Body as instrument : an exploration of gestural interface design

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The research supporting materials can be viewed on the author's website -----Gestural interfaces broaden musicians’ scope for physical expression and offer possibilities for creating more engaging and dynamic performances with digital technology. Increasing affordability and accessibility of motion-based sensing hardware has prompted a recent rise in the use of gestural interfaces and multimodal interfaces for musical performance. Despite this, few performers adopt these systems as their main instrument. The lack of widespread adoption outside academic and research contexts raises questions about the relevance and viability of existing systems. This research identifies and addresses key challenges that musicians face when navigating technological developments in the field of gestural performance. Through a series of performances utilising a customised gestural system and an expert user case study, I have combined autoethnographic insights as a performer/designer with feedback from professional musicians to gain a deeper understanding of how musicians engage with gestural interfaces. Interviews and video recordings have been analysed within a phenomenological framework, resulting in a set of design criteria and strategies informed by creative practitioner perspectives. This thesis argues that developing the sensorimotor skills of musicians is integral to enhancing the potential of current gestural systems. Refined proprioceptive skills and kinaesthetic awareness are particularly important when controlling non-tactile gestural interfaces, which lack the haptic feedback afforded by traditional acoustic instruments. However, approaches in the field of gestural system design for music tend to favour technical and functional imperatives over the development of the kinaesthetic sense. Building on a growing body of gestural interface design and human–computer interaction (HCI) literature, this research offers practice-based insights that acknowledge the changing face of musicianship in response to interaction with gestural sensing technologies. To encourage enhanced physical aptitude and more nuanced movement control amongst musicians, I have applied embodied interaction design and dance-based perspectives to musical contexts, developing a multimodal environment that provides a range of design strategies for musicians to explore relationships between sound and movement while developing an awareness of their own movement potential.
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