Joshua B. Mailman

Experimental Pragmatic Approaches to Interactive Music Systems Inspired by Music Analysis

The field of interactive music systems (IMSs), beginning in the 1980s, is still relatively young and fast moving. The field of music theory-analysis, during the same period (since 1980), has undergone a major transformation in terms of technological innovations, flexibility, and breadth. The two fields have not really caught up with each other. It will be interesting to see what arises as they do — especially as both fields have become more concerned with the role of the body and embodied cognition. This paper will consider the relevant developments in these fields leading up to the present.
The most popular approaches to IMS design are rationalist (Ashby 2010), exploiting the ‘correct’ embodiments of music (Mead 1999, Wessel and Wright 2002, Godøy 2004, Leman 2007, Paine 2009) based on affordances (Gibson 1977, Kelso 1998). The proposed paper, however, advocates an experimental pragmatic (Ashby 2010) approach inspired by music analysis and exploiting the potential of kinesthetic learning. Prompted by a progressive approach to music analysis, theory, perception, and cognition (Dubiel 1999, Mailman 2007), interactive music technology can also be constructive, flexible, and progressive, by exploiting kinesthetic learning from immersion in new and unusual motion-to-sound mappings derived from dynamic formal processes in analysed music. In this way, immersive interactive systems offer an opportunity systematically to learn new associations based on principles theorised in response to analysis. Experience of these systems essentially ‘rewires the brain’, thereby exemplifying what Korsyn (2004) has attributed to Lewin’s (1986, 1987) approach to music perception: the liberal ironist approach, as formulated by Rorty (1989). Rather than committing to any particular ways music is already embodied, this approach acknowledges the contingent status of embodied musical experience. It forges and uses interactive music technologies continually to redescribe and therefore reform how music is embodied, expanding how it is heard, contemplated and experienced.