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End-user action-sound mapping design for mid-air music performance

Brown, Dominic

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Dominic Brown
Associate Lecturer - FET - CSCT - UCSC0000


How to design the relationship between a performer’s actions and an instrument’s sound response has been a consistent theme in Digital Musical Instrument (DMI) research. Previously, mapping was seen purely as an activity for DMI creators, but more recent work has exposed mapping design to DMI musicians, with many in the field introducing soware to facilitate end-user mapping, democratising this aspect of the DMI design process. This end-user mapping process provides musicians with a novel avenue for creative expression, and offers a unique opportunity to examine how practising musicians approach mapping design.

Most DMIs suffer from a lack of practitioners beyond their initial designer, and there are few that are used by professional musicians over extended periods. The Mi.Mu Gloves are one of the few examples of a DMI that is used by a dedicated group of practising musicians, many of whom use the instrument in their professional practice, with a significant aspect of creative practice with the gloves being end-user mapping design. The research presented in this dissertation investigates end-user mapping practice with the Mi.Mu Gloves, and what influences glove musicians’ design decisions based on the context of their music performance practice, examining the question: How do end-users of a glove-based mid-air DMI design action–sound mapping strategies for musical performance?

In the first study, the mapping practice of existing members of the Mi.Mu Glove community is examined. Glove musicians performed a mapping design task, which revealed marked differences in the mapping designs of expert and novice glove musicians, with novices
designing mappings that evoked conceptual metaphors of spatial relationships between movement and music, while more experienced musicians focused on designing ergonomic mappings that minimised performer error.

The second study examined the initial development period of glove mapping practice. A group of novice glove musicians were tracked in a longitudinal study. The findings supported the previous observation that novices designed mappings using established conceptual metaphors, and revealed that transparency and the audience’s ability to perceive their mappings was important to novice glove musicians. However, creative mapping was hindered by system reliability and the novices’ poorly trained posture recognition.

The third study examined the mapping practice of expert glove musicians, who took part in a series of interviews. Findings from this study supported earlier observations that expert glove musicians focus on error minimisation and ergonomic, simple controls, but also revealed that the expert musicians embellished these simple controls with performative ancillary gestures to communicate aesthetic meaning. The expert musicians also suffered from system reliability, and had developed a series of gestural techniques to mitigate accidental triggering.

The fourth study examined the effects of system-related error in depth. A laboratory study was used to investigate how system-related errors impacted a musician’s ability to acquire skill with the gloves, finding that a 5% rate of system error had a significant effect on skill acquisition.

Learning from these findings, a series of design heuristics are presented, applicable for use in the fields of DMI design, mid-air interaction design and end-user mapping design.


Brown, D. End-user action-sound mapping design for mid-air music performance. (Dissertation). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Dissertation
Deposit Date Feb 25, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jun 9, 2020
Public URL


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