The EMvibe is an instrument I developed as part of my dissertation research. The project began as pure research—I was the only developer as well as the only user—but there has been some interest from other vibraphone players, as well as from composers who are interested in exploring this instrument. Right now the system is too cumbersome and complicated for me to put it in the hands of anyone else, so I have undertaken a more user-centered redesign of the software, starting with the user interface.
The user interface serves both input and display functions. The way the software is set up, the front end does not control the instrument directly, rather it controls how the instrument will respond to inputs from the performer and gives the user important information about its current state.
The original interface is a patchwork of different panels and features that are a direct reflection of the underlying data and control structures, but also the development process itself—as features were added, new controls needed to be added.
Secondary user: Colin Composer
Colin is not a vibraphone player. He will be writing a piece for the EMvibe for a performer friend of his. This means that for the most part he will not have access to the hardware. Colin is a savvy user with experience creating interactive computer music in Max/MSP. He is interested in creating very specific types of effects/responses which will change over the course of his composition. He needs to be able to easily add his own effects to the effect library and to create presets that allow the performer can call up the appropriate effects during performance
Primary user: Joe Jazzer
Joe is a performer, not a computer musician. He is interested in technology and is computer literate, but is not a power user. Joe is interested in expanding his sonic vocabulary by using the EMvibe on upcoming gigs. He will need to practice at home with the various effects to get comfortable with how they respond, so that he can feel comfortable using them on the gig. Joe has worked with some effects pedals, and will choose similarly general EMvibe effects. He needs to be able to easily set effects and get clear feedback on how the instrument is responding.
In this wireframe I have attempted to integrate the display and input functions of the UI. I use the keyboard layout because it correlates visually with the vibraphone keyboard the performer plays on. Clicking one of the "bars" brings up a popover menu that allows the user to set the effect for that key. Pull down menus below the keyboard diagram allow the user to set the effect for a given range of notes, or for the entire keyboard.
User feedback (display)
Users need to know how the instrument is responding. Each bar has three general states: inactive, active-listening and active-sounding. Active-listening and an inactive are differentiated by a change of stroke weight and color. Active-sounding bars have a colored fill. Fill opacity and brightness are mapped to the volume and spectral brightness of the sound, both of which are continuous parameters.
I have also designed some icons which will tell the user at a glance when the instrument is in certain modes.