Sme(n)ms: Shared Musical Environment for Non-Musicians

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The Sme(n)ms project had the goal of re-creating the social music making and sharing setting that I witnessed in my youth growing up in Atlantic Canada. These kitchen jam sessions helped provide one of the few means of entertainment and social activities for many communities, especially those in rural areas where people lived great distances from one another. Our re-creation would take in account the modern social context for communication, sharing music, and community building – the internet and the world wide web. One of the advantages that the social settings had in my youth over most modern incarnations was the ease in which people could participate in music making sessions. Every pop and pan, every surface, every tool became a potential musical instrument. People were able to use a device they were most familiar or comfortable with to join the music making session. The tapping of pots and pans, beating your hands on the table, and singing all helped form a compliment to the more experienced members playing more traditional musical instruments. This ease of participation is at present, not as apparent when attempting to recreate these type of activities online.

Past attempts at creating an environment for musical collaboration have resulted in tools that could be considered as elitist as many musical instruments themselves. They have been geared towards professionals with an interest in learning or a familiarity with the metaphors that these interfaces use. Many of the current attempts at allowing people to create and share music over the internet or mobile network still use metaphors that are difficult and unfamiliar to most. Real time performance opportunities are negligible.

To achieve our goal has meant first the proposed investigation and creation of a number of tangible music making devices, Second the creation of a network and platform in which they can communicate, and third an attempt at screen based interfaces that would allow the same level of participation. All of these networked together allowing for the participation in real time music performance.

We have developed a number of rough elemental prototypes which help us build a competency that will allow us to achieve our goal. These included: musical chairs, kitchen utensils fitted with sensors, floor based sensors that transmit data to a midi instrument, and others.