Events Archive

Augmenting Musical Instruments: A Player-Centred Approach




3:00PM - 4:00PM


Multi-Media Room, Sonic Arts Research Centre


Free - all are welcome

Andrew McPherson (C4DM, Queen Mary University of London) will discuss augmented instruments, and how this can be used as an approach to extending the virtuosity of trained performers.

Each year many excellent new digital musical instruments are created, but traditional acoustic instruments still remain ubiquitous in many styles of music. Our continuing fascination with centuries-old designs could partly be explained by the level of craft and technical refinement that these instruments have obtained, but the more important factors are human. What sets familiar instruments apart is precisely that they are familiar: they have communities of performers and composers, established pedagogical practices, and bodies of musical repertoire which act as cultural reference points for new works.
This talk will discuss augmented instruments, which are traditional instruments whose capabilities have been extended with technology. The talk explores instrument augmentation not just as a technical challenge, but as an approach to extending the virtuosity of trained performers. New instruments can be created in a matter of months, but achieving proficiency on an unfamiliar instrument still requires many years of dedicated practice. With a careful design approach, the existing expertise of instrumentalists can therefore become a powerful tool for the creators of new instruments.
The talk will present two examples of augmented keyboard instruments: the magnetic resonator piano, which uses electromagnets inside an acoustic grand piano to induce vibrations in the strings, allowing the player to continuously shape each note; and TouchKeys, a keyboard integrating multi-touch sensing onto the surface of each key, enabling the player to add vibrato, pitch bends, timbre changes and other techniques by moving the fingers on the key surfaces. Each instrument will be considered in relation to traditional keyboard technique, and the talk will conclude with a set of design suggestions for augmentation techniques which extend and repurpose the experience of trained performers.

Andrew McPherson is a Reader in the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London. With a background in electrical engineering and music, his research focuses on augmented acoustic instruments, new performance interfaces, and study of performer-instrument interaction. He did his undergraduate and masters work at MIT, completing his M.Eng. thesis in Barry Vercoe's group at the MIT Media Lab. He completed his PhD in music composition in 2009 at the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining Queen Mary in 2011, he spent two years as a post-doctoral researcher in the Music Entertainment Technology Laboratory (MET-lab) at Drexel University.
At QMUL, he leads the Augmented Instruments Lab, a research team within the Centre for Digital Music. He is the creator of the magnetic resonator piano, an augmented acoustic piano which has been used in pieces by over 20 composers, including projects with the London Chamber Orchestra and the Opera Theatre of Rome, and his TouchKeys multi-touch keyboard was featured in a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013. In 2016, his lab launched Bela, an open-source embedded platform for ultra-low-latency audio and sensor processing. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Bela is now available to the public with a growing community of makers, artists and engineers. More information on his research can be found at

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