Monday, January 18, 2016

Designing an instrument that reflects changing environments

An instrument sounds different in different musical environments. Our perception of a sound source is different in a cave or a concert hall or an apartment or in the woods. Instruments can sound different at night than during the day depending on where you are. Changes in temperature make it necessary to tune and take care of instruments.

Most instruments are affected by the environments they are in. Digital instruments are an exception.

What if environmental variations became factors in the sonic design of digital instruments?

Imagine a digital instrument with sonic design derived from local information:
- time of day (or day of month, month of year, or all of the above)
- temperature (around instrument, or in the town today, or the average of last week's temps in town)
- weather (would rain, sun, snow, wind, fog, etc make a difference?)
- place (GPS coordinate/city/state/country/continent?)

What physical form would an instrument like this take? What does an ever changing sonic identity mean for (probably) static physical identity? Would a strong physical identity be distracting or helpful for this kind of sonic identity?

I am intrigued with this idea of having an instrument that has an ever changing sonic identity. I laugh at the thought of someone asking "So... what does it sound like?" and me saying "I have no clue! We'll find out won't we!"

Yet, in order for an instrument like this to be successful there must be ways to control the instrument in at least slightly predictable ways. The sound and/or control could still be affected by the environment, but the performer must know what's going on. (at least a little bit)

I imagine performing with this instrument would be great fun in the setting of a worldwide tour. I have a lot more ideas about the implications of this kind of system, but I'll leave it here for now...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This reminds me a bit of Steve Benford et al.'s Carolan Guitar project. It's a guitar that tells its own story by accumulating a trail of digital artifacts from performers as it travels the world:


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.