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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N005112/1
Title: Design for Virtuosity: Modelling and Supporting Expertise in Digital Musical Interaction
Principal Investigator: McPherson, Dr A P
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
The One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust University of Surrey
Department: Sch of Electronic Eng & Computer Science
Organisation: Queen Mary University of London
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 January 2016 Ends: 31 August 2021 Value (£): 897,686
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Digital Signal Processing Human Communication in ICT
Music & Acoustic Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Creative Industries
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
09 Sep 2015 EPSRC ICT Fellowships Interview Panel - Sept 2015 Announced
15 Jul 2015 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel - Jul 2015 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Musical performers spend many years achieving proficiency on their instruments. Newly-created digital musical instruments (DMIs) face a significant barrier to adoption in that few performers are willing to repeat these years of training to develop expertise on an unknown instrument. Without expert players, evaluating the success of a DMI design is challenging, and establishing its place in a broader musical community is nearly impossible. As a result, while many digital instruments have been created over the past decade, few have achieved lasting impact beyond the first few performances.

This fellowship proposes a new approach to DMI design which repurposes the existing skills and experience of trained musicians, providing them with a rapid path to virtuosity without years of retraining. The research programme is organised around two complementary themes: study of performer-instrument interaction and creation of new instruments which capture the full richness and subtlety of virtuosic performance.

First, models will be developed of the interaction between performer and instrument. Instrumental performance can be considered a special case of human-machine interaction which is interesting both for its complexity and for the common experience that the musical instrument becomes an extension of the body: while playing, the performer is often not consciously thinking about the instrument. Controlled experiments and participatory design exercises will establish how an instrument's design affects the development of expertise, and how existing expertise can be transferred to newly-created instruments.

Second, the resulting models will be applied to the DMI creation process, taking a holistic approach unifying hardware design, digital signal processing, human-computer interaction (HCI) and artistic considerations. Existing DMIs often implicitly prioritise the convenience of the computer over the experience of the human player. On acoustic instruments, the entire physical object contributes to the sound, however subtly, but the choice of sensors in a DMI typically reduces the performer's actions to just a few machine-tractable dimensions. This fellowship will create instruments which deliberately oversample the interaction, using more sensors and higher sampling rates than apparently necessary, not to create a more complicated instrument, but rather to capture the subtle nuances that experts prize. Evaluation of the new DMIs will help refine the original models of performer-instrument interaction.

This project focuses on musical interaction, but the principle of repurposing expertise is widely applicable within HCI. The capabilities of human users cannot be modelled only through generic cognitive and motor processes; real people have specialist skills developed over years of practice, and new technologies which connect to those skills are far more likely to find acceptance than ones which must be learned from scratch. Music is a good test case since instrumental training is widespread and reasonably standardised, but the findings will be relevant to other expert domains.

This fellowship supports the time of the PI and two postdoctoral researchers. One postdoc will focus on performer studies and interaction, the other on digital signal processing and data mapping strategies. Close collaboration with musicians throughout the research will ensure its relevance to that community. This research integrates hardware design, digital signal processing, human-computer interaction, cognitive science, musicology and arts practice. The PI, with background and professional activities in music composition, electronic engineering and HCI, is ideally placed to lead this multidisciplinary project.
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