Supporting pro-amateur composers using digital audio workstations

Clarke, Anna (2020) Supporting pro-amateur composers using digital audio workstations. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis investigates the activity of pro-amateur composers in order to identify possible design improvements to a category of composition software called digital audio workstations. Pro-amateur composers are composers who are not full-time professional musicians but who have a considerably greater level of expertise than amateurs. In contrast to the collaborative settings that this group is normally studied in this thesis will focus on situations where pro-amateur composers work independently.

Existing research on the use of composition software is reviewed, revealing that the composition process can involve a wide variety of component activities and overarching macro structures, and that other aids are often used in addition to composition software. Studies have also indicated that the design of composition software may constrain the creativity of composers. Four important considerations are identified for studying composers: triangulating multiple data capture methods, avoiding study designs that constrain what activities can be observed, capturing use of any external aids, and studying the use of a variety of composition software (or a prototype design) to mitigate any constraints that are due to the software's design.

Four pro-amateur composers were observed composing in their usual environments using a methodology based on interaction analysis. Based on information recorded about the settings, artefacts used, and activities carried out, three major patterns are observed. Firstly, existing tools support different composition activities to varying degrees, with additional support needed for improvisation, reflection, and auditioning incompletely specified material; secondly, composers make coordinated use of multiple representations; and finally, composers make use of strategies that enable selective allocation of time and effort (habituation, limited exploration, and self-constraining).

Previous authors have used many different notions of external cognition when studying the use of composition software. A literature review of such studies identifies techniques that can be applied to improve the representations used in composition software. Seven techniques are described: selective representation, diverse media types, structured representations, incomplete specification, representing alternatives, task lists, and representing history. A detailed review of evidence from the literature and the observational study is used to identify implementation suggestions for each technique. The technique of task lists has been studied significantly less in the literature on composition software and appears to be a fruitful avenue for further exploration.

A prototype to-do list website designed for coordinated use with Ableton Live is created to further investigate the task lists technique by studying how it is used by five pro-amateur composers. Using thematic analysis of interviews triangulated with video recordings and logs, four main themes are identified: using to-do lists to plan and focus, changing to-do list items over time, organising to-do lists, and applicability of to-do lists. Seven key patterns of activity that are enabled by task lists are also described: planning activity, journalling activity, interleaving activities, reflection, organising the to-do list, idea capture, and collaboration. Task lists appear to be useful because explicitly representing tasks, processes, and plans helps the composer to consider those subjects; and also because task lists ease many related activities, such as tracking incomplete work, monitoring deviation from a planned creative direction, or identifying and re-using useful strategies. Two important considerations for design of task lists in DAWs are identified: how task lists are integrated with the DAW, and how to increase the visibility of the composer's activity. For both considerations, specific suggestions are made for how these could be achieved.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Greenhalgh, Chris
Houghton, Robert
Keywords: Digital audio workstations, Composers, Pro-amateur composers, Composition software
Subjects: M Music and Literature on music > ML Literature of music
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Science > School of Computer Science
Item ID: 60508
Depositing User: Clarke, Anna
Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2020 11:06
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2022 13:19

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