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  • The Seaboard: discreteness and continuity in musical interface design

Lamb, Roland, 2014, Thesis, The Seaboard: discreteness and continuity in musical interface design PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The production of acoustic music bridges two senses—touch and hearing—by connecting
physical movements, gestures, and tactile interactions with the creation of sound.
Mastery of acoustic music depends on the development and refinement of muscle
memory and ear training in concert. This process leads to a capacity for great depth of
expression even though the actual timbral palette of each given acoustic instrument is
relatively limited. By contrast, modern modes of music creation involving recorded music
and digital sound manipulation sacrifice this immediate bridge and substitute more
abstract processes that enable sonic possibilities extending far beyond the acoustic
palette. Mastery in abstract approaches to music making doesn’t necessarily rely on
muscle memory or ear training, as many key processes do not need to happen in realtime.
This freedom from the limits of time and practiced physical manipulation radically
increases the range of achievable sounds, rhythms and effects, but sometimes results in a
loss of subtlety of expressiveness.
This practice-based PhD asks whether it is possible, and if so how, to achieve an
integration of relevant sensor technologies, design concepts, and formation techniques
to create a new kind of musical instrument and sound creation tool that bridges this gap
with a satisfying result for musicians and composers. In other words, can one create new,
multi-dimensional interfaces which provide more effective ways to control the expressive
capabilities of digital music creation in real-time? In particular, can one build on the
intuitive, logical, and well-known layout of the piano keyboard to create a new instrument
that more fully enables both continuous and discrete approaches to music making?
My research practice proposes a new musical instrument called the Seaboard, documents
its invention, development, design, and refinement, and evaluates the extent to which it
positively answers the above question. The Seaboard is a reinterpretation of the piano
keyboard as a soft, continuous wavelike surface that places polyphonic pitch bend,
vibrato and continuous touch right at the musician’s fingertips. The addition of new realtime
parameters to a familiar layout means it combines the intuitiveness of the traditional
instrument with some of the versatility of digital technology.
Designing and prototyping the Seaboard to the point of successfully proving that a new
synthesis between acoustic techniques and digital technologies is possible is shown to
require significant coordination and integration of a range of technical disciplines. The
research approach has been to build and refine a series of prototypes that successively
grapple with the integration of these elements, whilst rigorously documenting the design
issues, engineering challenges, and ultimate decisions that determine whether an
intervention in the field of musical instrumentation is fruitful.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies
School or Centre: School of Design
Date Deposited: 14 Oct 2014 09:56
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2017 08:38
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1648

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