What inspired the creation of Musical Touch?

creation of Musical Touch

Musical Touch is a project that explores the multifaceted relationship between music, touch and the sense of feel. Its goal is to reframe the way we understand the role that touch plays in our musical experiences, and how this experience might be reconstituted for a more diverse range of aesthetic contexts. Musical Touch is a research platform that draws inspiration from multiple disciplines including musicology, sound studies and the philosophy of space and time in order to develop new forms of inter-sensory musical expression.

The first prototype of Musical Touch was developed in the form of a wearable device that could distinguish different hand gestures via a series of pressure sensors on the wrist strap. The device also included a 12-diode chip on board LED, and a vibration motor to provide haptic feedback to users by lighting up or vibrating the device in response to their gestures. This enabled users to interact with a physical landscape that was transformed by their music-making, and further evoked the sensation of touch as a medium for creating meaning.

During its development phase, Musical Touch was used by a group of USF students and alumni, whose ages ranged from 18 to 42. While most of the participants were tech-savvy musicians, some were complete beginners who had never made music before. They tended to be drawn to Musical Touch’s ability to let them create music without the need for connecting it to third-party Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software, and its focus on movement-based interaction with the interface.

What inspired the creation of Musical Touch?

These findings inspired the creation of a second prototype that incorporated the 12-diode LED and vibration motor, and added more features to enable the exploration of motion touch and haptic feedback in music-making. These additions also enabled the Musical Touch app to expand beyond the classical piano to include new types of acoustic and rhythmic inputs, such as drumming, vocalization and clapping.

To further enhance the embodied experience of Musical Touch, the second prototype was designed to be more visually appealing, and to allow users to control its display and inputs using their hands in a variety of positions. The app was also updated to offer improved UI functionality, and a new sensor was added to the wrist strap that enabled users to capture their own heartbeats and use them as an input for Musical Touch.

The “Musical Touch” refers to the intimate, tactile engagement between a musician and their instrument, a concept that extends beyond technical proficiency to encompass the emotional and expressive connection that breathes life into music. This phenomenon is rooted in the nuanced interactions between the performer’s physical touch and the instrument’s responsive nature, resulting in a unique sound and emotive power that transcends mere notes.

Since its inception in 1982, Touch has consistently sought out innovative ways of conferring value on the musical product. This has taken the form of cassette magazines, 7″ LPs and CDs featuring artists as diverse as Cabaret Voltaire, Current 93, Einsturzende Neubauten and Tuxedomoon, as well as books and films by a host of leading experimental writers and filmmakers.

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