Designing Interfaces for Musical Experience

   Bonnie John Tina Blaine, Entertainment Technology Center, Carnegie-Mellon University

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 16, 2007

As designers, we seek to create meaningful experiences, regardless of the media delivery platform. Enabling technologies coupled with the widespread availability of computers and low-cost sensors has led to the development of a surprising array of new interfaces related to sound and music. Recent years have also brought a proliferation of inexpensive controller devices that enhance player interaction with musical video games, mobile devices and other interactive entertainment play experiences. With various design constraints, playing music can be made accessible to non-musicians in ways that give players a sense of belonging and access to a new community.

This new frontier of musical interface design has embraced the act of participation and changed the role of music in the design process toward metrics that involve the player experience. Particularly when developing for mobile devices, casual games and public exhibitions intended for “walk-up and play” interactions, the designer must account for the limited amount of time that someone can spend learning an interface. This also poses a challenge to create readily accessible musical experiences that can sustain continued exploration. This talk will give an overview of several interfaces developed to foster musical expression, with a focus on performance, public installation and videogames.


Tina Blaine (aka Bean) teaches in Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, developing collective experiences that integrate game design, sonic discovery and interactive media. As a musical interactivist at Interval Research, she led a development team in the creation of a collaborative audiovisual instrument known as the Jam-O-Drum, now on permanent exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Her subsequent research and project teamwork with ETC students has been featured at SIGGRAPH's Emerging Technologies, Zeum's Youth Art and Technology Center in San Francisco, Give Kids the World Resort in Orlando, FL and Ars Electronica's Museum of the Future in Linz, Austria. Inspired by global traditions and spontaneous music-making, Blaine has explored musical interaction since the mid-80's building electronic MIDI controller instruments and large-scale audience participation devices for live performance with the multimedia ensemble D’CuCKOO. Blaine has written for numerous publications including Electronic Musician, Computer Life and the Journal for New Music Research, and is co-founder of the New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) conference. In September 2005, she was honored for her inspiring and innovative work in the sciences by the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh PA.

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