Mapping, Causality and the Perception of Instrumentality: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches to the Audience’s Experience of Digital Musical Instruments

Gina Emerson, Hauke Egermann

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Digital musical instruments (DMIs) rarely feature a clear, causal rela- tionship between the performer’s actions and the sounds produced. Instead, they often function simply as controllers, triggering sounds that are or have been syn- thesised elsewhere; they are not necessarily sources of sound in themselves (Miranda and Wanderley 2006). Consequently, the performer’s physical interaction with the device frequently does not appear to correlate directly with the sonic output, thus making it difficult for spectators to discern how gestures and actions are translated into sounds. This relationship between input and output is determined by the mapping, the term for the process of establishing relationships of cause and effect between the control and sound generation elements of the instrument (Hunt et al. 2003). While there has been much consideration of the creative and expressive potential of mapping from the perspective of the performer and/or instrument designer, there has been little focus on the experience of those receiving DMIs. How do spectators respond to the perceptual challenge DMIs present them? What influence do mapping and other aspects of instrument design (e.g. the type of controller used and the sound design) have on the success of an instrument when considered from the spectator’s point of view? And to what extent can (and should) this area of artistic exploration be made more accessible to audiences? This article aims to consider these questions through providing a critical review of the existing theoretical and empirical work on DMI reception.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMusical Instruments in the 21st Century
EditorsTill Bovermann, Alberto de Campo, Hauke Egermann, Sarah-Indriyati Hardjowirogo, Stefan Weinzierl
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)978-981-10-2950-9
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2016

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