Embodied interaction in music

Posted on 28 April 2005 in Interaction design, Media, Mobility, Research, Sound, Usability

I too have “ditched”:http://interconnected.org/home/2005/04/12/my_40gb_ipod_has my large iPod for the “iPod Shuffle”:http://www.apple.com/ipodshuffle/, finding that “I love the white-knuckle ride of random listening”:http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2005/01/the_rise_and_ri.html. But that doesn’t exclude the need for a better small-screen-based music experience.

The pseudo-analogue interface of the iPod clickwheel doesn’t cut it. It can be difficult to control when accessing huge alphabetically ordered lists, and the acceleration or inertia of the view can be really frustrating. The combinations of interactions: clicking into deeper lists, scrolling, clicking deeper, turn into long and tortuous experiences if you are engaged in any simultaneous activity. Plus its difficult to use through clothing, or with gloves.

h3. Music and language


My first thought was something “Jack”:http://www.jackschulze.co.uk and I discussed a long time ago, using a phone keypad to type the first few letters of a artist, album or genre and seeing the results in real-time, much like “iTunes”:http://www.apple.com/itunes/jukebox.html does on a desktop. I find myself using this a lot in iTunes rather than browsing lists.

“Predictive text input”:http://www.t9.com/ would be very effective here, when limited to the dictionary of your own music library. (I wonder if “QIX search”:http://www.christianlindholm.com/christianlindholm/2005/02/qix_from_zi_cor.html would do this for a music library on a mobile?)

Maybe now is the time to look at this as we see “mobile”:http://www.sonyericsson.com/spg.jsp?cc=gb&lc=en&ver=4000&template=pp1_loader&php=php1_10245&zone=pp&lm=pp1&pid=10245 “phone”:http://www.nokia.com/n91/ “music convergence”:http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000540040867/.

h3. Navigating through movement


Since scrolling is inevitable to some degree, even within fine search results, what about using simple movement or tilt to control the search results? One of the problems with using movement for input is context: when is movement intended? And when is movement the result of walking or a bump in the road?


One solution could be a “squeeze and shake” quasi-mode: squeezing the device puts it into a receptive state.


Another could be more reliance on the 3 axes of tilt, which are less sensitive to larger movements of walking or transport.

h3. Gestures


I’m not sure about gestural interfaces, most of the prototypes I have seen are difficult to learn, and require a certain level of performativity that I’m not sure everyone wants to be doing in public space. But having accelerometers inside these devices should, and would, allow for the hacking together other personal, adaptive gestural interfaces that would perhaps access higher level functions of the device.


One gesture I think could be simple and effective would be covering the ear to switch tracks. To try this out we could add a light or capacitive touch sensor to each earbud.

With this I think we would have trouble with interference from other objects, like resting the head against a wall. But there’s something nicely personal and intimate about putting the hand next to the ear, as if to listen more intently.

h3. More knobs


Things that are truly analogue, like volume and time, should be mapped to analogue controls. I think one of the greatest unexplored areas in digital music is real-time audio-scrubbing, currently not well supported on any device, probably because of technical constraints. But scrubbing through an entire album, with a directly mapped input, would be a great way of finding the track you wanted.

Research projects like the “DJammer”:http://www.hpl.hp.com/research/mmsl/projects/djammer/ are starting to look at this, specifically for DJs. But since music is inherently time-based there is more work to be done here for everyday players and devices. Let’s skip the interaction design habits we’ve learnt from the CD era and go back to vinyl :)

h3. Evolution of the display


Where displays are required, I hope we can be free of small, fuzzy, low-contrast LCDs. With new displays being printable on paper, textiles and other surfaces there’s the possibility of improving the usability, readability and “glanceability” of the display.

We are beginning to see signs of this with this OLED display on this “Sony Network Walkman”:http://dapreview.net/comment.php?comment.news.1086 where the display is under the surface of the product material, without a separate “glass” area.


For the white surface of an iPod, the high-contrast, “paper-like surfaces”:http://www.polymervision.com/New-Center/Downloads/Index.html of technologies like e-ink would make great, highly readable displays.

h3. Prototyping


So I really need to get prototyping with accelerometers and display technologies, to understand simple movement and gesture in navigating music libraries. There are other questions to answer: I’m wondering if using movement to scroll through search results would create the appearance of a large screen space, through the lens of a small screen. As with “bumptunes”:http://interconnected.org/home/2005/03/04/apples_powerbook, I think many more opportunities will emerge as we make these things.

h3. More reading

“Designing for Shuffling”:http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2005/04/designing_for_s.html
“Thoughts on the iPod Shuffle”:http://interconnected.org/home/2005/04/22/there_are_two
“Audioclouds/gestural interaction”:http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~jhw/audioclouds/
“Sound objects”:http://www.elasticspace.com/2005/02/sound-objects
“On the body”:http://people.interaction-ivrea.it/b.negrillo/onthebody/


  1. Andrew
    28 April 2005

    I’m a finger-drummer, always tapping along with music or idly even when there’s no music. I wonder if tapping simple rhythms on the device could work as interactions?

  2. Jean Baptiste
    4 May 2005

    tapped rythms could be recorded as information bits and then be described as digital structures and mapped to as midi or osc datas to be used as sources for sequencer like reason or resolume or max/msp

    you could also have mobile interaction like adding gate to your voice when speaking or modify the pitch of mp3′s played in your small world network of ipod friends like in atau Tanaka stuff http://www.csl.sony.fr/General/People/StaffPage.php?username=atau&Command=Find%2Bby%2BAuthor

  3. Sheron Wray
    8 May 2005

    Very interesting research. I wonder if you might be interested in a digital community music performance interface that I am researching into.The squeezing action seems to be an area worthy of further exploration, would there be issues surrounding right or left-handedness?


  4. Mikko Grönroos
    22 May 2005

    You’ve got some nice ideas there.

    So far, I’ve found Sony’s Jog-wheels (and therefore Apple’s also?) the best solution. Not in their every product, but most of them – like in my Clié.

    I know many people are used to gestures, motion sensors and some are even using speech recognition, which all seem kind of too complex to me. At least, all the implementations I’ve run into.

    By the way, I think I misunderstood your first picture, since I was thinking some kind of belt that would go around the device, which could be used for navigation. It would have looked kind of nice, but I guess that would not be the best solution for a mobile device, which I think should be usable also with one hand only.

  5. Rashed
    1 July 2005

    Have you seen the interface for Creative’s Jukebox 3 (discontinued now I think)? This uses a jogwheel to cycle through the alphabet to get to the track or artist name. The only problem with this has been a physical one with the jogwheel needing lubrication after a while as it’s becomes rather erratic after a while.

  6. anita
    18 August 2005

    I think there is already research into the more movement oriented interface but with mobile phones. Just tried to find url with no luck, but have a look at http://www.gizmag.com.au

  7. bishopdante
    9 October 2005

    stephen hawking, the physicist in the weelchair communicates entirely by tapping. He even talks by tapping the whole sentence, and then the computer reads it out in the famous robot voice.

  8. Scott Flavin
    5 January 2006

    These are very interesting concepts; however, I dont think the Internet is the best place to place concept art or design. These images, designs and annotations are easily accessable. This means that any number of large corporations or developing companies have immediate and unrestricted access to your wonderful ideas. They could use these concepts, realize your idea and then make millions off of it. I suggest thoroughly researching these ideas, enabling yourself to place a patent on them. This would save you from the frustration of another company creating your product without any credit or profit directed towards you (knock on wood). Just a thought.

  9. research/techkwondo
    23 October 2006

    Mediamatic Workshop — RFID & The Internet of Things…

    Timo Arnall, Arie Altena, Rob van Kranenburg and I will be participating in the Mediamatic workshop on RFID & The Internet of Things, November 14-16. It’ll be a mix of discussion, lectures and hands-on prototyping. Should be lots of fun! I encour…

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