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Cyther: A human-playable, self-tuning robotic zither

S. Barton, E. Prihar, P. Carvalho (2017). Cyther: a human-playable, self-tuning robotic zither. In proceedings of The 17th International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Human-robot musical interaction typically consists of independent, physically-separated agents. We developed Cyther – a human-playable, self-tuning robotic zither – to allow a human and a robot to interact cooperatively through the same physical medium to generate music. The resultant co- dependence creates new responsibilities, roles, and expressive possibilities for human musicians. We describe some of these possibilities in the context of both technical features and artistic implementations of the system.

Systematic Variation in Rhythm Production as Tempo Changes

Barton, S., Getz, L., & Kubovy, M. (2017). Systematic Variation in Rhythm Production as Tempo Changes. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 34(3), 303-312.

We investigated the effect of tempo on the production of the syncopated 3-2 son clave rhythm. We recorded eleven experienced percussionists performing the clave pattern at tempi ranging from 70 bpm to 210 bpm. As tempo increased, percussionists shortened the longest intervals and lengthened the shortest interval towards an intermediate interval that is located in the first and second positions in the pattern. This intermediate interval was stable across tempi. Contrary to prior studies, we found that the complexity of interval ratios had little effect on production accuracy or stability and the “short” interval in the pattern was not particularly stable. These results suggest that as tempo is varied, (1) experienced musicians systematically distort rhythmic intervals, (2) rhythmic configuration, and not just the complexity of interval ratios, affects the production of rhythmic intervals, and (3) the distinction between long and short intervals is context-dependent.


Music Perception

Creativity in the Generation of Machine Rhythms

S. Barton (2016). In proceedings from The 1st Conference on Computer Simulation of Musical Creativity.

Abstract: This paper explores musical, psychological and philosophical ideas about how humans and machines interact in creative processes. It argues that creativity is a function of both generator and receiver, and that these roles can be amorphous in the creation and experience of electronic music. It offers an approach to structuring temporal spaces for rhythmic composition, which leads to the idea of machine rhythms, which are proposed as a promising area for creative expression.

Dysrhythmia of timed Movements in Parkinson’s disease and freezing of gait

Tolleson, C. M., Dobolyi, D. G., Roman, O. C., Kanoff, K., Barton, S., Wylie, S. A., … & Claassen, D. O. (2015). Dysrhythmia of timed movements in Parkinson׳ s disease and freezing of gait. Brain research1624, 222-231.


A well-established motor timing paradigm, the Synchronization-Continuation Task (SCT), quantifies how accurately participants can time finger tapping to a rhythmic auditory beat (synchronization phase) then maintain this rhythm after the external auditory cue is extinguished, where performance depends on an internal representation of the beat (continuation phase). In this study, we investigated the hypothesis that Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients with clinical symptoms of freezing of gait (FOG) exhibit exaggerated motor timing deficits. We predicted that dysrhythmia is exacerbated when finger tapping is stopped temporarily and then reinitiated under the guidance of an internal representation of the beat. Healthy controls and PD patients with and without FOG performed the SCT with and without the insertion of a 7-second cessation of motor tapping between synchronization and continuation phases. With no interruption between synchronization and continuation phases, PD patients, especially those with FOG, showed pronounced motor timing hastening at the slowest inter stimulus intervals during the continuation phase. The introduction of a gap prior to the continuation phase had a beneficial effect for healthy controls and PD patients without FOG, although patients with FOG continued to show pronounced and persistent motor timing hastening. Ratings of freezing of gait severity across the entire sample of PD tracked closely with the magnitude of hastening during the continuation phase. These results suggest that PD is accompanied by a unique dysrhythmia of measured movements, with FOG reflecting a particularly pronounced disruption to internal rhythmic timing. link to paper

MARIE: Monochord-Aerophone Robotic Instrument Ensemble

T. Rogers, S. Kemper, S. Barton (2015). In proceedings from The 15th International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression.


The Modular Electro-Acoustic Robotic Instrument System (MEARIS) represents a new type of hybrid electroacoustic-electromechanical instrument model. Monochord-Aerophone Robotic Instrument Ensemble (MARIE), the first realization of a MEARIS, is a set of interconnected monochord and cylindrical aerophone robotic musical instruments created by Expressive Machines Musical Instruments (EMMI). MARIE comprises one or more matched pairs of Automatic Monochord Instruments (AMI) and Cylindrical Aerophone Robotic Instruments (CARI). Each AMI and CARI is a self-contained, independently operable robotic instrument with an acoustic element, a control system that enables automated manipulation of this element, and an audio system that includes input and output transducers coupled to the acoustic element. Each AMI-CARI pair can also operate as an interconnected hybrid instrument, allowing for effects that have heretofore been the domain of physical modeling technologies, such as a “plucked air column” or “blown string.” Since its creation, MARIE has toured widely, performed with dozens of human instrumentalists, and has been utilized by nine composers in the realization of more than twenty new musical works. link to paper

The specificity of expertise: For whom is the clave pattern the “key” to salsa music?

L. Getz, S. Barton, M. Kubovy (2014). Acta Psychologica; Volume 152, October 2014.

Each Latin salsa music style is associated with a characteristic clave pattern that constitutes an essential structure for performers. In this article we asked what types of expertise are needed to detect the correct salsa–clave pairing. Using two clave patterns (the 3–2 and 2–3 son clave) and three manipulated alternatives, we asked listeners to choose the correct clave pattern for a variety of bombacalypsomambo and merengueexcerpts. The results of Studies 1 and 2 show that listeners unfamiliar with salsa were unable to detect the correct salsa–clave pairing. Listeners who had some music training or were familiar with salsa detected the need for syncopation but not the specific pairing. Only musicians well-acquainted with salsa correctly detected the salsa–clave pairing. Studies 3 and 4 showed that incorrect choices were not due to an inability to distinguish between the alternatives: both adults and five-year-olds could easily tell apart the various patterns we used. We conclude that the distinction between the 2–3 and 3–2 claves is not inherent in the music itself, but rather is a convention to be learned through exposure and training. We discuss the results using an analogy to language learning. link to paper


The Human, the Mechanical, and the Spaces in between: Explorations in Human-Robotic Musical Improvisation

S. Barton (2013).  Published in the Proceedings of the Ninth Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment International Conference (AIIDE 2013)


HARMI (Human and Robotic Musical Improvisation) is a software and hardware system that enables musical robots to improvise with human performers. The goal of the system is not to replicate human musicians, but rather to explore the novel kinds of musical expression that machines can produce. At the same time, the system seeks to create spaces where humans and robots can communicate with each other in a common language. To help achieve the former, ideas from contemporary compositional practice and music theory were used to shape the system’s expressive capabilities. In regard to the latter, research from the field of cognitive psychology was incorporated to enable communication, interaction, and understanding between human and robotic performers. The system was partly developed in conjunction with a residency at High Concept Laboratories in Chicago, IL, where a group of human improvisers performed with the robotic instruments. The system represents an approach to the question of how humans and robots can interact and improvise in musical contexts. This approach purports to highlight the unique expressive spaces of humans, the unique expressive spaces of machines, and the shared spaces between the two. link to paper

Understanding Musical (dis)continuity

S. Barton (2012).  Dissertation.  Published by ProQuest.


While our experience of musical (dis)continuity is often powerful and clear, articulating the relations that inspire such percepts is not always easy. Part of the reason for this is that our experience of musical (dis)continuity is influenced by a number of physical, cognitive and perceptual factors, and thus is complex. I will therefore explore (dis)continuity’s character by applying ideas from psychology, music theory, algorithmic information theory, and statistics to a variety of musical compositions, including my own. These explorations will describe (dis)continuity as primarily dependent on five key elements: how we bring entities into relations, holistic associations, perceived (dis)similarity of intra- and inter-entity attributes and relational structures (which we can describe in terms of type and degree); hierarchical organization; and context.  These various elements work in isolation and in combination depending on the particular musical situation. Because (dis)continuity is multi-faceted in this way, no singular approach will illuminate the full extent of its richness and complexity. Instead, we must be able to approach (dis)continuity from a number of different perspectives; the one that we choose depends on the specific musical scenario. I will therefore incorporate ideas from the aforementioned disciplines, including structure mapping, transformational distance, and parametric dimensions, to describe, represent and eventually quantify the nature of these characteristics and how they interact to produce (dis)continuity percepts. Such a varied set of tools, which can be used in isolation or in combination, will allow us to describe (dis)continuity in a wide variety of musical styles.  This may prove useful not only in identifying commonalities between stylistically diverse musics but also in providing an analytic approach to musics that are resistant to traditional tools. Such flexible, yet rigorous, approach will allow us to illuminate the nature of (dis)continuous relations so that we can analyze and compose (dis)continuous music more thoughtfully. link to paper