Survey of Physical Interfaces for Music

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How to Categorize/Analyze Existing Controllers?


  • Toy vs. Instrument
    • Perry Cook -- Fillup Glass
    • Gary Scavone -- Phoney Controller
    • Joe Paradiso -- Musical Trinkets
    • Michael Gurevich & Stephan von Muehlen -- Accordiatron
  • Sonification vs. Deliberate Control
    • Rego Sen, Wai Kit Leung, Ariege Misherghi -- Foosball Live (133M)
    • Peter Solderitsch, Becky Currano, Unnur Grettarsdottir -- Musical TM (25M)
  • Pre-programmed vs. Performed
    • Brian Rulifson et al. -- GPS Sonification (18M)
    • Curtis Bahn & Tomie Hahn -- Pikapika
  • Gesture vs. Mode Change
    • Pascal Stang, John McCarty, Jeff Bernstein -- Muggling (15M)
    • Yamaha -- Miburi (18M)
    • David Lowenfels -- Grid Drum (22M)
  • Cartoon Sounds vs. Musical Sounds
    • Rego Sen -- Jack in the Box (58M)
    • Yamaha -- Tenori-on
  • Individual vs. Group
    • Sid Fels -- Tooka
    • Jorda -- reacTable*
    • David Merrill, Tim Hankins, Jocelyn Robert -- COOL (120M)
    • Rodrigo Segnini, Hiroko Terasawa, Vivian Woo -- Sound Kitchen (42M)

Dimension Space Analysis

  • Arbitrary number of axes, not necessarily orthogonal
  • Axes may be continuous, discrete & ordered, or eccentric & unordered
  • Arrange axes in radial symmetry, each analysis creates a unique 2-D shape
Like the Interaction Design Framework, forces you to consider all aspects

Rasmussen's Human-Machine Interaction

  • Skill-based
    • "Real-time continuous response to a continuous signal."
    • Controlling a signal
    • High control rate
    • E.g. Instrumental performance
    • David Birnbaum's Rulers
  • Rule-based
    • "Selection and execution of stored procedures in response to cues extracted from the system"
    • Controlling a process
    • E.g. a Sequencer, like Grid Drum (above)
  • Knowledge/Model-based
    • "directed toward a conceptual goal. Active reasoning must be used before an appropriate action (rule- or skill-based) is taken."
    • Not characterized by literal presentation, but concept behind it.
    • Active interpretation by performer.
    • E.g. Live coding -- ChucK
  • Mark Hauenstein's Audio Shaker

Blaine & Fels' Contexts of Collaborative Musical Experiences

  • Balancing complexity and expressivity
    • But can't something be complex and expressive, if the performer is skilled??
  • Focus
    • Player to Player
    • Players to Audience
  • Location
    • Local vs. Remote
  • Media
    • Audio/Visual/Mixed
    • A/V causality
  • Scalability
  • Player Interaction
    • Specific roles
    • N copies
    • Jamming
    • Interdependency
  • Musical Range
    • Constraint
  • Physical Interface
  • Directed Interaction
    • Leader-follower
    • Turn-taking
    • Call-and-response
    • Expert leader
  • Pathway to Expert Performance
    • Compromised when ease of learning is achieved by constraining musical material
  • Level of Physicality


  • Scenario
    • Who, where, when?
    • Performance? installation? toy?
    • Local/Remote
  • Skill
    • Expert? anyone?
    • Threshold -- entry fee
    • Ceiling -- ability to develop virtuosity
    • Assumed prior knowledge/ability
  • Style
    • Ceiling
    • Walls -- range of actions, results
    • Paths from A-> B, is variation in gesture predictably reflected in sound
      • Controllability, mapping
    • Virtuosity, expression
  • Scale
    • Dynamic range
    • Range of sounds
    • Range of gestures
    • Degrees of freedom

Reference Papers

1. M. Gurevich, B. Verplank and S. Wilson (2003). Physical Interaction Design for Music. Proceedings of the 2003 International Computer Music Conference, Singapore.

2. T. Blaine and S. Fels (2003). Contexts of Collaborative Musical Experiences. Proceedings of the 2003 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-03), Montreal, Canada.

3. J. Malloch, D. Birnbaum, E. Sinyor and M. Wanderley (2006). Examining Design Goals of Digital Musical Instruments. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects (DAFx-06), Montreal, Canada. 4. D. Birnbaum, R. Fiebrink, J. Malloch and M. M. Wanderley (2005). Towards a Dimension Space for Musical Devices. Proceedings of the 2005 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-05), Vancouver, BC, Canada.

5. P. Cook (2001). Principles for Designing Computer Music Controllers. CHI '01 Workshop on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-01). Seattle, USA.

6. C. Poepel (2005). On Interface Expressivity. Proceedings of the 2005 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-05), Vancouver, BC, Canada.

7. D. Wessel and M. Wright (2001). Problems and Prospects for Intimate Musical Control of Computers. CHI '01 Workshop on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-01). Seattle, USA.

8. S. Jorda (2001). New Musical Interfaces and New Music-making Paradigms.CHI '01 Workshop on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-01). Seattle, USA.

9. M. Resnick and B. Silverman (2005). Some Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids. Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children conference, Boulder, CO.