Friday, January 29, 2016

The Alienation of Ornamental Interaction

In reading Johnston's "Designing and evaluating virtual musical instruments: facilitating conversational user interaction" for our discussion on Thursday, I was very glad for the distinction he made between instrumental and ornamental interaction.  Applying it to my own project of the income inequality data-driven percussion, it's clear to me that my current design encourages (or even mandates) an ornamental mode of interaction.  Currently, income-inequality data structures the mapping of percussive hit to audio processing, with the mapping changing over the course of the composition.  What struck me most about this realization was that this mode of interaction would may cause the user to feel some kind of alienation by my design, as studied by Johnston's qualitative experiment.  For example Musician J is quoted as saying: "If you want a feeling of domination and alienation, that's certainly there with that one.  I'm not being sarcastic.  If you want the feeling that the machine actually is the dominant thing then that creates it quite strongly...It's very strong, the feeling of alienation makes me uneasy.  And if it's in a different section of long piece then it certainly creates tension."

I am going and back and forth with how directly I want to elicit or not elicit this kind of emotional response from the user.  On the one hand, a reading of the concept of the piece would be reinforced by a feeling of alienation, which mirrors the middle class's feeling of alienation from the wealth of American society.  On the other hand, I generally don't like art works that direct user responses so explicitly, and that is something worth interrogating.  If an art work has such a dictatorial approach, a subject might find it less engaging, because the work of figuring out the metaphor/message would already be given.  Furthermore, in such a political work, I'm worried about reducing a very politically charged topic to trivial mappings.  What's more interesting to me is the possibility of creating a space that suggests a feeling of alienation, that then triggers the user to reflect and explore where that alienation occurs in their lives away from my musical interface- in other words, to put the pieces together for themselves, and in a politically productive fashion.  That will be quite a hard challenge, but no one ever said this project would be easy!

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