The ’E’ in QWERTY: Musical Expression with Old Computer Interfaces

Nash, Chris

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

This paper presents a development of the ubiquitous computer keyboard to capture velocity and other continuous musical properties, in order to support more expressive interaction with music software. Building on existing ‘virtual piano’ utilities, the device is designed to provide a richer mechanism for note entry within predominantly non-realtime editing tasks, in applications where keyboard interaction is a central component of the user experience (score editors, sequencers, DAWs, trackers, live coding), and in which users draw on virtuosities in both music and computing. In the keyboard, additional hardware combines existing scan code (key press) data with accelerometer readings to create a secondary USB device, using the same cable but visible to software as a separate USB MIDI device aside existing USB HID functionality. This paper presents and evaluates an initial prototype, developed using an Arduino board and inexpensive sensors, and discusses design considerations and test findings in musical applications, drawing on user studies of keyboard-mediated music interaction. Without challenging more established (and expensive) performance devices; significant benefits are demonstrated in notation-mediated interaction, where the user’s focus rests with software.