Connecting Free Improvisation Performance and Drumming Gestures through Digital Wearables

Amandine Pras, Mailis Rodrigues, Victoria Grupp, Marcelo Wanderley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


High-level improvising musicians master idiosyncratic gesture vocabularies that allow them to express themselves in unique ways. The full use of such vocabularies is nevertheless challenged when improvisers incorporate electronics in their performances. To control electronic sounds and effects, they typically use commercial interfaces whose physicality is likely to limit their freedom of movement. Based on Jim Black's descriptions of his ideal digital musical instrument, embodied improvisation gestures, and stage performance constraints, we develop the concept of a modular wearable MIDI interface to closely meet the needs of professional improvisers, rather than proposing a new generic instrument that would require substantial practice to adapt improvisational techniques already acquired. Our research draws upon different bodies of knowledge, from theoretical principles on collaboration and embodiment to wearable interface design, in order to create a digital vest called Track It, Zip It (TIZI) that features two innovative on-body sensors. Allowing for sound control, these sensors are seamlessly integrated with Black's improvisational gesture vocabulary. We then detail the design process of three TIZI prototypes structured by the outcomes of a performance test with Black, a public performance by a novice improviser during the 2017 International Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, and measurements of sensor responses. After commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of the final TIZI prototype, we discuss how our interdisciplinary and collective process involving a world-class improviser at the very center of the design process can provide recommendations to designers who wish to create interfaces better adapted to high-level performers. Finally, we present our goals for the future creation of a wireless version of the vest for a female body based on Diana Policarpo's artistic vision.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
VolumeConnecting Music and Body Movement: Choreographic Approach of Performance
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 Pras, Rodrigues, Grupp and Wanderley.

Cite this