Published June 1, 2020 | Version v1
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What Makes a Good Musical Instrument? A Matter of Processes, Ecologies and Specificities


Understanding the question of what makes a good musical instrument raises several conceptual challenges. Researchers have regularly adopted tools from traditional HCI as a framework to address this issue, in which instrumental musical activities are taken to comprise a device and a user, and should be evaluated as such. We argue that this approach is not equipped to fully address the conceptual issues raised by this question. It is worth reflecting on what exactly an instrument is, and how instruments contribute toward meaningful musical experiences. Based on a theoretical framework that incorporates ideas from ecological psychology, enactivism, and phenomenology, we propose an alternative approach to studying musical instruments. According to this approach, instruments are better understood in terms of processes rather than as devices, while musicians are not users, but rather agents in musical ecologies. A consequence of this reframing is that any evaluations of instruments, if warranted, should align with the specificities of the relevant processes and ecologies concerned. We present an outline of this argument and conclude with a description of a current research project to illustrate how our approach can shape the design and performance of a musical instrument in-progress.



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2220-4806 (ISSN)