This is not a piano
The motivation to design and build a `new' musical instrument comes on the one
hand from a dissatisfaction with
existing instruments, and on the other from a desire to examine new ways of
making music, or "organising sound".
I have designed other electronic and computer instruments,
including the (dis)continuous music installation (1979) - a miniature
gallery piece producing (and produced by) random bursts of noise.
Others include a "score reading software instrument" (called
ASP) designed to play analog
synthesisers, and also real-time interactive sound systems
used by the Australian performance artist Stelarc.
These instruments, unlike their traditional counterparts, were conceived as
composing or listening tools, and were
never designed for general use. The very personal nature of these
instruments has tended to obstruct most
forms of traditional musical performance - they were not designed to recreate
music of the past and could not be
used to do so. What is lost in backward compatibility is also gained by
bringing new possibilities for creation.
In one important sense music has always been an interactive art, depending upon
feedback between a performer
and instrument. Indeed, there is a relationship here which
is unique among the arts. Designing interactive instruments addresses a problem
of interactive art generally, namely that musical systems
are to be "played" and not simply "utilised". In other words, they
must be learned.
The instrument described here is an ongoing work in progress. It
can be described as a "manual
interface" consisting of switches as well as pressure, light and movement
sensors built onto a small circuit board, and
connected to a computer. In this way any real time performance on the switches
and sensors can be monitored by
the computer, and used to issue sound commands to a synthesiser.
Any instrument using an array of switches to generate sound will inevitably
invite comparisons with the piano and its
keyboard. Yet this instrument, with it's reduced set of only four keys is more
closely related to another keyboard,
namely that of the personal computer. Like the PC keyboard, its keys have
multiple functions depending on which of
the others are depressed at the same time (as for instance in the shift key
function on the PC). The design has
required a new approach to keyboard performance technique.
Other sensors on the instrument are used to monitor hand gesture and
control aspects of sound articulation.
As the instrument develops it
relies more heavily on aspects of the physical presence of the performer.
The sensor values created in performance are manipulated further by the
computer software, creating a complex
dialogue between the performer and instrument.