Thesis Info

An enactive approach to digital musical instrument design
Newton Armstrong
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
Princeton University
Thesis Supervisor
Barbara White
Supervisor e-mail
bwhite AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Daniel Trueman
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Languages Familiar to Author
URL where full thesis can be found
Enaction; Human-computer Interaction; Phenomenology; Digital Musical Instruments
Abstract: 200-400 words
Digital musical instruments bring about problems for performance that are different in kind to those brought about by conventional acoustic instruments. In this essay, I argue that one of the most significant of these problems is the way in which conventional computer interfaces preclude embodied modes of interaction. I examine the theoretical and technological foundations of this “disconnect” between performer and instrument, and sketch an outline for the design of embodied or “enactive” digital instruments. My research builds on recent work in human-computer interaction and “soft” artificial intelligence, and is informed by the phenomenology of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, as well as the “enactive cognitive science” of Francisco Varela and others. I examine the ways in which the conventional metaphors of computer science and “hard” artificial intelligence derive from a mechanistic model of human reasoning, and I outline how this model has informed the design of interfaces that inevitably lead to disembodied actional modes. I propose an alternative model of interaction that draws on various threads from the work of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and the enactive cognitive scientists. The “enactive model of interaction” that I propose is concerned with circular chains of embodied interdependency between performer and instrument, instrumental “resistance” to human action and intentionality, and an integrative approach to the roles of sensing, acting and cognitive process in the incremental acquisition of performative skill. The final component of the essay is concerned with issues of implementation. I detail a project in hardware and software that I present as a candidate “enactive digital musical instrument,” I outline some specific usage examples, and I discuss prospects for future work.