indiscipline of design

Example 1: “The Continuator” by François Pachet


“The Continuator”, developed by François Pachet at the Sony Lab in Paris is a piano + computer that borrows from the musician/ user’s style to play a sequence on its own. Pachet uses the concept of “reflective interaction” to explore how to open a space rich of signs and references that also reflect on our activities. He therefore invents musical tools that can reflect musicians’ practices. This is an interesting example because the Continuator presents the best of both worlds: interactivity and reflexivity.

“…More precisely, we propose to consider the class of interactive systems in which users can interact with virtual copies of themselves, or at least agents that have a mimetic capacity and can evolve in an organic fashion. To make this imitation efficient, there are a number of characteristics that we consider important to define reflexivity in interactive systems.[3]

Among the most basic elements of this experience, François Pachet examines what he terms the “mirroring effect”:

“Similarity or mirroring effect. What the system produces sounds like what the user himself is able to produce. This similarity must be easily recognizable by the user, who must experience the sensation of interacting with a copy of herself. Similarity is not equivalent to mirroring. For instance, a systematic echo or repetition of the phrases played by the user does not induce such a sensation.”[4]

A musician plays notes on a piano. These notes are interpreted by a program which then presents follow up musical notes. “Interactions with the users are analyzed by IRMS to build progressively a model of this user in a given domain (such as musical performance). The output of an IRMS is a reflexive mimetic response to a user interaction[5]”. The system has been tested with experienced composers as well as children. All testers recognized their own personal “style” in the system’s suggestions. In other words, what captivates the users and what touches them in these interactive systems is the personal yet unusual aspect of what they discover about themselves, the instrument, and possible music.

The principal output of these systems is that thanks to the “chameleon effect” analyzed by Chartrand and Bargh[6], users learn about themselves, music, and their relation to music. There are educational benefits of such a mirroring system, in particular because mimetism is an essential paradigm of identity building.