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New User Interfaces for Musical Timbre

Theme: Music Computing
While sound qualities such as pitch and loudness lend themselves relatively easily to user control, the timbre of sound is much less easily described or defined in any systematic way. Consequently, current user interfaces for controlling or modifying timbre tend to be problematic for most users. This project aims to design, implement, and evaluate a prototype of a new kind of user interface for controlling musical timbre that addresses this problem in a principled way. The user interface of most synthesizers tends to be expressed in system (i.e. engineering) terminology, obliging the user to become fluent with the synthesis method employed. The problem of designing a more user-oriented user interface has previously been approached in a variety of ways: using techniques drawn from artificial intelligence; knowledge based systems, and by employing metaphors derived from physical models of acoustical mechanisms. The former techniques can be helpful where a sample exists of the desired timbre, but they do not help much where the user is trying to specify a mentally imagined timbre. Similarly, physical models have been successful in providing the means of emulating ‘real’ instruments. However, an imagined sound for which the musician can find no physical analogue is one that cannot be easily realised using such approaches. In this project, we are applying the notion of evolutionary design interfaces to allow the user to act as the fitness function in for user interface driving a timbre generator that allows the rapid navigation of chosen timbre spaces. Recent Publications Seago, A, Holland, S. and Mulholland, P. (2005) "Towards a Mapping of Timbral Space", Proceedings of Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology (CIMo05), Observatoire International de la Création Musicale, Montreal, Canada, and Music Faculty of University of Montreal. Seago, A, Holland, S. and Mulholland, P. (2004) A Critical Analysis of Synthesizer User Interfaces for Timbre, Proceedings of British HCI 2004, Springer Verlag, London.pp 105- 106. Seago, A (2004) Electronic Sound Synthesiser Interface Design. Department of Computing, The Open University, Milton Keynes. Technical Report 2004/22. http://mcs.open.ac.uk/computing-tr. Seago, A. Holland, S. and Mulholland, P. (2004) Synthesizer user interface design – lessons learned from a heuristic review. Department of Computing, The Open University, Milton Keynes. Technical Report 2004/20. http://mcs.open.ac.uk/computing-tr/. Allan Seago (2004) Analysis of the synthesizer user interface: cognitive walkthrough and user tests . Department of Computing, The Open University, Milton Keynes. Technical Report 2004/15. http://computing-reports.open.ac.uk/index.php/2004/200415.