RUDIMENTS: Reflective Understanding of Digital Instruments as Musical Entanglements

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Design Engineering (Dyson School)


Many new digital musical instruments (DMIs) are created every year, each of which encodes cultural values both obvious and subtle, reflecting the aesthetic priorities of its designer, its constituent technologies, and those technologies' domains of origin. Recent developments in high-performance, low-cost embedded computing promise new frontiers in machine intelligence to be integrated into instruments. The musical opportunities are vast, but so are the risks: who will set the agenda for deploying this technology, and whose interests and aesthetics will be represented? RUDIMENTS takes a value-sensitive approach to DMI design, using embedded computing (miniaturised computers integrated into physical objects) to support rich sensory experience rather than analytical symbolic intelligence. This interdisciplinary project seeks to reconcile technical and ecological perspectives of DMI research, the former focused on engineering techniques or performer-instrument interaction, the latter on the interplay of environmental factors which shape musical creation. The technical perspective can prioritise analytical concepts over the inexpressibility of human experience, while the ecological perspective offers few practical suggestions for technologists. RUDIMENTS revisits the foundational assumptions of DMI research, stripping away layers of historical technical shortcuts and music theory to return to the fundamentals -- the rudiments -- of musical phenomena. The project proposes that instruments should not be viewed as self-contained technological objects at all, but as entanglements: complex and irreducible webs of relationships between humans and things. Musical entanglement design will provide a far-reaching new technical-artistic basis on which to explore the transformational potential of embedded computing and artificial intelligence, building instruments bottom-up from pre-reflective sensory experience and considering the cultural implications of every design decision.


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