Reading Response #5

to Artful Design • Chapter 5: “Interface Design” & Interlude: “Dialogue with a Zen Master”

Nicholas Shaheed

October 30, 2022

Music 256A / CS476a, Stanford University

For this week’s reading response, I will be discussing page 242 from chapter five of  Artful Design. I’m particularly interested in the conceptualization of input number to output number as an important consideration in the construction of computer-leveraged instruments.  Particularly, I think the few-to-many direction of mapping parameters is an underutilized way of thinking about how to control a complex synthesis system - or any other digital instrument with an unwieldy amount of parameters. Perry Cook describes how this plays out in practice with his SqueezeVox: Lisa:

‘The squeeze input is a few-to-many mapping: the four bend sensor inputs are mapped to predefined weighings of many sonic parameters.

It’s highly nonlinear but, interestingly, highly playable – not as in you can play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ on it, but expressable. While you get mostly unexpected output, the mapping is stable and allows you to learn it over time.’

I think this is a really interesting approach to systems that meet a couple criteria: they have enough parameters to make a rich, but unwieldy and large parameter space and aren’t trying to mimic a style of playing that lines up with traditional acoustic instruments (i.e. being able to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ is not a desired/sensicle outcome of this system). The emphasis on expressibility and learnability makes a lot of sense here, while systems that I’m imagining where this would apply are capable of a large swathes of sounds it becomes very easy to just get lost tweaking parameters. Approaching instrument design for these systems as a few-to-many mapping shifts the focus from (a probably offline) dial tweaking process to a performable instrument. This seems great! Things will be much easier to grok and the performability seems like it would yield a tighter feedback loop that lets you try more ideas more quickly. This goes back to the “tightly coupled interaction loop” described on page 237. I think this a helpful framework that I’ll be applying to my stuff in the future.