This past Fall, we were pleased to offer several grants to help support our students in sharing their research at the premiere conferences in their field. Below, Ritwik Banerji reflects on his experience in Utrecht this past September.
It was a great pleasure to present at the International Computer Music Conference. In its more than four decades of history, the conference has mostly functioned as a venue for designers of new tools for avant-garde musical expression to present their work. Within that history, then, it was an honor to have my work accepted when my own research agenda is partially focused on the avant-garde itself, but mostly focused on the social science of music. At Utrecht, I presented a paper outlining the design of the main character of my doctoral research, an interactive virtual performer of free improvisation known as “Maxine.” Besides detailing design, the paper also presented some fresh fieldwork from my extensive tests of Maxine with improvisers in Berlin. I hope that this paper was useful in demonstrating that certain social science problems cannot be addressed as efficiently without the use of music computational tools. As I explain further in the paper, the main purpose of testing Maxine is not necessarily just to improve the system, but to get musicians, and perhaps people generally, to talk about something they prefer not to: how other people annoy them in the way they conduct a social interaction. Given their commitment to certain notions of liberal freedom and egalitarianism, improvisers rarely if ever criticize their peers if dissatisfied with how they have played in musical interaction. By stark contrast, none of these musicians have a problem criticizing a machine like Maxine. Thus, the results of this encounter reveal what improvisers really expect of one another and in particular, how they each construe the lofty ethical, legal, and political ideal of egalitarianism as specific prescriptions for how one should listen, think, feel, and act in the presence of another such that they feel an equity of agency in the progress of the interaction overall.