Exploring the Motivations for Building New Digital Musical Instruments

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Over the past four decades, the number, diversity and complexity of digital musical instruments (DMIs) has increased rapidly. There are very few constraints on DMI design as such systems can be easily reconfigured, offering near limitless flexibility for music-making. Given that new acoustic musical instruments have in many cases been created in response to the limitations of available technologies, what motivates the development of new DMIs? We conducted an interview study with ten designers of new DMIs, in order to explore 1) the motivations electronic musicians may have for wanting to build their own instruments; and 2) the extent to which these motivations relate to the context in which the artist works and performs (academic vs. club settings). We found that four categories of motivation were mentioned most often: M1: wanting to bring greater embodiment to the activity of performing and producing electronic music; M2: wanting to improve audience experiences of DMI performances; M3: wanting to develop new sounds, and M4: wanting to build responsive systems for improvisation. There were also some detectable trends in motivation according to the context in which the artists work and perform. Our results offer the first systematically gathered insights into the motivations for new DMI design. It appears that the challenges of controlling digital sound synthesis drive the development of new DMIs, rather than the shortcomings of any one particular design or existing technology.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalMusicae scientiae
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2018

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