Democratising DMIs: the relationship of expertise and control intimacy

Jack, Robert H and Harrison, Jacob and Morreale, Fabio and McPherson, Andrew P.

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

An oft-cited aspiration of digital musical instrument (DMI) design is to create instruments, in the words of Wessel and Wright, with a ‘low entry fee and no ceiling on virtuosity’. This is a difficult task to achieve: many new instruments are aimed at either the expert or amateur musician, with few instruments catering for both. There is often a balance between learning curve and the nuance of musical control in DMIs. In this paper we present a study conducted with non-musicians and guitarists playing guitar-derivative DMIs with variable levels of control intimacy: how the richness and nuance of a performer’s movement translates into the musical output of an instrument. Findings suggest a significant difference in preference for levels of control intimacy between the guitarists and the non-musicians. In particular, the guitarists unanimously preferred the richest of the two settings whereas the non-musicians generally preferred the setting with lower richness. This difference is notable because it is often taken as a given that increasing richness is a way to make instruments more enjoyable to play, however, this result only seems to be true for expert players.