Now available online: Carolina Brum Medeiros and Marcelo M. Wanderley (2014). A Comprehensive Review of Sensors and Instrumentation Methods in Devices for Musical Expression. Sensors Journal 14, no. 8: 13556-13591.
Digital Musical Instruments (DMIs) are musical instruments typically composed of a control surface where user interaction is measured by sensors whose values are mapped to sound synthesis algorithms. These instruments have gained interest among skilled musicians and performers in the last decades leading to artistic practices including musical performance, interactive installations and dance. The creation of DMIs typically involves several areas, among them: arts, design and engineering. The balance between these areas is an essential task in DMI design so that the resulting instruments are aesthetically appealing, robust, and allow responsive, accurate and repeatable sensing. In this paper, we review the use of sensors in the DMI community as manifested in the proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME 2009–2013). Focusing on the sensor technologies and signal conditioning techniques used by the NIME community. Although it has been claimed that specifications for artistic tools are harder than those for military applications, this study raises a paradox showing that in most of the cases, DMIs are based on a few basic sensors types and unsophisticated engineering solutions, not taking advantage of more advanced sensing, instrumentation and signal processing techniques that could dramatically improve their response. We aim to raise awareness of limitations of any engineering solution and to assert the benefits of advanced electronics instrumentation design in DMIs. For this, we propose the use of specialized sensors such as strain gages, advanced conditioning circuits and signal processing tools such as sensor fusion. We believe that careful electronic instrumentation design may lead to more responsive instruments.