Back to top

“MIDAS” Perceptual Guidance Musical Instrument

"I can totally understand it. It's just like different people want a different car, but one has to learn how to drive first." This is a comment that one user who played "MIDAS" and used a metaphor to share his thought.

Becoming a proficient musician is generally a long process. This obstacle hinders normal people from enjoying playing music. So far technology has not changed the instrument interface enough for intuitive play.

If we look back to the whole musical instrument history, since the very first known instrument (flute shape) 40,000 years ago, a huge leap had been made in the music industry after the synthesizer was invented at last century 60’s. Electronic instruments now are capable of more sophisticated functions in order to suit complicated performance. Players not only play with the melody and rhythm but also have access to control the details about effects.

However, the fundamental process of learning how to play the music still requires plenty of energy, which inhibits the possibility of being proficient. In the music learning market, people who like music are spending huge amounts of money and time buying instruments and taking courses. Because of the complexity and relative inefficiency, these investments are unlikely to yield much return for the majority of musician wannabes. The problem is these existed instruments have many triggers on the operation interfaces that create barriers so that before users interact with these triggers, they are unable to realize and remember those tones or even those chords. I recognize this kind of interface as the "dark box."

Mind loop of playing complex instruments shows how perception works when playing "dark box" musical instruments.

Considering this predicament and rethinking the purpose of playing music caused me to identify a design philosophy piloting this project. A psychology study called "The Gestalt Principle" might be the clue to find the answer.

(Alan De Smet. English Wikipedia, 10 Jun. 2007 ) The Gestalt Principle (Kohler, 1969) suggests that humans are easily confused once visual feedback information becomes complicated. We need hints to help us recognize the right answer in illusion.

Although the visual example that Gestalt Principle has cited, this principle can be applied to any perceptual domain (hearing, smell, touch, and taste.) These are all based on profound experiences, developing since we were born. It seems this principle could be used to neutralize the "dark box."

My research also proves it is probably right. Interviewees resonated high consistency with the same color and touching samples, no matter what instrument they were playing.

Most of the playing interfaces follow the linear logic. The sequence of a single note is arranged from low frequency to high, but, really, the composition of music doesn’t go with it. Music includes a series of chords, and in each music chapter, the arrangement of these chords is closer to a circle than a line. On current instruments, the player needs to locate the chord’s positions on the linear interface and keep remembering them through practicing, whereas it does not have to like that. Technology has provided more advanced methods to make the interface variable, so the combination of notes can be re-arranged based on composing requirement.

 

Thus here are my proposals: what if the new design could provide perceptual familiarity, and what if it has dynamic functions, which means it is possible to echo one’s intuitive experience while releasing the complexity in playing process. I call this design philosophy as "Perceptual Guidance." Firstly, it should engage in communicating through both haptics and gesture in hand-held size. Secondly, I introduce the chord guidance system, which has already been successfully used in few smart devices applications (ex. Garageband,) to the product interface.

The design provides the possibility of changing the surface texture in the front touching zone. Players are able to interchange covering surface following personal preference. The rich choices of touching materials enhance the gameplay of “MIDAS.”

"MIDAS" interface integrates these features into a unique body. On the front side, one hand manipulates chords; another hand plays a range of scale. According to the music theory, each song has multiple keys but only uses 8 chords in one key. Because of that, there are 8 soft touching sensors where users can play the chords combination directly. 1 octave of soft touching notes is arranged on the right in order to create the melody or make chord richer. The idea behind this combination is as technology streamlines intuitive playing, players are freed from the burden of remembering unnecessary information, at the meanwhile, can get access to all the notes if they wish.

 

On the back side, thumb takes control of switching arpeggios and chords, tempo, key, pairing, power etc. Once the arpeggio mode is activated, there are 4 different patterns can be generated by pressing those 4 choices. If the arpeggio mode is deactivated, those 4 choices are changed to realize the function that transmits chords from bass to treble. Two direction buttons have multiple functions based on the configurations, which can be the tempo adjustment or the key shift. The power button also has wireless pairing function when it is long pressed.

function
I made the first engineering prototypes to demonstrate how the interface works. Arduino modules and PureData coding program are used to mock up the Chord Guidance System and one octave of scale. (These prototypes were shown in 2017 PROCESS: School of Design Thesis Exhibition in AIA Center for Architecture + Design, Philadelphia)

"MIDAS" is a stand-alone musical instrument. The built-in memory system saves every information includes chords combination, instrument tone, tempo, octave etc. from the smart device's application, and then it transfers signal to the output devices through the wireless connection. It is also creating a new sustainable platform. Players can share and download their chords combinations and arpeggio patterns through the "M Store" in the application.

Smart device interface

The "Perceptual Guidance Musical Instrument" (patent pending) is supposed to allow players to release their memory system and invest their energy in creation so the target group can be at any level of proficiency as long as they want to play. This is exactly how the actual user feels on the product announcement day. “MIDAS” will be the first musical instrument fully designed for perception in the industry. It is a game-changer.