- FMOL:Toward User-Friendly, Sophisticated New Musical Instruments
The design of new instruments and controllers for performing live computer music is an exciting field of research that can lead to truly new music-making paradigms. The ever-increasing availability of sensing technologies that enable virtually any kind of physical gesture to be detected and tracked has indeed sprouted a wealth of experimental instruments and controllers with which to explore new creative possibilities. However, the design of these new controllers is often approached from an essentially technical point of view in which the novelty of the sensing technologies deployed overshadows the attainable musical results. Although new instruments are not constrained to the physical restrictions of traditional ones, an integrated approach in which the instrument is designed as a whole and not as a combination of arbitrary input and output devices can lead to the creation of more rewarding and more musical instruments.
This article describes an attempt at an integrated conception, called F@ust Music On-Line (FMOL), which is a simple mouse-controlled instrument that has been used on the Internet by hundreds of musicians during the past four years. FMOL has been created with the complementary goals of introducing the practice of experimental electronic music to newcomers while trying to remain attractive to more advanced electronic musicians. It has been used by musicians of diverse skills for the collective composition of the music of two important shows, including one opera of the Catalan theatre group La Fura dels Baus. It is also being played in live concerts.
New Musical Instruments and New Music-Making Paradigms
The conception and design of new musical interfaces is a burgeoning multidisciplinary area where technological knowledge (sensor technology, sound synthesis and processing techniques, computer programming, etc.), artistic creation, and a deep understanding of musicians' culture must converge to create new interactive music-making paradigms. If new musical interfaces can be partially responsible for shaping future music, these new musical paradigms should not be left to improvisation. We are not asserting that the design of new instruments must follow any given tradition, but when trying to define new models, we cannot ignore existing ones. A wide knowledge of these, together with the personal beliefs and intuitions of each designer, should provide orientation about what could be changed and what could be kept in incoming designs.
Prior knowledge may originate from different fields or practices, but we could roughly consider that new instruments designers have three major backgrounds to deal with: the first is a millennial one, as old and rich as the history of music-making, while the two others are less than one half-century-old. We are talking about computer music and the realm of human-computer interaction (HCI). What we are suggesting is that new musical controllers must obviously include new capabilities that have been unavailable and even unimaginable in traditional mechanical instruments. However, they should also try to recover essential components from the acoustic legacy that have been left out during the recent decades of computer music owing to the former technical limitations in digital technologies. Moreover, they could benefit as well from all the existing corpus of knowledge and research in non-musical areas of HCI (Wanderley 2001; see also www.csl.sony.co.jp/~poup/research/chi2000wshp/papers/orio.pdf). [End Page 23]
Musical Interfaces Are Not Musical Instruments
Musical instruments transform the actions of one or more performers into sound. An acoustic instrument consists of an excitation source under the control of the performer(s) and a resonating system that couples the vibrations of the excitation to the surrounding atmosphere. This affects, in turn, the precise patterns of vibration. In most acoustic instruments (apart from organs and other keyboard instruments) the separation between the input and the excitation subsystems is unclear. Digital musical instruments, on the other hand, can always be divided into a gestural controller or input device that takes control information from the performer( s) and a sound generator that plays the role of the excitation source. Digital instruments may also include a virtual resonating system, but real resonators are usually missing and substituted by a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that feeds an...