New Interfaces ≠ Musical Expression?
Over the last two decades, the NIME community has seen an explosion of innovative and inspired discourse around the development of new musical interfaces.
In reviewing the literature, I find it useful to ask myself how musical expression is situated in the discourse and in what ways the development of new interfaces supports both exploration of existing musical approaches whilst inspiring new approaches and musical practice.
In older instrumental music traditions a range of constraints produce an idiomatic language for each instrument and genre. Established techniques and modes of expression have led to a shared pedagogy, a common literature, a collective understanding and base for the extension and evolution of technique. These foundations appear to foster a rich practice with community- wide sharing and promulgation of the instruments’ oeuvre and pedagogy.
What can we learn from the way in which acoustic instrument constraints act as a catalyst for broad community uptake of instruments and their perseverance as tools for musical expression? Furthermore, how can we apply these lessons in a NIME context where one-off experimental interfaces are often a unique and short-lived expression of individualism rather than designed for broad community uptake? How can we apply these lessons to commercially focused interfaces which are often marketed as being playable in many different postures; standing, using a strap, placing the interface on a table, and as trigger interface or nuanced continuous controller? These marketing approaches appear to be more driven from an industrial consciousness that seeks a chameleon, a machinic assemblage, defined by context rather than a tool for musical expression. Certainly, attention to the NIME proceedings as an archive of research in the area may assist the establishment of a common base for understanding and a comparative framework for the evolution of our shared work.
This talk will address these questions by seeking out the ‘musical’ in the interface. I ask where the relationship between control and musical output becomes embodied and how we can develop mappings and musical algorithms that produce an intimate and tight morphological relationship between the input actions and the musical outcome, across a wide range of musical genres.
I will discuss some of my own studies that focus on the parametric space associated with acoustic musical instrument performance and extrapolate some pointers towards a design paradigm driven from an embodied, somatic analysis of interface engagement.