Supporting virtuosity and flow in computer music
As we begin to realise the sonic and expressive potential of the computer, HCI researchers face the challenge of designing rewarding and accessible user experiences that enable individuals to explore complex creative domains such as music. In performance-based music systems such as sequencers, a disjunction exists between the musician’s specialist skill with performance hardware and the generic usability techniques applied in the design of the software. The creative process is not only fragmented across multiple physical (and virtual) devices, but divided across creativity and productivity phases separated by the act of recording. Integrating psychologies of expertise and intrinsic motivation, this thesis proposes a design shift from usability to virtuosity, using theories of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) and feedback “liveness” (Tanimoto, 1990) to identify factors that facilitate learning and creativity in digital notations and interfaces, leading to a set of design heuristics to support virtuosity in notation use. Using the cognitive dimensions of notations framework (Green, 1996), models of the creative user experience are developed, working towards a theoretical framework for HCI in music systems, and specifically computer-aided composition. Extensive analytical methods are used to look at corollaries of virtuosity and flow in real-world computer music interaction, notably in soundtracking, a software-based composing environment offering a rapid edit-audition feedback cycle, enabled by the user’s skill in manipulating the text-based notation (and program) through the computer keyboard. The interaction and development of more than 1,000 sequencer and tracker users was recorded over a period of 2 years, to investigate the nature and development of skill and technique, look for evidence of flow experiences, and establish the use and role of both visual and musical feedback in music software. Quantitative analyses of interaction data are supplemented with a detailed video study of a professional tracker composer, and a user survey that draws on psychometric methods to evaluate flow experiences in the use of digital music notations, such as sequencers and trackers. Empirical findings broadly support the proposed design heuristics, and enable the development of further models of liveness and flow in notation use. Implications for UI design are discussed in the context of existing music systems, and supporting digitally-mediated creativity in other domains based on notation use.