An alternative design framework for the generation of sound particles

  • Pere Villez

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research contributes to an empirical design analysis framework for informing the implementation of a type of microsound synthesis called Particle Synthesis (PS).
Microsounds are sound particles with a duration typically lasting from thethreshold of perception up to ~100ms (Roads, 2001a).
Microsound synthesis software is popular in music production and is used for processing audio. PS, however, still remains relatively unknown to composers and only recently have independent developers made PS available on popular computer platforms. Variations in implementation, however, disguise similar underlying techniques and produce inconsistencies. Perhaps this is because independent developers (often individual researchers/hobbyists) lack the development formalities of large software corporations.
Although different sound classes are generated by PS systems, they share very similar parametric features. However, parameters, which are key in one system,are commonly implemented partially or omitted in another. In order to obtain a wider more flexible range of microsound sound classes, users have to operate several of the systems simultaneously across incompatible operating systems and environments.
To address this situation, this thesis examined the questions as to what specific functional and usability criteria might inform new PS designs and whether this criteria and consequent design framework would be successful in informing new PS artefacts.
Key theoretical foundations of microsound techniques are identified, and their use in 20th century music composition examined. PS techniques lack a specific design framework. However, Jaffe (1995) proposed criteria to assess general synthesiser technologies, and design analysis principles called Cognitive Dimensions (CDs) were revealed which help evaluate the design of information artefacts including software synthesisers.
Many elements of Jaffe's criteria may be viewed as industrial design principles, which may be generalised into microsound synthesis criteria.
By combining the CDs framework with the new microsound artefact criteria and operationalising them as variables, an empirical analysis framework for studying usability factors of PS software was made possible. Furthermore, these can be applied to the functional elements of design.
Subsequently, empirical studies were conducted in which seven identified PS implementations were quantitatively assessed against the new microsound criteria in order to ascertain the weight of individual usability and functional characteristics across the systems.
The collated results from the studies confirmed that many common usability and functional features exist. They further revealed uneven and incomplete implementation of features for composition of sound particles over multiple timescales, and seamless manipulation of continuous and discrete particle sound streams. The results were collated in order to establish specific design goals and used to implement and adapt a prototype PS compositional system called the Elementary Signal Engine (ESE), which includes the common and disparate features of the systems studied. This is the ancillary contribution to this work.
The success of the new MS design analysis framework is subsequently evaluated by studying the ESE artefact using the same analysis framework against the design goals established from the original seven PS artefact analyses.
Date of AwardNov 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJanet Delve (Supervisor) & David Anderson (Supervisor)

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