The Medium is the Message: Composing Instruments and Performing Mappings

Murray-Browne, Tim and Mainstone, Di and Bryan-Kinns, Nick and Plumbley, Mark D.

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

Many performers of novel musical instruments find it difficult to engage audiences beyond those in the field. Previousresearch points to a failure to balance complexity with usability, and a loss of transparency due to the detachmentof the controller and sound generator. The issue is oftenexacerbated by an audience’s lack of prior exposure to theinstrument and its workings.However, we argue that there is a conflict underlyingmany novel musical instruments in that they are intendedto be both a tool for creative expression and a creative workof art in themselves, resulting in incompatible requirements.By considering the instrument, the composition and theperformance together as a whole with careful considerationof the rate of learning demanded of the audience, we propose that a lack of transparency can become an asset ratherthan a hindrance. Our approach calls for not only controllerand sound generator to be designed in sympathy with eachother, but composition, performance and physical form too.Identifying three design principles, we illustrate this approach with the Serendiptichord, a wearable instrument fordancers created by the , , authors.