Akito van Troyer Dissertation Defense

Score Instruments: Interaction Design for Musical Wonderers

Music can be made anywhere, anytime, and with any objects. By considering any surrounding objects as potential musical tools, creative individuals have contributed for thousands of years by inventing and refining musical instruments. In recent years, musical instruments, especially digital ones, became accessible to the masses owing to the many advancements of technology. As a result, music-making became more convenient. However, the blackboxing practice of commercial digital musical instruments and software tools has tended to condition users to produce only certain styles of music. Furthermore, as many of these commercial instruments rely on loudspeakers, players lose the physical and tactile connection to sound and music. Consequently, players are inhibited from understanding the relationship between musicality and our everyday physical world and thus are cut off from exploring a wider range of musical possibilities.

Despite multiplication of music-making tools, music-making practices are still based on outdated principles. The production of music requires instruments to generate organized physical sound energies that follow the schema of a score. This dissertation studies a new class of digital music systems called Score Instruments that embed both instrument and score into a single unified interface. Score Instruments reopen the range of possibilities offered by everyday sounds and objects as musical tools and bring players into a personalized guided and open-ended use of the instrument. Players of Score Instruments are called Musical Wonderers as the instruments encourage them to focus on exploration rather than on the technically correct realization of music.

The techniques and criteria of Score Instruments are discussed to show how to engage Musical Wonderers in music-making. Two instances of Score Instruments are described to illustrate how the techniques and criteria translate into specific digital music systems. City Symphonies is a massive musical collaboration platform that encourages players to listen to their city and create music with environmental sounds. MM-RT (Material, Magnet - Rhythm and Timbre) is a tabletop tangible musical instrument that employs electromagnetic actuators and small permanent magnets to physically induce sounds with found objects. Both projects show how new musical environments can simultaneously stimulate open creativity, provide meaningful direction and constraints, and also direct users to learn underlying principles about music and about the physical world. The design investigations and the historical perspective of this dissertation offer a future of music-making practice that is based on exploration and is designed to broaden the definition and variety of music.

Professor Tod Machover, MIT

Professor Joseph Paradiso, MIT 

Professor Hiroshi Ishii, MIT 

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