The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Ho-Chun Herbert Chang '18 attends the NIME international conference in Australia

Ho-Chun Giving a demonstration of their synthesis instrument

Ho-Chun standing beside the NIME banner

Concert Venue

Ho-Chun's Oral presentation of their paper

Article Type 

My excitement to attend NIME 2016 (New Interfaces for Musical Expression), at least for 36 hours prior, was in constant turmoil against turbulence, tight transfers half way across the world, and the significant work attached. Hosted this year between July 10 to 14 in Brisbane Australia, NIME is an annual five-day international conference that brings together researchers, musicians, composers and interested students to discuss new technologies and their musical implementations.

This experience began with my 2015 summer undergraduate research project with Professor Spencer Topel at Bregman Media Laboratories. Our paper Electromagnetic Actuated Acoustic Amplitude Modulation was accepted to NIME in April with oral presentation and demonstration, and along with the acceptance came copious amounts of work after Spring term. Beyond engineering an aesthetically satisfactory prototype, we practiced our presentation while working with the Technological Transfer Office to file a patent. We planned to release two product lines—a stand-alone synthesizer instrument and an application to acoustic instruments. The process helped me understand a different side of academia: the side of juggling research, product development, aesthetic presentation, and academic networking.

Our presentation was one of the earliest scheduled, and afterwards I could really relax and enjoy the conference. NIME consists of three main activities—paper presentations, posters and demonstrations, and daily concerts— all which exemplify the cast of characters present at the conference. Scientists present new technology and theories; engineers utilize these technologies to build new interfaces; artists integrate these instruments into work presented concerts. For example, Japanese artist Yoshihito Nakanishi performed his self-designed interactive synthesizer “Powder Box”; computer scientist Andrew Sorensen played music by live coding on a projected screen. Eye tracking glasses allowed you to change sound just by looking in certain directions; the laptop accordion was played by opening and closing the angle of a laptop. 3D printed design produced a wonderful avenue for children education in the sciences. Music therapy studies used intuitive interfaces to find ways to help stress management with special-needs patients.

The community is a vertical integration of cutting edge sound research. Not unlike the debate between MOOC’s and the value of education, an individual’s presence at a conference facilitates efficient spread of knowledge, effective and immediate clarification, and more importantly cross-fertilization of interrelated fields. It is certainly no coincident that large companies like Yamaha or Novation were present and taking notes.

The most memorable memories came from the people I met during universally beloved coffee breaks and the demonstrations. Professor Topel introduced me to his many colleagues from Australia to Copenhagen. Over meals, many discussions led to questions about the identity of NIME as the fourth ranked journal in Musicology. Given how interdisciplinary the field is, are there certain aesthetics or methodologies that scientific presentations should follow to improve the quality of studies? Why do many instruments never live beyond its inception? What are necessary steps in documentation to preserve existing designs? What is required to push instruments to commercialization?

NIME’s second keynote speaker Garth Paine provided a potential answer: new interfaces do not necessarily mean musical expression. In short, there are essential factors of an instrument or interface that differentiate play things and instruments that are playable, expressive and evolutionary. The current state of instrument technology determines in part the value of research. The transition from existing instruments to new applications must be smooth for the player.

All in all, NIME has given me significant insight in how technology and the arts drive one another’s growth, how contemporary aesthetics affect the direction of inquiry, and how a community constantly pushes to refine its research.

Ho-Chun Herbert Chang '18, Rockefeller Mini-Grant Recipient

The Rockefeller Center's Mini-Grants program funds registration fees for students attending conferences, as well as the costs of bringing guest speakers to Dartmouth. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.


The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences