A framework for embedded digital musical instruments



John Sullivan

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Ivan Franco

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McGill University


Gestural controllers allow musicians to use computers as digital musical instruments (DMI). The body gestures of the performer are captured by sensors on the controller and sent as digital control data to a audio synthesis software.Until now DMIs have been largely dependent on the computing power of desktop and laptop computers but the most recent generations of single-board computers have enough processing power to satisfy the requirements of many DMIs. The advantage of those single-board computers over traditional computers is that they are much smaller in size. They can be easily embedded inside the body of the controller and used to create fully integrated and self-contained DMIs. This dissertation examines various applications of embedded computing technologies in DMIs. First we describe the history of DMIs and then expose some of the limitations associated with the use of general-purpose computers. Next we present a review on different technologies applicable to embedded DMIs and a state of the art of instruments and frameworks. Finally, we propose new technical and conceptual avenues, materialized through the Prynth framework, developed by the author and a team of collaborators during the course of this research.The Prynth framework allows instrument makers to have a solid starting point for the development of their own embedded DMIs. It is composed of several interoperating hardware and software components, publicly available as open-source technologies and continuously updated to include new features. Prynth has been lauded in both academic and artistic circles, resulting in an active and engaged user community.This community uses our framework to build many different DMIs that serve idiosyncratic goals and a panoply of musical contexts. The author himself is responsible for the design and construction of “The Mitt”, an instrument that was selected for the finals of the 2017 edition of the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, the most prestigious event of its kind.We believe that embedded computing will play a fundamental role in the future of DMIs. By surpassing the reliance on traditional computers, embedded DMIs have the possibility of becoming integrated and robust interactive devices, with increased usability and performance. All of these represent key factors to the evolution and growth of these musical instruments.

Publication Details:

Ph.D. Dissertation
Montreal, Canada

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