Strategies for Naming and Categorising Digital Devices in Users ’ Interviews

Ten users of digital musical devices[1] were interviewed using a semi-directive methodology. They were asked non-directive questions (e.g.: What is the MetaInstrument in your opinion? How would you characterize it?x) ranging from general to specific topics. After a full transcription, we conducted linguistic analyses on the lexical, morphosyntactic, semantic and discursive level, paying particular attention to how speakers refer to, name, categorize and define in their discourse the devices (MI and/or MM) they developed and/or played.

First of all we noticed a variety of lexical forms used to refer to the MI and the MM. Interviewees talked about instrument, dispositif (device), outil (tool), objet (object), machine and engin (machine), but also about interface, logiciel (software) and programme, which are specific to the computing domain.[2]

They modified some of these nouns with attributive adjectives, such as instrument virtuel (virtual instrument), dispositif musical et visuel (musical and visual device), dispositif instrumental (instrumental device), machinerie portable (portable machinery), logiciel tres souple (very flexible software) and instrument logiciel (software instrument), to locate the reference either in the digital domain (instrument virtuel, * logiciel) or in the musical domain (dispositif musical et visual, * instrumental), depending on the reference domain of the head noun.

Generally speaking, instrument was more frequently used to refer to the MI, and device to refer to the MM. Interface(s) appeared to be used either to refer to all the devices that can be connected to the MM software (joystick, gamepad, graphic tablet, wii, etc.) or as a generic term (including MI, MM, joysticks and so on).

Nevertheless, the use of these different forms depends on each interviewee and her/his conceptualisations of the MM, MI and other devices. While some interviewees considered the MI and/or the MM as instruments:

IN1 So for me the MI and the MM are instruments that enable one to generate/manage sound and image in real-time,xl

or “like an instrument”:

IN7 It’s [MM] a little bit like an instrument but it works with a computer.

But apart from that for me it’s like an instrument,

another interviewee (IN6) described the MI and the MM as tools rather than instruments, using hedges[3] to attenuate his statement:

IN6 I describe them as tools more than instruments for the moment, maybe not yet,xin


The MM and MI devices are not mature enough yet to have a relation the same relationship with the user that an instrument has with its instrumentalist.xiv

Others (such as IN3) almost never used instrument preferring interface, device, tool and machinery instead:

IN3 That’s really the idea, to have a lighter device (MM), because the MI is a pretty heavy device. It’s big machinery with several machines that calculate image and sound in real-time.xv

All these interfaces are are are still very poor [...]; when I play it does not vibrate as a guitar soundbox.xvl

Re-categorisation strategies can also be observed for instance with IN5 (music teacher that uses the MM with his students) who reformulated instrument with object (several times in his interview):

IN5 I wanted to create something with the Mozart samples and they they had to interpret it [. ], which was not easy moreover with an instrument an object a little bit



IN6 There is a really big potential with these instrum/interfaces.xvm

Here, IN6 started by referring to instrum—but stopped before the end of the word replacing it by interfaces. This type of speech disfluency[4] indicates some uncertainty and fuzziness in the categorisation with an unclear distinction between interface and instrument.

Finding the appropriate term was also a challenge for the interviewer. Over the interviews none of the different denominations appeared to be neutral or generic enough, and one can observe retrospectively the different strategies developed to solve this matter, as in the following example:

to IN3 Can you describe to me the different / so again I say interfaces with inverted commas I don’t know how do you call them / but describe the different tools instruments interfaces devices that are usable with the MM?,xix

which shows first a metalinguistic digression in order to anticipate the possible incompatibility of the word “interfaces” and then a list containing no less than four distinct denominations (!), from which the interviewee (IN3) could pick.

This list strategy used frequently could also be combined with an explicit naming question:

to IN4 If you need to describe explicitly to someone who has no clue about these kinds of tools in/instruments / how would you describe these kinds of of devices, instruments, tools?

First we can even start first by discussing how you name these kinds of devices and how you would describe them,xx

which led IN4 to ratify the proposition:

IN4 So actually the term def/device is generic enough to adapt to all scenarios. So a musical instrument is a device. It’s also a tool, something we will work, with which we’re gonna work.™

These examples illustrate the reflexive activity of the interviewer and her implication in this progressive construction and stabilisation of meaning.

  • [1] All interviewees knew both the MI and the MM and had already used the MI and/or the MMbefore. As creators, developers, composers and/or performers, researchers, teachers or studentsfrom the conservatory, some of them combine different competencies and also use other devicesthey have or have not created themselves.
  • [2] Interface is defined in the field of computing as “a device or program for connecting two items ofhardware or software so that they can be jointly operated or communicate with each other” (OD).
  • [3] Hedges in linguistics refer to all the markers of uncertainty used in discourse. In the followingexample they are underlined.
  • [4] All the “irregularities” in speech, such as hesitations, disruptions and false starts (truncated words,repeated words or syllables, etc.).
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