This research project deals with the user-experience related to embodied music mediation technologies. More specifically, adoption and policy problems surrounding new media (art) are considered, which arise from the usability issues that to date pervade new interfaces for musical expression. Since the emergence of new wireless mediators and control devices for musical expression, there is an explicit aspiration of the creative industries and various research centers to embed such technologies into different areas of the cultural industries. The number of applications and their uses have exponentially increased over the last decade. Conversely, many of the applications to date still suffer from severe usability problems, which not only hinder the adoption by the cultural sector, but also make culture participants take a rather cautious, hesitant, or even downright negative stance towards these technologies. Therefore, this thesis takes a vantage point that is in part sociological in nature, yet has a link to cultural studies as well. It combines this with a musicological frame of reference to which it introduces empirical user-oriented approaches, predominantly taken from the field of human-computer-interaction studies. This interdisciplinary strategy is adopted to cope with the complex nature of digital embodied music controlling technologies.
Within the Flanders cultural (and creative) industries, opportunities of systems affiliated with embodied interaction are created and examined. This constitutes an epistemological jigsaw that looks into 1) “which stakeholders require what various levels of involvement, what interactive means and what artistic possibilities?”, 2) “the way in which artistic aspirations, cultural prerequisites and operational necessities of (prospective) users can be defined?”, 3) “how functional, artistic and aesthetic requirements can be accommodated?”, and 4) “how quality of use and quality of experience can be achieved, quantified, evaluated and, eventually, improved?”. Within this multi-facetted problem, the eventual aim is to assess the applicability of the foresaid technology, both from a theoretically and empirically sound basis, and to facilitate widening and enhancing the adoption of said technologies.
Methodologically, this is achieved by 1) applied experimentation, 2) interview techniques, 3) self-reporting and survey research, 4) usability evaluation of existing devices, and 5) human-computer interaction methods applied – and attuned – to the specific case of embodied music mediation technologies. Within that scope, concepts related to usability, flow, presence, goal assessment and game enjoyment are scrutinized and applied, and both task- and experience-oriented heuristics and metrics are developed and tested.
In the first part, covering three chapters, the general context of the thesis is given. In the first chapter, an introduction to the topic is offered and the current problems are enumerated. In the second chapter, a broader theoretical background is presented of the concepts that underpin the project, namely 1) the paradigm of embodiment and its connection to musicology, 2) a state of the arts concerning new interfaces for musical expression, 3) an introduction into HCI-usability and its application domain in systematic musicology, 4) an insight into user-centered digital design procedures, and 5) the challenges brought about by e-culture and digitization for the cultural-creative industries. In the third chapter, the state of the arts concerning the available methodologies related to the thesis’ endeavor is discussed, a set of literature-based design guidelines are enumerated and from this a conceptual model is deduced which is gradually presented throughout the thesis, and fully deployed in the “SoundField”-project (as described in Chapter 9).
The following chapters, contained in the second part of the thesis, give a quasi-chronological overview of how methodological concepts have been applied throughout the empirical case studies, aimed specifically at the exploration of the various aspects of the complex status quaestionis. In the fourth chapter, a series of application-based tests, predominantly revolving around interface evaluation, illustrate the complex relation between gestural interfaces and meaningful musical expression, advocating a more user-centered development approach to be adopted. In the fifth chapter, a multi-purpose questionnaire dubbed “What Moves You” is discussed, which aimed at creating a survey of the (prospective) end-users of embodied music mediation technologies. Therefore, it primarily focused on cultural background, musical profile and preferences, views on embodied interaction, literacy of and attitudes towards new technology and participation in digital culture. In the sixth chapter, the ethnographical studies that accompanied the exhibition of two interactive art pieces, entitled "Heart as an Ocean" & "Lament", are discussed. In these studies, the use of interview and questionnaire methodologies together with the presentation and reception of interactive art pieces, are probed. In the seventh chapter, the development of the collaboratively controlled music-game “Sync-In-Team” is presented, in which interface evaluation, presence, game enjoyment and goal assessment are the pivotal topics. In the eighth chapter, two usability studies are considered, that were conducted on prototype systems/interfaces, namely a heuristic evaluation of the “Virtual String” and a usability metrics evaluation on the “Multi-Level Sonification Tool”. The findings of these two studies in conjunction with the exploratory studies performed in association with the interactive art pieces, finally gave rise to the “SoundField”-project, which is recounted in full throughout the ninth chapter. The integrated participatory design and evaluation method, presented in the conceptual model is fully applied over the course of the “SoundField”-project, in which technological opportunities and ecological validity and applicability are investigated through user-informed development of numerous use cases.
The third and last part of the thesis renders the final conclusions of this research project. The tenth chapter sets out with an epilogue in which a brief overview is given on how the state of the arts has evolved since the end of the project (as the research ended in 2012, but the research field has obviously moved on), and attempts to consolidate the implications of the research studies with some of the realities of the Flemish cultural-creative industries. Chapter eleven continues by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the conceptual model throughout the various stages of the project. Also, it comprises the evaluation of the hypotheses, how the assumptions that were made held up, and how the research questions eventually could be assessed. Finally, the twelfth and last chapter concludes with the most important findings of the project. Also, it discusses some of the implications on cultural production, artistic research policy and offers an outlook on future research beyond the scope of the “SoundField” project.