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Enrique Tomás

The Interface-Score - Electronic Musical Interface Design as Embodiment of Performance and Composition

Abschluss des PhD-Programms / Completion of the PhD-Program: November 2018

Betreuung / Supervision:
Martin Kaltenbrunner
Gerhard Eckel

This thesis investigates the artistic and philosophical consequences of understanding musical instruments as artifacts embodying a score. In other words, it explores the extent to which musical instruments can be perceived as musical scores. This research examines the cultural and technological nature of digital musical instruments and it contributes to a material account of musical notation. It introduces a novel paradigm for tangible interface design called the tangible score. It also describes a practice-based research journey performing tangible musical interfaces.

This is a thesis in art. Opposed to a thesis on art, such as art history, my research did not have any prescribed methodology. In fact, my artistic production during this PhD may be considered both object and method. As an artist working with technology it was mandatory contextualizing my personal artistic methods. In consequence, this thesis gives answers to the question of how artists can engage artistic research with the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). I defend that the way artists can help HCI is adopting a critical attitude with our research medium -namely tangible and musical interaction design in this PhD- avoiding the instrumentalization of our artistic processes and adopting the format of artistic research. For drawing up this theory, this thesis analyzes various examples of critical interfaces. In order to capture the interest of other researchers within HCI, I present practical methods to formalize the structure of an artistic research project.

The notion of the inherent-score drives the beginning of my research on musical notation. I define it as the material and virtual elements of the instrument shaping and inspiring a player’s performance. This notion gives us language to describe how the instrument mediates embodiment at the exact moment of performance. This is coherent with many improvisers’ intuition affirming that the instrument is the score of what they play. I propose that it is possible to design new interfaces for musical expression emphasizing their inherent score. For exemplifying this option, I have built and performed a series of digital musical instruments called Tangible Scores. They are the center of my artistic practice during this doctorate.

This thesis contributes to a vision of digital musical instruments as symbolic machines. In my opinion, the principal characteristic of digital music instruments is their symbolic apparatus. The apparatus always features a program defining all possible musical realizations. For dealing with the complexities of the apparatus, designers have to deal with representations. They are helpful to inform performers about the status of the machine while they also serve for constraining the possible interactions with the program. For this reason, the representational dimension of musical interfaces has been addressed in this thesis. I present a vision about musical interfaces as a collection of related texts and symbols with a given arbitrary meaning. As I show in this thesis, they radically mediate our embodiment with the instrument. For this reason, I contribute towards a non-linguistic and non-representational approach to performing with musical interfaces.

Kurz-Biographie / Short Bio
Seit 2019 PhD Studium in Kunstuniversität Linz.

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