I am not a trained musician, but I am fascinated by musical instruments. Even non electronic and non theremin-like instruments resonate with me. I think the power of an instrument lies in its immediacy of response to a user’s action and in its depth of range.
You press, pluck, bow, blow, hit, or wave and the feedback is instantaneous, which means your education with any given instrument begins the moment you start playing. And once you start playing the potential for music is endless. There is always more to be discovered and more to experiment with. When referring to the drum glove in his blog post, Tom Igoe said that they were “probably the most primal”. I agree, and I would add that anything making any sound from a user’s input, speaks to something primal in all of us. Of course the more complicated the instrument, the more chances there are to lose that connection with the user. But I still think there will always be something magical about receiving direct non visual feedback from an action.
To use another example, think about the first time you drove a car. What happened when you put the key in the ignition and turned? VRRROOOM. Magic. Excitement. Satisfaction.
For me being able to do wave your hand or pluck a string or hit a key and then get back something that is not necessarily mechanically visible adds a layer of mystery (and for me intrigue), and begs to be investigated.
I think that when I participate with an interactive piece I tend to respond most to the thing that has aspects that I can explore or play with beyond the initial interaction. And if it is presented in a simplistic way, even better. For me that usually means instruments and games are the most fun for me. They are easily to pick up, but they have the potential for continued interaction.
Interaction becomes even more fun when other people are involved. Concerts, drum circles, bands, hip hop crews, dance parties. Making music is a communal act, and an instrument can be a focal point for people to get together and have fun.
One of my most memorable experiences with interactive art was at a Lucky Dragon’s performance where Luke Fishbeck had the audience participate with his piece, “Make a Baby”
At the time I did not know that I would become a participant in the performance and I just found myself in a crowd of people navigating this machine. At first, people interact with the machine. They touch and sound comes out. Then either though accident or a small bump from the artist or someone in the know, people collectively realize the added layer of interaction between each other. That feeling of being an extension of an instrument is not unfamiliar. Again think about driving, or playing the piano, or playing a video game, or programming. We know what it feels like to be one with the machine. Making people an extension of the instrument made this experience especially memorable because if we are all part of the machine then in a small way we are also part of each other too.
As Tom Igoe said in his post about making interactive art, “your audience completes the work”.
I’m ranting at this point. But for me these are a few of the things that I respond to when I interact with a piece. Even without the added element of people to people interaction, if i can loose myself in an instrument, or a game, or a painting, or whatever, then for me that is one of the markers of a good experience.