Sampling the past: a tactile approach to interactive musical instrument exhibits in the heritage sector

Kenneth B. McAlpine

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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In the last decade, the heritage sector has had to adapt to a shifting cultural landscape of public expectations and attitudes towards ownership and intellectual property. One way it has done this is to focus on each visitor’s encounter and provide them with a sense of experiential authenticity.

There is a clear desire by the public to engage with music collections in this way, and a sound museological rationale for providing such access, but the approach raises particular curatorial problems, specifically how do we meaningfully balance access with the duty to preserve objects for future generations?

This paper charts the development of one such project. Based at Fenton House in Hampstead, and running since 2008, the project seeks to model digitally the keyboard instruments in the Benton Fletcher Collection and provide a dedicated interactive exhibit, which allows visitors to view all of the instruments in situ, and then play them through a custom-built two-manual MIDI controller with touch-screen interface.

We discuss the approach to modelling, which uses high-definition sampling, and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the exhibit as it currently stands, with particular focus on its key shortcoming: at present, there is no way to effectively model the key feel of a historic keyboard instrument.

This issue is of profound importance, since the feel of any instrument is fundamental to its character, and shapes the way performers relate to it. The issue is further compounded if we are to consider a single dedicated keyboard as being the primary mode of interface for several instrument models of different classes, each with its own characteristic feel.

We conclude by proposing an outline solution to this problem, detailing early work on a real-time adaptive haptic keyboard interface that changes its action in response to sampled resistance curves, measured on a key-by-key basis from the original instruments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInnovation in Music 2013
EditorsR. Hepworth-Sawyer, J. Hodgson, R. Toulson, J. L. Paterson
Place of PublicationShoreham-by-sea
PublisherFuture Technology Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9780956151681
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventInnovation In Music 2013 - York St. John University and the University of York, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Dec 20136 Dec 2013

Publication series

NameKES Transactions on Innovation in Music
PublisherFuture Technology Press


ConferenceInnovation In Music 2013
Abbreviated titleInMusic'13
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Music technology
  • Innovation


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