EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Control or Play?

Per Anders Nilsson

Per Anders Nilsson, Academy of Music and Drama, University of Gothenburg – Sweden


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This paper proposes a classification that distinguishes between different classes of electronic musical instruments and playing types. In many performances of today with so-called laptop music a lack of perceptible connection between what you see and what you hear is common. The theoretical framework takes as its point of departure concepts from the field of ecological psychology and perception, notably Refsum Jensenius (2007). A major tenet is his distinction between Action-sound couplings and Action-sound relations. A further distinction is made between electronic devices and virtual devices. Moreover, action-sound couplings comprise of an action-sound palette of conceivable audible outcomes from a certain object.
The proposed taxonomy (Nilsson, 2011) for electronic instruments distinguishes between 1) direct gestural control, playing mode/instruments, 2) indirect control, controlling mode/instruments, and 3) effects. Playing mode implies that a bodily gesture carried out by a player on such an instrument is directly and proportionally audible; its action-sound link is strong. Controlling mode is primarily a phenomenon in conjunction with electronic instruments and devices with no direct causality between a bodily gesture performed on the interface and audible output; it’s action-sound-link is weak. An additional distinction occurs between active control and active monitoring. The former is close to playing, however carried out on a controlled instrument, where the instrument is left untouched, but adjusted if necessary.
I claim that the perceived connection between bodily action and sound produces affects the listening experience, regardless what it sounds like. My conclusion is that electronic musicians must take this into consideration when designing; choosing, and playing computer based musical instruments and interfaces for live performances.

EMS14 Proceedings