Nonlinear Dynamics In Musical Interactions

Mudd, Tom (2017). Nonlinear Dynamics In Musical Interactions. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines nonlinear dynamical processes in musical tools, identifying certain roles that they play in creative interactions with existing tools, and investigates the roles they might play in digital tools. Nonlinear dynamical processes are fundamental in the everyday physical world. They lie at the core of many acoustic instruments, playing a particularly significant role in bowed and blown instruments.

Two major studies are presented that approach these issues from different perspectives. Firstly a set of comparative studies explore the ways in which musicians engage with systems that do and do not incorporate nonlinear dynamical processes. Secondly, interviews with a range of musicians engaged in contemporary musical practices — particularly free improvisation — are used to investigate the role of nonlinear dynamical processes in instrumental interactions in relation to unpredictability and creative exploration.

Evidence is presented demonstrating that nonlinear dynamical processes can be drawn on as resources for exploration over long time periods. An approach to creative interaction that explicitly draws on the properties of nonlinear dynamical processes is uncovered and connected to material-oriented notions of creative processes. Nonlinear dynamics are shown to facilitate a productive ‘‘sweet spot’’ between unpredictability and complexity on the one hand, and detailed, sensitive, deterministic control, coupled with the potential to repeat and develop particular actions on the other. The importance of timing in interactions with nonlinear dynamical processes is highlighted as being significant in creating explorable interactions, particularly close to critical thresholds.

A distinction is raised between instantaneous unpredictabilities that emerge from the interaction with the tool (interactional ), and unpredictabilities that result from the unexpected implications of the conjunction of otherwise anticipated elements (combinatorial). While the usefulness of the latter in creative interactions is frequently acknowledged in HCI research, the former is often excluded, or seen as a hinderance or obstruction. Engagements with nonlinear dynamical processes in existing musical instruments and practices provide clear evidence of the utility of both nonlinear dynamics, and interactional surprises more generally, suggesting that they can be of use in other domains where creative exploration is a concern.

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