The prehistory of Multitouch and Tangible Computing:Electronic Musical Instruments from 1890's to 1970

Adrian Freed and Bill Buxton

This presentation will cover the earliest electric and electronic instruments and by pairing contemporary touch interfaces with their musical predecessors we will see how much ground musicians turned over in the quest for greater microtonal pitch control, timbral resources and greater control of musical structure.

For designers and students of tangible computing this presentation will serve as a historical bridge to Bill Buxton's excellent web page "Multi-Touch Systems that I Have Known and Loved" (

Unusual Instruments covered include the Trautonium, Hellertion, Ondes Martenot, and Theremin Cello.

Bill Buxton will describe his time in the same lab as Hugh Lecaine and his work at Queens University and University of Toronto.

As well as rare archival film and images, we will conclude with demonstrations of the latest touch controlled musical instruments including David Wessel's Slab, CNMAT's new chordophone controllers and unusual controllers from CNMAT's extensive collection.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 10:00pm to Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:00am