Music 250a

Physical Interaction Design for Music

Romain Michon and Doga Cavdir (TA)

Course Website:


Lecture 1

New Interfaces for Musical Expression

Jaron Lanier: "Musical instruments have the best interface"

The hurdy-gurdy: bleeding-edge technology from the renaissance

Soprano Saxophone

Grand Piano

Elliot playing a weird accordion/cello found at the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments at U. Mich.

The Onde Martenot

With acoustic instruments, form and function are deeply bounded: systems used for sound production limit and influence the interface of the instrument

Tiffany Ng playing the Charles Baird Carillon at U. Mich.

Organs: towards separating the interface from the sound production mechanisms

"From a human computer interaction standpoint, DMIs are instruments that include a separate gestural interface (or gestural controller unit) from a sound generation unit."

(Marc Battier, 1981)

Concept of musical controller

Analog synths and Voltage Control (VC): here Moog System 35

Moog 1130: VC drum

Max Mathews playing his radio-baton in his lab at CCRMA

Yamaha GS1 (1975): First "commercial" digital synth

Yamaha DX7 (1983): First "general public" digital synthesizer

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) -- 1983

Akai's Ewi: Wind instrument controller

Roland MIDI Drumkit

Korg Wavedrum: Combining Acoustical and Digital Elements

Roli Seaboard

The LinnStrument

Expressive Touché


Academia: New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME)

  • Infinite number of possibilities (not limited by the market)
  • Drawback is that it's VERY easy to miss the point
  • Technical complexity doesn't mean quality
  • In fact, never forget that it's up to the performer to make an instrument sound good: musical instruments are just a mean, not an end

The radio-baton (or radio-drum)

The "junkyard/recycling" approach (form of "top to bottom" approach)

Ken Butler and his golf club at the 2016 Guthman musical instrument competition

John Granzow's Javalele

Technological, Engineering, & Research Approach

Davide Wessel and his SLABS

Dan Trueman and his bossa

Charles Nichols' vBow

HyVibe/IRCAM's augmented acoustic guitar

The "BladeAxe"

Rebecca Fiebrink's work around machine learning for musical interfaces

New musical instruments can also be "installations"

Wintergatan's Marble Machine

Koka Nikoladze's Beat Machine

More ambitious project: fire organ

What from here?

  • Learn how to synthesize sound on a computer: we'll use the Faust programming language for that.
  • Control sound synthesis in Faust using sensors: learn basic electronics and work with microcontrollers (Teensy in our case)
  • Prototype instruments and interfaces
  • Learn CAD modeling (SolidWorks) to prototype more advanced instruments and use digital fabrication to make the "final product"
  • Design your own instrument/interface/installation and showcase it!