Where Few NIMEs Have Gone Before: Lessons in instrument design from Star Trek

S. M. Astrid Bin

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

  • Year: 2023
  • Location: Mexico City, Mexico
  • Track: Papers
  • Pages: 48–53
  • Article Number: 6
  • PDF link

Abstract:

Since 1966 Star Trek has been exploring imaginary and futuristic worlds in which humanity comes in contact with alien cultures. Music has always been a method through which alien cultures are made relatable to humans, and musical instruments become props through which we learn about an alien culture that is totally different to that of humans. These musical instruments were not designed with musical use in mind; rather they are designed as storytelling devices, and never intended to work or make sound. After discovering one of these instruments I realised that recreating it in the way it was imagined and making it functional would require consideration of the instrument's storytelling function above all else, including the technology. In this paper I describe the process of re-creating an instrument from Star Trek as a functional DMI, a process in which design decisions were guided by what the storytelling intentions were for this imagined instrument, and what I found out by having to make technical choices that supported them (not the other way around). As well as reporting the design and implementation process I summarise the important design lesson that came from having to emphasise the intended mood and presence of an instrument, instead of the design being steered by technical affordances.

Citation:

S. M. Astrid Bin. 2023. Where Few NIMEs Have Gone Before: Lessons in instrument design from Star Trek. Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. DOI:

BibTeX Entry:

  @article{nime2023_6,
 abstract = {Since 1966 Star Trek has been exploring imaginary and futuristic worlds in which humanity comes in contact with alien cultures. Music has always been a method through which alien cultures are made relatable to humans, and musical instruments become props through which we learn about an alien culture that is totally different to that of humans. These musical instruments were not designed with musical use in mind; rather they are designed as storytelling devices, and never intended to work or make sound. After discovering one of these instruments I realised that recreating it in the way it was imagined and making it functional would require consideration of the instrument's storytelling function above all else, including the technology. In this paper I describe the process of re-creating an instrument from Star Trek as a functional DMI, a process in which design decisions were guided by what the storytelling intentions were for this imagined instrument, and what I found out by having to make technical choices that supported them (not the other way around). As well as reporting the design and implementation process I summarise the important design lesson that came from having to emphasise the intended mood and presence of an instrument, instead of the design being steered by technical affordances.},
 address = {Mexico City, Mexico},
 articleno = {6},
 author = {S. M. Astrid Bin},
 booktitle = {Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression},
 editor = {Miguel Ortiz and Adnan Marquez-Borbon},
 issn = {2220-4806},
 month = {May},
 numpages = {6},
 pages = {48--53},
 title = {Where Few NIMEs Have Gone Before: Lessons in instrument design from Star Trek},
 track = {Papers},
 url = {http://nime.org/proceedings/2023/nime2023_6.pdf},
 year = {2023}
}