Interface Design: Introduction and Basic References


What is actually meant by “interface design”?

The word “interface” has been used in various contexts in the sense of “controller”, “input device” or “control surface.”

In computer music, the terms “interface”, “controller” and “control surface” are sometimes used interchangeably. Conversely, in human-computer interaction (HCI), “interface” usually refers to the software interface, i.e. the use of windows, icons, etc. and “input device” refers to the hardware device with which the user inputs data to, or interacts with, the system.

In the context of digital musical instruments, a “gestural controller” or “gestural interface,” represents the part of a digital musical instrument where physical contact with the device takes place. “Interface Design” thus follows to mean the design of this contact area.

Reading Suggestion

Various papers and PhD theses have been proposed on the design of digital musical instruments, more specifically on controller design, some of which are referenced below.

It is important to note that the literature presented here sometimes has contradictions on design approaches. Some contributions stress the role of creativity and experimentation as the sole to allow an interesting design while others try to examine similar situations in other domains (human-computer interaction, engineering, etc.) and describe the possibilities of adapting design methodologies from other fields.

It is up to the reader to choose her/his approach.

To start with:

  • An excellent article by Joel Ryan: Some Remarks on Musical Instrument Design at STEIM. Contemporary Music Review 6(1)3-17. This article not only focuses on gestural controllers, but gives a complete picture of the problem.
  • The round table coordinated by Marc Battier, Marcelo M. Wanderley and Butch Rovan published in Trends in Gestural Control of Music. It gathers opinions of nine key designers and users of gestural controllers – Don Buchla, Bill Buxton, Chris Chafe, Tod Machover, Max Matthews, Robert Moog, Jean-Claude Risset, Laetitia Sonami, and Michel Waisvisz – on their own experience and on their expectations for the future of this field.
  • The contributions by several researchers to the NIME Workshop, at CHI 2001. A workshop organized by Ivan Poupyrev, Michael J. Lyons, Sidney Fels, and Tina Blaine (Bean) featuring 14 papers on gestural controller design.
  • Check the proceedings for the latest annual NIME (New Interfaces for Musical Expression) International Conference: NIME10, held in Sydney, Australia in June 2010

Basic References: General Articles

  • Buchla, D., W. Buxton, C. Chafe, T. Machover, M. V. Matthews, R. Moog, J.-C. Risset, L. Sonami, and M. Waisvisz. 2000. “Round Table.” In M. M. Wanderley and M. Battier, eds., “Trends in Gestural Control of Music.”, IRCAM - Centre Pompidou.
  • Cook. 2001., “Principles for Designing Computer Music Controllers”, NIME Workshop - CHI 2001
  • Orio, N, Schnell, N., and Wanderley, M. M. 2001. “Input Devices for Musical Expression: Borrowing Tools from HCI.,” NIME Workshop - CHI 2001
  • Paradiso, J. 1997.“Electronic Music: New ways to play.IEEE Spectrum, 34(12): 18-30.
  • Pressing, J. 1990. “Cybernetic Issues in Interactive Performance Systems.” Computer Music Journal - 14(1):12-25.
  • Ryan, J. 1991. “Some Remarks on Musical Instrument Design at STEIM”, Contemporary Music Review 6(1):3-17.
  • Verplank, W., C. Sapp, and M. V. Mathews. 2001. “A Course on Controllers”, NIME Workshop - CHI 2001.
  • Wessel, D., and M. Wright. 2001. “Problems and Prospects for Intimate Musical Control of Computers.”, NIME Workshop -CHI 2001.

Complementary References

  • Orio, N. 1997. “A Gestural Interface Controlled by the Oral Cavity.” In Proceedings of the 1997 International Computer Music Conference., San Francisco, International Computer Music Association,pp. 141 - 144.
  • Piringer, J. 2001. “Elektronische Musik un Interaktivität. Prinzipien, Konzepte, Anwendungen.”, MSc Thesis. Wien, Austria: Technischen Universität Wien.
  • Wanderley, M. 2001. “Performer-Instrument Interaction: Applications to Gestural Control of Music.”, PhD Thesis. Paris, France: University Pierre et Marie Curie - Paris VI.