Designing around Unspoken Rules
How does one approach interactive system design in a context where human subjects are unable to (or even decline) to give clear guidance about what they expect or prefer?
The end goal is that the system “listens” (i.e., using microphones, audio signal processing, etc.) and respond (using synthesized sounds) in real time to human players just like it were a fellow human musician.
Building a machine that makes people feel like it’s an insightful, inspired creative collaborator is a daunting, if not impossible, task. The purpose of this project was to fully embrace this infeasibility. Even if one only achieves a fraction of end goals, taking such challenges only leads to new discoveries.
On top of that, improvisers are a resolutely obscure subcultural group. Where or when concerts take place or who is involved in the scene can be difficult information for outsiders to gather. This makes observation a rather difficult task.
Based on these principles, I designed a virtual improviser, “Maxine.” Here's a short clip of the system playing a simulated version of an electric guitar with a trumpeter named “Laurie":