donovan@donovanpreddy.com

Strategic Design

reconnecting performer and audience

MUSICAL INTERFACE for TOUCH SCREENS (M.I.T.S.)

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Client

Personal Project

Title

Musical Interface for Touch Screens

Date

Spring 2010

Team

Solo Project (programming help from Ashley John Pigford!)

Tags

From the beginning, this project aimed to explore the possible ways in which touch screen technology could be applied to the live performance of electronic music. What I developed was essentially two things: a software interface for live musical performance and a touch screen console on which the above interface could be interacted with. Between these two pieces of my project, I was able to address, at least in prototypical form, the three observed issues I established in my research.

  • Issue 1: The linear sequencer. As with most musical forms, electronic music often uses rhythm patterns to establish the timing of the music. The instrument which is used most often to provide this structural backbone is known as a drum machine. Within the drum machine is a device known as a sequencer which is a series of 16 virtual slots into which sounds can be arranged to form a pattern. Sequencers can be found in hardware and software modules alike, and are almost exclusively limited to a linear format for the 16 positions. Time progresses from left to right until reaching the last position at which point it returns to its beginning. The repetition of this process is referred to as a loop and makes up an enormous part of electronic music. However this linear representation of time strays from the circular manners evident in nature such as planetary orbits which create years and the revolution of a planet on its own axis which create days and hours. Why can’t the loop follow the natural order and resemble its function more closely?
  • Issue 2: One instrument at a time. Within a single device, such as a drum machine or keyboard, the electronic musician is capable of arranging multiple patterns and sequences of sounds. For example, a single drum machine could be playing the pattern for a kick drum, snare, hi-hat and cowbell simultaneously. The problem, however, is that the device only has one sequencer interface of 16 spots so that the performer must toggle through each sound to see and edit its respective pattern. Imagine if the conductor of an orchestra could hear all the performing musicians, but only see one at a time!
  • Issue 3: Performer and audience connection. In addition to issues of interface, electronic music has also largely failed to find new ways to foster the interaction between performer and audience. Because many digital instruments exists on computers, performers are often hidden behind the monitors of their laptops where the audience is entirely cutoff from the physical acts of performing. To combat this modal barrier, electronic musicians have adopted the use of audiovisuals to reengage their audience. This can be seen in the performances of electronic bands such as The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers where the visuals are often no more than clips from music videos. While pleasing to look at, this eye candy rarely serves as a connective tissue between those perform the music and those who witness the performance. By hiding the action of performance, the actual abilities of the musician are put to question and the audience is denied the physical modality of the live performance.