme. One of the groups
involved the augmented guitar project discussed here. The
guitar group consisted of four interaction design researchers:
two with substantial expertise in guitar playing (who are
authors in this work) and two with soma design.
3.1.1 Bodily explorations
A Feldenkrais practitioner took part in the workshop to lead a
session of bodily exercises on the first day. Feldenkrais
employs techniques that help deepen one’s somaesthetic
sensibilities: e.g. disrupting habitual movements, closing the
eyes and moving slowly in order to focus and feel every small
detail of a movement. One of the exercises encouraged the
participants to reflect on how the sitting bones are balanced by
doing subtle oscillations of the whole body whilst sitting on the
floor. The soma design researchers also brought the Soma bits
prototyping toolkit [28], which consists of a series of soft and
rigid objects shaped in different forms that can be combined
with different actuators, including heat and vibration. The
shapes can be stacked or chained together and placed on and
around the body (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. The Soma bits prototyping kit.
In the guitar group we used the Soma bits to explore different
areas around the body whilst holding a guitar. For example,
heat pads and vibration actuators were placed at different points
of contact between guitar and body such as the torso. Other
bodily contact areas explored were the feet and shoulders as
they are also engaged during guitar playing whilst standing
upe.g. when wearing a guitar strap and operating effects
pedals. Observing the body swaying back and forth or from
side to side when strumming the guitar, illustrated the central
role of these movements in maintaining balance. Inspired by
such movements, we started exploring an elastic exercise
rubber band as a guitar strap, observing how this could support
the experience of playing the guitar. The stretchy strap affected
the balance of the guitarists and allowed them to sway the
guitar neck around as they played, encouraging new kinds of
bodily movements with the instrument. We also worked with
several round-shaped Soma bits with a rigid base but a soft top,
allowing the participants to step on top and mould them with
their feet, creating a sort of ‘cushy pedalboard’ (see Fig. 2).
Moreover, other materials were also inserted beneath the
cushioned parts of these objects to add texture and interactivity
to their surface, such as rubber spheres and vibrating actuators
with modulated intensity. We also experimented with stacking
several of these cushy pedalboards to create a sort of seesaw,
which allowed the participants to sway back and forth, as well
as balance themselves when standing on top of the stack, again
encouraging whole body movements when playing the
3.1.2 NIME ideation and prototyping
Reflecting on bodily balance by becoming attentive to the
swaying of the whole body and the feet when playing the
guitar, whilst using the stretchy strap and the cushy pedals, led
to a series of design ideas. One was to provide haptic feedback
through vibrations beneath the feet or through the strap in order
to allow the guitarist to feel the tempo of the music or cues in a
performance. Another idea dabbled on the possibilities of
vibrations or heat to comfort nervous performers. Likewise, the
swaying motion explored with both the stretchiness of the strap
and the balancing of the boards led to the idea of potential sonic
mappings using these movements.
Figure 2. Playing with the stretchy strap and cushy pedals.
At the end of the workshop each group prepared a prototype
to showcase to the other groups. In the case of the guitar group,
both the stretchy strap and the balancing mat were presented as
concept NIMEs by doing a Wizard of Oz performance where
one of the guitarists wore the strap whilst balancing on top of
the boards, and played an electric guitar running through a
digital audio workstation (Fig. 2). Whilst the guitarist played,
he pretended to modulate the sound effects of the guitar,
through moving the guitar neck and sway on the mat, whilst the
other guitarist controlled the effects on a laptop.
3.1.3 Critical reflection and next steps
Reflecting on the workshop, we identified two outcomes that
we wished to carry forward. First, the thematic focus on
balance and the related body de-familiarisation exercises led us
to focus on diverse parts of the body such as the shoulders,
abdomen and feet, rather than the fingers and hands which are
directly used to interact with the guitar. Second, bodily
explorations with the Soma bits helped de-familiarise the
experience of playing the guitar and directly inspired two
unusual design ideas described above. Another reflection was
that relatively little time had been spent plucking the strings
or even making musical sounds in the workshop. The focus was
more on the embodied sensation of playing rather than the
music being played.
We also noted two challenges with the workshop. First, given
that some of the designers lacked guitar playing expertise, they
struggled to understand the felt sensation of playing and
expressed some limitations when engaging with this artefact.
Second, even though the Feldenkrais practitioner led the bodily
sessions at the beginning of the workshop, she did not stay for
the whole workshop. As she did not engage in the design work
carried out throughout the whole workshop, her valuable
somatic expertise was largely absent from the focused design
After the workshop, the stretchy strap idea was further
developed with e-textiles and Bela during a hackathon [5]. The
progress with the prototype motivated us to do a second
workshop entirely focused on augmenting guitars with soma
design, which we describe in the next section.
3.2 The second Soma workshop
The second workshop also lasted two days and served to deepen our
exploration of ideas that had emerged during the first one, especially
ideas on balance of the body and associated tension when playing the
guitar. The thematic focus on tension included ideas of: a) physical
tension experienced in various parts of the body when playing the
guitar, b) the mental tension of performance anxiety, c) the
expressive build-up and release of musical tension in performance,
and d) the material tension in the stretchy strap prototype and its
potential interaction techniques. However, we were deliberately open
to other concepts and technologies to avoid narrowing the scope of
design. The workshop involved ten participants; five whom had
previously attended the first workshop (two taking part in the guitar
group), and all authors of this paper were present. To prevent the
‘expertise gap’ from the first workshop, we sought to evenly
distribute the participants into two groups, in terms of guitar playing
and soma design expertise. We also brought along several guitars:
two acoustic guitars and a silent guitar’ with an open frame that
allowed for other materials to be attached to it (see Fig. 4).
3.2.1 Bodily explorations
We invited a Feldenkrais practitioner with expertise in guitar playing,
and soma design, who skilfully designed bespoke bodily exercises to
address the theme of tension in guitar playing. He led two sessions of
exercises (one each day) but also was an active participant during the
entire workshop. The workshop started with the Feldenkrais
session, led by the practitioner. The exercises performed were
focused on self-awareness of tension, firstly by working individually
and then by working in pairs, reflecting on tensions located on the
arms, palms and fingers together. By slowly moving the fingers the
participant explored the micro-movements of the hand and reported
their impact on other parts of their bodies. The exercises helped us
understand the boundaries of pleasant/unpleasant experiences when
focusing on tension, as well as opportunities for shared physical
control and the interconnectedness of different body parts, as reported
on the subsequent sharing of experiences.
3.2.2 Somatic facilitation of guitar playing
In order for everyone to experience guitar playing, the two groups
conducted several experiments to enable non-guitarists to ‘feel’ guitar
playing as a guitarist would. Some of these experiments were quite
subtle, for example a guitar was passed around so people could tinker
with it and become comfortable with holding and touching the guitar.
Another approach involved setting the guitar in an open tuning so
that chords could be easily performed by simply strumming the
guitar. This lead to exploring the sonic range of the instrument, from
playing ‘clean’ to loud and heavily distorted tones.
Other experiments were more radical, for example, two
participants taped their fingers together so the non-guitarist could
experience the movement of fretting a chord or playing a scale on the
guitar whilst their hand was on top of the guitarist’s hand, which was
doing the actual movement. Another exploration involved two
people playing one guitar, with the guitarist fretting the chords and
the non-guitarist strumming the strings. Even though the experiments
could only partially help non-guitarists gain a first-person bodily
experience of guitar playing, they were evocative enough to enable
them to contribute insights during the workshop. Most importantly,
these experiments made the guitar the core of the design process
the guitar became present in the ideation process.
3.2.3 NIME ideation and prototyping
The Soma bits were once again used during this workshop. Design
explorations begun by de-familiarising how the guitar is played and
held. Explorations included attaching small vibrating actuators to the
fingers of the fretting hand to disrupt their movements. Of the
different interactive Soma bits, the inflatable shape-changing
actuation materials were deemed to be the most evocative during the
design explorations by both groups, as they could be placed on
different areas between the body and the guitar. One group started
placing inflatable cushions near the guitar’s bridge, observing how
the expansion altered the bodily sensation of playing the guitar with
the strumming hand, alongside its sound producing capabilities. The
other group focused on the use of the inflatables to alter the bodily
sensation and experience of holding the guitar close to the body.
Inflatable cushions were placed at various points of contact between
the guitar and the body, including the back of the guitar pressing into
the stomach or under the shoulder.
During the plenary discussion at the end of the first day, both
groups compared experiences and honed in on key themes of interest.
One was the significance of breathing as an importantbut often
overseen—part of the experience of playing the guitar, as it is
inherent to the sensation of physical engagement with the guitar
which lays across the abdomen. It was also deemed crucial for
controlling nerves and anxiety, but also something that could be
easily forgotten, given that attention is mostly drawn to the hands.
The participants also reflected in the Feldenkrais exercises that
involved a push and pull between the participants fingers, leading to
the concept of an autonomous shapeshifting guitar. At this point the
soma designers also brought an inflatable corset, an on-going project
they had been exploring in the context of singing performance. One
of the participants wore it whilst playing the guitar and prompted the
idea of a breathing guitar that could synchronise with, and draw
attention to the breathing of its player.
3.2.4 Two concepts of a Breathing Guitar
The second day of the workshop began with another Feldenkrais
session, which the practitioner designed to focus attention on the
bodily experience of breathing. Participants were guided to observe,
feel and engage with their breathing, through self-exploration of the
abdominal cavity. They were encouraged to feel their abdomens with
their own hands, along and under their ribs and down into the pelvis,
attuning themselves to their movements and the sensations of moving
with, or resisting pressure while breathing. After this, the two groups
continued their soma design explorations in this context and
developed two different lo-fi mock-ups of concepts of breathing
Concept 1. Breathing Straps. One group explored the idea of re-
designing the strap so that it would foster a more intimate contact
between the guitar and the body. An idea was to affix the guitar to the
body of the player by wrapping a stretchy strap around the waist and
the belly of the guitarist. This was then paired with an additional
stretchy strap going around the neck and shoulders of the player,
securing the guitar even more firmly to the body, as well as providing
a “hugging” sensation to the player (Fig. 3, top). The way one of the
straps was attached to the front of the guitar muted the
instrument, switching the focus during the testing session from
the sound production to perceived physical sensation. Building
on previous lessons with the original stretchy strap concept, the group
considered how moving the guitar on the horizontal and vertical
planes might then control the sound output of the instrument in
nuanced ways. Different static shapes and then inflatables were
added to the cavity between the guitarist’s belly and the body of the
guitar, in order to simulate actuation to the horizontal and vertical
straps so that the guitar might potentially push back against, as well
as sense breathing and other bodily movements from the guitarist. It
was then decided to replace the horizontal strap with a big inflatable
shape (Fig. 3, bottom), opening up the idea of simultaneously using it
as a sensor/actuator; moving the instrument closer to, or further away
from the player’s body; responding to and mimicking breathing, and
interacting with it through squeezing (like a bagpipe).
Figure 3. Group 1’s breathing guitar concept enacted
through stretchable and inflatable body straps
Concept 2. Breathing Guitar Surfaces. This concept is focused
on augmenting the body of the guitar itself by attaching inflatable
pressure pads to various points at which it comes into contact with
the player’s body. It was notable that the Feldenkrais practitioner
acted as the test player here, wearing the guitar and reporting on his
experience from both a perspective of player and soma practitioner.
Ultimately, this led to attaching the pads to three key contact points,
one on the back of the silent guitar where it presses into the belly, a
second under the arm that leans around the body and holds the
instrument stable, and a third under the fretting hand along the neck.
Inflation of the three pads to varying extents, and in and out of
synchronisation was controlled with a mobile app using OSC (Fig.
4). First impressions were that the pad on the belly gave a gently
intimate sense of breathing and a subtle connection to the player’s
own breathing while the one on the strumming arm gave a sense of
the guitar’s expansion and possible awareness of the player’s hand
posture. The latter was perhaps the most remarkable, as it call for
immediate attention to the hand, sometimes making it difficult—even
impossibleto play the guitar when extensively inflated. This
observation led to the idea of a guitar that might actively push back
against the player, for example refusing them to let them play at some
parts of the neck, perhaps provoking them to break their habitual
playing patterns or to improvise.
Figure 4. Group 2’s breathing guitar concept prototyped
through three strategically placed inflatable pads
Our reflections on the workshops cover three topics. First, we
discuss the possibilities for new kinds of breathing instruments;
next we consider wider lessons for the NIME community that
arise from embracing the soma design approach; and finally,
we highlight some lessons for soma design in general.
4.1 Breathing instruments
We have foregrounded two new body-oriented design
sensitivities for designing new musical instruments: balance
and tension. Investigating these though a soma design process
generated a new concept, that of breathing instruments which
we propose may offer two broad benefits to musicians.
Playing music. The first concerns new possibilities for
generating and controlling music. Breathing instruments raise
possibilities for controlling sound by squeezing them to deflate
them or by blowing air into them to inflate them, including
being able to act on different parts of the instrument (e.g,
squeezing the neck versus the body). This mirrors previous
explorations of breath controlled and squeezable instruments
[3,17]. However, breathing instruments could also push back,
giving feedback and creating control loops. They might also
assume an autonomous character, seeking to influence a
musician’s playing, for example by dynamically making it
more or less difficult to fret notes on some parts of the neck of
a guitar. Such shape-changing instruments might encourage
improvisation by taking the player out of their comfort zone
and might even give the sensation of engaging a livething
rather than a static object.
Somatic awareness and relaxation. A second potential
benefit coming from a somaesthetic perspective is to raise
musicians’ awareness of their own bodily experience in relation
to the instrument. We propose that enhanced somatic awareness
might help enhance technique by enabling musicians to acquire
better breath control while playing given that breathing is
recognized as an important part of playing many instruments
(not only those that are driven by it). Breathing instruments
might improve musicians’ physical and mental wellbeing by
nudging them to breathe so as to release physical and mental
tension while playing with benefits ranging from improved
posture during performance preparation [1] to better coping
with performance anxiety. These suggestions reflect previous
research into breath controlled interfaces. Studies of a breath
controlled flexible tent showed how it could entrain some
occupants’ breathing leading to relaxation [10]. In contrast,
studies of a breath controlled bucking-bronco amusement ride
showed how attempts to hold one’s breath could increase the
sensation of tension [18].
4.2 A fresh perspective on designing NIMEs
Broadening our perspective, we believe that soma design can
bring a new perspective to NIME and guitar augmentation
alike. While we cannot claim that our concepts might not have
emerged from some other design process, we can point to
several key points at which soma design clearly shaped our
thinking. The initial focus on balance and whole body
interaction in Workshop 1 led us to develop the transitional
concepts of stretchy strap and cushy pedals. These were carried
forward into Workshop 2 and refined by applying the theme of
tension. To experiment with tension, we performed relevant
Feldenkrais exercises, which in turn helped us to sharpen our
bodily awareness of breathing and led to further experiments
with inflatables attached to the body of the player and the body
of the guitar. Throughout, our design focus was repeatedly
brought back to the bodily sensation and aesthetic of playing
the guitar rather than the generation of sound that is often the
focus within NIME.
The first major shaping factor was the grounding of the
approach in the Somaesthetic philosophy which encouraged us
to see the musical instrument as an extension of the living body
rather than just a mere object or the cognitive extension of our
mind [15]. At NIME it is generally accepted that music
technology can act as an extension of the body, but the design
process often begins by focusing on technology itself and the
particular interaction capabilities it affords; we see this in the
papers proposing design toolkits or exploring musical
applications for recently released commercial technologies like
Kinect [26], Leap Motion [6], or Myo [11]. The result is that
the idiomatic patterns of the technology exert a strong aesthetic
influence on the musical outcome [20]. The soma design
method turns this process around, beginning with the body
without any explicit focus on technology. In fact in this
process, the specific technology used to implement a particular
idea remains a secondary consideration. In this way it shares
certain features with design fiction exercises as well as
improvisational and experimental design processes [5].
Other shaping factors were manifested in the specific soma
methods. De-familiarisation techniques put us in a space where
we were open to new possibilities, deconstructing the habitual
way we move or use a certain artefact. It helped to bring to the
surface aspects of playing the guitar, which usually remain
involatile and implicit. The use of the Soma bits prototyping kit
during the design sessions enabled bodily explorations and lo-fi
concept design work by making affordances and properties of
these speculative interactions tangible. Soma experts were
scrambled into teams alongside musicians. While soma
practitioners were naturally less focused on sound production,
music making and the other ‘usual’ perspectives on instrument
design in NIME, they brought new perspectives concerned with
body awareness and whole body experience. Finally, working
with silent or silenced instruments also reduced the focus on
sound and created space for other aspects of bodily experience
to come to the fore.
4.3 Lessons for Soma design
Our experience also generated some new insights into the soma
design process. One was the challenge of the expertise gap.
Having guitarists and non-guitarists involved in groups was
useful in questioning assumptions about the instrument.
However, successful collaboration required techniques for
familiarising the instrument to non-players while de-
familiarising it for relative experts. In addition we learned that
it was helpful to involve the Feldenkrais practitioner throughout
the workshop as he helped to mediate different aspects of the
soma design process, such as bodily awareness, somatic
facilitation (communicating felt sensations to others) and
ideation in response to emerging themes during the sessions.
To conclude, we propose that soma design has an important and
distinctive role to play in the design of NIMEs that emphasise
the aesthetics of playing an instrument alongside the generation
of sound. We have documented an example of soma design in
practice and offered evidence for how it shaped the emergence
of an unusual design conceptthat of a breathing guitar. We
believe that there is great potential for further refining and
applying the soma design approach within the NIME
The work was funded by UK EPSRC grants EP/N005112/1 and
EP/M000877/1 (‘Design for Virtuosity’ and ‘Living with
Digital Ubiquity’), and by AffecTech: Personal Technologies
for Affective Health, Innovative Training Network funded by
the H2020 People Programme under Marie Skłodowska Curie
grant agreement No 722022, the Swedish Foundation for
Strategic Research project RIT15-0046, and the Swedish
Research council project 2016-04709.
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... Soma design as an approach to the design of interactive technologies is beginning to establish itself within interaction design practice. The field has seen the development of theoretical perspectives [32], design methodologies [36] and a range of interactive artefacts [30,46,50,64] all of which contribute to the development of a design program 1 rooted in the importance of attending to human's full soma (body, mind, emotions) throughout a design process. One of the most remarkable promises made by soma design is that by following a soma design process an interactive artifact can be created which can increase our ability to appreciate through all our senses and lead to more pleasurable and meaningful interactions with the world around us [32]. ...
... Soma design has lately caught the interest of researchers in the HCI community. It ranges from reports of workshops bringing different design approaches together [71], discussing strategies for bridging the body-mind divide [33], creating soma trajectories to map out the experienced temporality [70], somatic explorations in artefacts related to guitar playing [50], tactics to design expressive musical interfaces for improvisers [9] to functioning prototypes for posture awareness [3,52], drones interaction [24,46], for reflecting on singing through topographical change to the torso [17] and pelvic floor awareness [65]. Across these studies, we see how soma designers themselves transform through the process of learning new forms of moving and engaging with the world and the design materials. ...
... Across these studies, we see how soma designers themselves transform through the process of learning new forms of moving and engaging with the world and the design materials. And a growing number of soma designs [30,46,50,64] have started to engage with potential users outside the design team, providing one-time or shorter term encounters that provide the seed of evidence for the transformative potential of soma design. For example, in a once-off encounter the Drone Chi [46] sets its user in a meditative state when they are moving together in Tai Chi inspired patterns. ...
... Our work takes this definition as a point of departure, and explores the torso as an "unconventional" computing interface that provides information through the control of Kelsey's air pressure system, as it changes shape, topography, dimension and hardness when she breathes and engages with certain muscular regions. Our research process and resulting interface also builds on previous work in NIME that has used somaesthetics and soma design methods to open up the space of developing musical interfaces [36]. ...
... The most common soma design tactics include becoming attentive to one's soma through engaging in bodily practices thoughtfully and deliberately, and using estrangement methods [42] for defamiliarising already familiar experiences as a path to providing a more nuanced and rich perception of bodily experiences. Martinez-Avila et al. [36] were the first to turn to soma design methods as a potential route to realising more body-centred and aesthetic musical instruments and interfaces. With their concept of breathing guitars, arising through their engagement with soma design for NIMEs, they suggest that there is great potential for further applying the soma design approach within the NIME community. ...
... This NIME is grounded in the performer's experience of, and relationship to their bodily changes in performance. Thus, our work extends the work by Martinez-Avila et al [36], offering a concrete example of using soma design for NIMEs, accompanied by reflections on the expanded experience of the Kelsey's work with her interface. ...
... Following on from the workshop, the two studios kept in contact. More than a year of regular discussions, including further development of some of the prototypes and a follow on workshop on the guitar, reported on in [2] allowed us to deeply unpack our experiences collaboratively and at length. The discussion led us to synthesise a number of dimensions we wished to explore further. ...
... This resulted in the guitarists of the group having to illuminate the design space for guitars, whilst the non-guitarists led the somatic explorations with the instrument, such as facilitating the estrangement with the artefact. In other words, the guitar was made strange to the guitarists when its materiality was intervened by changing the expected ecology of the practice, specifcally by making the strap stretchy and the pedal board wobbly as seen in fgure 7 and reported in [2]. While it may be reasonably easy to make experts feel like novices through defamiliarisation, the task of turning the strange familiar is more challenging. ...
... A way we have explored this is with a 'shared guitar' where two people, one expert and one novice, work together to play a single guitar [2]. The expert guitarist fngers the chords on the guitar, allowing the novice guitarist to strum the strings. ...
... rception, performance, and presentation. One recent example is how Tsaknaki et. al. (2019) used the act of breathing to connect with other bodies in a design project. Other examples include addressing feminist design qualities (Höök et. al. 2021), as a resource when designing for bodily awareness (Ståhl et. al. 2021), and novel musical instruments (Avila et. al. 2020). One aspect of lesser focus in SOMA Design is the experiences inherent in the crafting involved in any practice, which might also result in the estrangement of other bodies and materials. ...
... The centrality of body experience advocated in soma design has recently impacted many domains, including the design of interactive music systems. For instance, Avila and colleagues used soma design principles to perform a series of workshops to explore the relation between the body and the guitar in guitarists [209]. Additionally, in an installation by Bomba and Dahlstedt, where the participants' bodies are transformed into an instrument, was entitled Somacoustics, to refer to somatic experiences explicitly [33]. ...
This thesis’s primary goal is to investigate performance ecologies, that is the compound of humans, artifacts and environmental elements that contribute to the result of a performance. In particular, this thesis focuses on designing new interactive technologies for sound and music. The goal of this thesis leads to the following Research Questions (RQs): • RQ1 How can the design of interactive sonic artifacts support a joint expression across different actors (composers, choreographers, and performers, musicians, and dancers) in a given performance ecology? • RQ2 How does each different actor influence the design of different artifacts, and what impact does this have on the overall artwork? • RQ3 How do the different actors in the same ecology interact, and appropriate an interactive artifact? To reply to these questions, a new framework named ARCAA has been created. In this framework, all the Actors of a given ecology are connected to all the Artifacts throughout three layers: Role, Context and Activity. This framework is then applied to one systematic literature review, two case studies on music performance and one case study in dance performance. The studies help to better understand the shaded roles of composers, performers, instrumentalists, dancers, and choreographers, which is relevant to better design interactive technologies for performances. Finally, this thesis proposes a new reflection on the blurred distinction between composing and designing a new instrument in a context that involves a multitude of actors. Overall, this work introduces the following contributions to the field of interaction design applied to music technology: 1) ARCAA, a framework to analyse the set of interconnected relationship in interactive (music) performances, validated through 2 music studies, 1 dance study and 1 systematic literature analysis; 2) Recommendations for designing music interactive system for performance (music or dance), accounting for the needs of the various actors and for the overlapping on music composition and design of interactive technology; 3) A taxonomy of how scores have shaped performance ecologies in NIME, based on a systematic analysis of the literature on score in the NIME proceedings; 4) Proposal of a methodological approach combining autobiographical and idiographical design approaches in interactive performances.
... This network may sustain itself through multiple channels such as a NIME subdomain 2 , a mailing list, a forum, and social media platforms, such as Discord or Telegram, among others. These channels may facilitate the sharing of calls for funding and participation, open positions, and news or updates related to the community, as well as providing visibility to the works of its members, in areas such as DMI design [5,6,7,8,9,10,11], accessible DMIs [12,13], bodily interactions [14,15] and Somaesthetics [16,17], through blog posts, interviews, and a directory (as in the WONOMUTE blog 3 ). Another consideration to be discussed is how can we make this community more inclusive to people outside of NIME who may be interested in understanding, researching, learning, teaching, designing, developing and performing with DMIs and/or music technology in a broader sense. ...
Conference Paper
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In this workshop, we propose the first steps towards consolidating a Latin American (LATAM) New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) Research Community. We aim to start a discussion and generate ideas around shortterm actionable initiatives that a LATAM NIME Research Community could explore in the near future. We will discuss various topics centered around three main areas: (1) The creation of a LATAM NIME network, (2) Exploring LATAM NIME perspectives, and (3) the Next Steps for LATAM NIME. After this activity, we will have a plenary discussion where we will share ideas for action and reflections. Lastly, we list a series of expected outcomes of the workshop, although we acknowledge that many others may emerge during the workshop. We look forward to taking the first steps towards a LATAM NIME Community and the future of this community within and beyond NIME, opening to other communities in LATAM, and stirring policy changes to support the development of our local communities.
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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.
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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.
Conference Paper
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The Soma Bits are a prototyping toolkit that facilitates Soma Design. Acting as an accessible 'sociodigital material' Soma Bits allow designers to pair digital technologies, with their whole body and senses, as part of an iterative soma design process. The Soma Bits addresses the difficulty we experienced in past Soma Design processes-that articulating of sensations we want to evoke to others, and then maintaining these experiences in memory throughout a design process. Thus, the Soma Bits enable designers to know and experience what a design might 'feel like' and to share that with others. The Soma Bits relate to three experiential qualities: 'feeling connected', 'feeling embraced', and 'being in correspondence' with the interactive materials. The Soma Bits have a form factor and materiality that allow actuators (heat, vibration, and shape-changing) to be placed on and around the body; they are easily configurable to enable quick and controllable creations of soma experiences which can be both part of a first-person approach as well as shared with others. The Soma Bits are a living, growing library of shapes and actuators. We use them in our own design practices, as well as when engaging others in soma design processes.
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This paper introduces the Magpick, an augmented pick for electric guitar that uses electromagnetic induction to sense the motion of the pick with respect to the permanent magnets in the guitar pickup. The Magpick provides the guitarist with nuanced control of the sound that coexists with traditional plucking-hand technique. The paper presents three ways that the signal from the pick can modulate the guitar sound, followed by a case study of its use in which 11 guitarists tested the Magpick for five days and composed a piece with it. Reflecting on their comments and experiences , we outline the innovative features of this technology from the point of view of performance practice. In particular , compared to other augmentations, the high temporal resolution, low latency, and large dynamic range of the Magpick support a highly nuanced control over the sound. Our discussion highlights the utility of having the locus of augmentation coincide with the locus of interaction.
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Embodied design ideation practices work with relationships between body, material and context to enliven design and research potential. Methods are often idiosyncratic and due to their physical nature not easily transferred. This presents challenges for designers wishing to develop and share techniques or contribute to research. We present a framework that enables designers to understand, describe and contextualise their embodied design ideation practices in ways that can be understood by peers, as well as those new to embodied ideation. Our framework developed over two conference workshops provides a frame for discussion of embodied design actions that leverage the power of estrangement. We apply our framework to eight embodied design ideation methods. Our contribution is thus twofold: (1) a framework to understand and leverage the power of estrangement in embodied design ideation, and (2) an inspirational catalogue demonstrating the diversity of ideas that embodied design ideation methods can foster.
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Computing has become an established part of the built environment augmenting it to become adaptive. We generally assume that we control the adaptive environments we inhabit. Using an existing adaptive environment prototype, we conducted a controlled study testing how the reversal of control (where the environment attempts to influence the behaviour of the inhabitant) would affect participants. Most participants changed their respiratory behaviour in accordance with this environmental manipulation. Behavioural change occurred either consciously or unconsciously. We explain the two different paths leading participants to behavioural change: (1) We adapt the model of interbodily resonance, a process of bodily interaction observable between, for example, partners engaged in verbal dialogue, to describe the unconscious bodily response to subtle changes in the environment. (2) And we apply the model of secondary control, an adjustment of one’s own expectations to maintain the pretence of control, to describe conscious cognitive adaptation to the changing environment. We also discuss potential applications of our findings in therapeutic and other settings.
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Hyper-instruments extend traditional acoustic instruments with sensing technologies that capture digitally subtle and sophisticated aspects of human performance. They leverage the long training and skills of performers while simultaneously providing rich possibilities for digital control. Many existing hyper-instruments suffer from being one of a kind instruments that require invasive modifications to the underlying acoustic instrument. In this paper we focus on the pitched percussion family and describe a non-invasive sensing approach for extending them to hyper-instruments. Our primary concern is to retain the technical integrity of the acoustic instrument and sound production methods while being able to intuitively interface the computer. This is accomplished by utilizing the Kinect sensor to track the position of the mallets without any modification to the instrument which enables easy and cheap replication of the proposed hyper-instrument extensions. In addition we describe two approaches to higher-level gesture control that remove the need for additional control devices such as foot pedals and fader boxes that are frequently used in electro-acoustic performance. This gesture control integrates more organically with the natural flow of playing the instrument providing user selectable control over filter parameters, synthesis, sampling, sequencing, and improvisation using a commercially available low-cost sensing apparatus.
Conference Paper
The Leap Motion™ sensor offers fine-grained gesture-recognition and hand tracking. Since its release, there have been several uses of the device for instrument design, musical interaction and expression control, documented through online video. However, there has been little formal documented investigation of the potential and challenges of the platform in this context. This paper presents lessons learned from work-in-progress on the development of musical instruments and control applications using the Leap Motion™ sensor. Two instruments are presented: Air-Keys and Air-Pads and the potential for augmentation of a traditional keyboard is explored. The results show that the platform is promising in this context but requires various challenges, both physical and logical, to be overcome.
Interaction design that entails a qualitative shift from a symbolic, language-oriented stance to an experiential stance that encompasses the entire design and use cycle. With the rise of ubiquitous technology, data-driven design, and the Internet of Things, our interactions and interfaces with technology are about to change dramatically, incorporating such emerging technologies as shape-changing interfaces, wearables, and movement-tracking apps. A successful interactive tool will allow the user to engage in a smooth, embodied, interaction, creating an intimate correspondence between users' actions and system response. And yet, as Kristina Höök points out, current design methods emphasize symbolic, language-oriented, and predominantly visual interactions. In Designing with the Body, Höök proposes a qualitative shift in interaction design to an experiential, felt, aesthetic stance that encompasses the entire design and use cycle. Höök calls this new approach soma design; it is a process that reincorporates body and movement into a design regime that has long privileged language and logic. Soma design offers an alternative to the aggressive, rapid design processes that dominate commercial interaction design; it allows (and requires) a slow, thoughtful process that takes into account fundamental human values. She argues that this new approach will yield better products and create healthier, more sustainable companies. Höök outlines the theory underlying soma design and describes motivations, methods, and tools. She offers examples of soma design “encounters” and an account of her own design process. She concludes with “A Soma Design Manifesto,” which challenges interaction designers to “restart” their field—to focus on bodies and perception rather than reasoning and intellect.