September 10, 2012
by Chris Randall
I'm currently doing some research and experimentation with a full-sized (22") multi-touch screen; I'll put up more info about that specifically as I learn/create, but in thinking about what I'm doing with that, I keep finding myself pondering the nature of what, exactly, an instrument consists of.
After giving it some thought, I've decided that an instrument, at its base level, needs to allow for three things:
1. Expression. Any instrument has to be capable of triggering a range of emotions in the listener (since, after all, that is the point of music.)
2. Virtuosity. In order to be an instrument at all, our instrument needs to have facets that can be mastered, and it has to have a depth of usefulness to warrant that mastery.
3. Purpose. An instrument is mainly an instrument (that can, occasionally, be something else) and not something else that can also be an instrument.
For instance, take the spoons. I don't think anyone could deny that there are people that are very, very good at playing the spoons. So that might satisfy our second rule. But as for the first and third, that's open to interpretation. Not a terribly expressive instrument, as such. And spoons are always better at being spoons than being a musical instrument. As opposed to, say, a guitar, which might make a serviceable hurley bat, but really, is much better at just being a guitar.
On the other end of the spectrum, here's a thought-experiment: is Ableton Live an instrument? One can at least re-create a huge range of expression, and one can also master it. And it is most assuredly purpose-built for making music. I've often found that people that don't "get" Live tend to look at it as a DAW, while people that do tend to look at it as an omnibus instrument.
In any case, my goal is to create something that satisfies all three of my criteria above, and utilizes a flat plane with visual feedback as its playing surface. We'll see how things turn out, but once more in to the breach...