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The HarmonyGrid : music, space and performance in grid music systems

By Roland William Adeney


This research explores music in space, as experienced through performing and music-making with interactive systems. It explores how musical parameters may be presented spatially and displayed visually with a view to their exploration by a musician during performance. Spatial arrangements of musical components, especially pitches and harmonies, have been widely studied in the literature, but the current capabilities of interactive systems allow the improvisational exploration of these musical spaces as part of a performance practice. This research focuses on quantised spatial organisation of musical parameters that can be categorised as grid music systems (GMSs), and interactive music systems based on them. The research explores and surveys existing and historical uses of GMSs, and develops and demonstrates the use of a novel grid music system designed for whole body interaction. Grid music systems provide plotting of spatialised input to construct patterned music on a two-dimensional grid layout. GMSs are navigated to construct a sequence of parametric steps, for example a series of pitches, rhythmic values, a chord sequence, or terraced dynamic steps. While they are conceptually simple when only controlling one musical dimension, grid systems may be layered to enable complex and satisfying musical results. These systems have proved a viable, effective, accessible and engaging means of music-making for the general user as well as the musician. GMSs have been widely used in electronic and digital music technologies, where they have generally been applied to small portable devices and software systems such as step sequencers and drum machines. This research shows that by scaling up a grid music system, music-making and musical improvisation are enhanced, gaining several advantages: (1) Full body location becomes the spatial input to the grid. The system becomes a partially immersive one in four related ways: spatially, graphically, sonically and musically. (2) Detection of body location by tracking enables hands-free operation, thereby allowing the playing of a musical instrument in addition to “playing” the grid system. (3) Visual information regarding musical parameters may be enhanced so that the performer may fully engage with existing spatial knowledge of musical materials. The result is that existing spatial knowledge is overlaid on, and combined with, music-space. Music-space is a new concept produced by the research, and is similar to notions of other musical spaces including soundscape, acoustic space, Smalley's “circumspace” and “immersive space” (2007, 48-52), and Lotis's “ambiophony” (2003), but is rather more textural and “alive”—and therefore very conducive to interaction. Music-space is that space occupied by music, set within normal space, which may be perceived by a person located within, or moving around in that space. Music-space has a perceivable “texture” made of tensions and relaxations, and contains spatial patterns of these formed by musical elements such as notes, harmonies, and sounds, changing over time. The music may be performed by live musicians, created electronically, or be prerecorded. Large-scale GMSs have the capability not only to interactively display musical information as music representative space, but to allow music-space to co-exist with it. Moving around the grid, the performer may interact in real time with musical materials in music-space, as they form over squares or move in paths. Additionally he/she may sense the textural matrix of the music-space while being immersed in surround sound covering the grid. The HarmonyGrid is a new computer-based interactive performance system developed during this research that provides a generative music-making system intended to accompany, or play along with, an improvising musician. This large-scale GMS employs full-body motion tracking over a projected grid. Playing with the system creates an enhanced performance employing live interactive music, along with graphical and spatial activity. Although one other experimental system provides certain aspects of immersive music-making, currently only the HarmonyGrid provides an environment to explore and experience music-space in a GMS

Topics: Grid Music Systems
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2011
OAI identifier:

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