A big broad question first: what inspired you to make D-box?


The D-box came out of the Hackable Instruments project, funded by EPSRC 2013-14. One common story in musical performance is that performers do things with their instruments that are very different from what the designers might have expected. For example, distortion on the electric guitar was an engineering limitation before it became the signature sound of a whole musical genre. And of course, a more contemporary example, DJ use of the turntable completely transformed the device from its origins as a home playback system.


The idea of Hackable Instruments was to see if we could build digital musical instruments that were as open to unexpected use and modification as familiar acoustic or analogue electronic instruments. There were two main aims: first, to make an instrument that could be rewired and subverted to create sounds we did not explicitly design into it; and second, to study how musicians interacted with the box to gain insight into the creative process.


What did you want participants to get out of the workshop and what did you hope to learn? 


My hope was that participants would find the workshop to be an interesting creative opportunity. I would hope that they would enjoy exploring the possibilities of the instrument, and that at the end they would feel like they had done something original, rather than just following instructions all day. We were interested not just in the electronic hacking process, but also in people being able to make original sounds and musical performances.


My own motivation for the workshop was to study the hacking process. We wanted to see what performers would do, how people might influence one another, and how they might describe their activities.


From the workshops that you've run, have there been any instances where you've been surprised by how people relate/use/think about the piece? Has this altered your own manners of thinking about the D-box?


I'm very often surprised! Not only at these workshops, but also with other instruments I have created; I often find that people develop ways of playing that are quite different from what I had in mind when I was designing it. What I have taken away from this experience is that it's important to make the instrument open to different interpretations, but at the same time to make it conceptually straightforward enough that people don't feel paralysed by too many possibilities with no obvious place to begin exploring.


I really like the idea of the D-box, particularly the concept that there appears to be a space (one might even say creative gap) between the intent of the creator and the way an object is used by an audience or user. Do you think d-box is unique in having this 'gap' or is it something that is exhibited by all objects and musical instruments? 


I think it is present to an extent in every instrument, and perhaps every object (see above), but that some objects exhibit this gap more than others. Physical objects (including some acoustic instruments) may have more of a gap than software tools, though counterexamples exist on both sides. We deliberately tried with the D-Box to let the gap be fairly wide. Even so, we have been surprised at the techniques people have come up with.


Get a glimpse at what the D-box is and can do with this youtube clip