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CS Colloquium - Andrew McPherson - Digital Musical Instrument Design: a Player-Centered Approach

When: Wednesday, October 9, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM  

Where: Mudd Hall ( formerly Seeley G. Mudd Library), 3514, 2233 Tech Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Brianna White   847.467.6558

Group: Department of Computer Science

Category: Academic



Each year many new digital musical instruments are created, but traditional acoustic instruments still remain ubiquitous in many styles of music. Our continuing fascination with centuries-old designs could partly be explained by the level of craft and technical refinement that these instruments have obtained, but the more important factors are human. What sets familiar instruments apart is precisely that they are familiar: they have communities of performers and composers, established pedagogical practices, and bodies of musical repertoire which act as cultural reference points for new works.

This talk will explore how to balance familiarity and novelty in the design of new digital musical instruments, taking a multi-disciplinary perspective encompassing human-computer interaction, electronic engineering and musical practice. The talk will first explore the use of electronics to augment traditional instruments, extending their capabilities while building on established performance practice. Two augmented keyboards will be presented: the magnetic resonator piano, which uses electromagnets inside an acoustic grand piano to induce vibrations in the strings, and TouchKeys, a keyboard integrating multi-touch sensing onto the surface of each key, enabling the player to expressive effects by moving the fingers on the key surfaces. The talk will also present a recent comparative study of four digital guitar-like instruments, evaluating the relative importance of interaction modality and physical form in the acceptance of new instruments. 



Andrew McPherson is a Reader (Associate Professor) in the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London. A composer (PhD U.Penn 2009) and electronic engineer (MEng MIT 2005) by training, his research focuses on digital musical instruments, especially those which extend the capabilities of traditional musical instruments. Within the Centre for Digital Music, he leads the Augmented Instruments Laboratory (, a research team investigating musical interface design, performer-instrument interaction and embedded hardware systems. He currently holds a research fellowship from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council on the topic of designing interfaces which build on the existing expertise of trained performers.

Notable projects include the magnetic resonator piano (, an electromagnetically-augmented acoustic grand piano which has been used by dozens of composers and performers worldwide; TouchKeys, a sensor overlay which transforms the electronic keyboard into a nuanced multi-touch control surface; and Bela, an open-source embedded hardware platform for ultra-low-latency audio and sensor processing. TouchKeys ( and Bela ( both successfully launched on Kickstarter (2013 and 2016) and are now available to the public via spinout companies.

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