Interactivity of Digital Musical Instruments: Implications of Classifying Musical Instruments on Basic Music Research

Jin Hyun Kim and Uwe Seifert

Abstract The introduction of the computer as musical instrument and the development of interactive musical instruments have led to completely new purposes and questions for music research; as a result, it no longer seems adequate to rely on the traditional classification of musical instruments, which is based on the purpose of instrument design and presentation of instruments in public or private exhibition. Based on insights from the philosophy of science, this paper suggests pursuing another purpose of and approach to instrument classification appropriate for basic music research. We argue that (digital) computing systems, to some extent, have the potential to act as autonomous and artificial social agents. This argument is based on the conceptualization of machines as (abstract) automata. In addition, we exploit concepts from dynamic systems theory in a metaphorical manner to find a more appropriate point of view to develop new research questions. Discussing interactivity, for which embodiment and situatedness are prerequisites, we suggest taking interactivity, agency, and autonomy into account to develop an appropriate classification system of musical instruments and at the same time to rethink the traditional concept of musical instrument. Whether a musical instrument can be defined as broader than a device that has the function of generating sounds, i.e. whether it can be viewed as an embodied, situated or even social agent, remains a challenging question for basic music research. To discuss this question, not only sound generating actions, but also other musically meaningful actions that involve agency should be taken for granted.

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