Digital Musical Instruments:
A Design Approach Based on Moving Mechanical Systems

Participants: Elliot Sinyor
Marcelo M. Wanderley (supervisor)

The Gyrotyre.
Funding: FQRSC NSERC Discovery Grant (Wanderley)

Project Type: Master's thesis (M.A. in Music Technology).

Time Period: Sept. 2004 - Aug. 2006. Status: Completed.

Project Description

This thesis describes the design and use of two novel digital musical instruments (DMIs) based on moving mechanical systems. The motivation behind using mechanical devices was threefold:

  1. to explore the effect of physical effort on DMIs,
  2. to make use of the device’s inherent haptic and visual feedback, and
  3. to serve as a starting point for sound mappings.

It was hoped that their mechanical nature would give the instruments a character that could emerge through each of the mappings.

The first DMI built was the The Gyrotyre (pictured above), a hand-held DMI based around a small bicycle wheel outfitted with sensors that measure its speed of rotation and as well as its angle of orientation. The second DMI built was the Springwave, which consists of a loose metal spring stretched to one meter and fixed at both ends to a metal frame. The frame is in turn mounted horizontally on a hi-hat stand so that it can be raised and lowered with the pedal, thus inducing oscillation in the spring.

Various mappings were designed to reflect and make use of the physical nature of both instruments. It was found that the nature of interaction with each instrument was very different depending on the mapping used. The use of mechanical devices was found to be a useful starting point for the development of mappings, and made playing the instruments engaging for the performer.


  • Elliot Sinyor. “Digital Musical Instruments: A Design Approach Based on Moving Mechanical Systems.” M.A. Thesis. McGill University, 2006.
  • Joseph Malloch, David Birnbaum, Elliot Sinyor, and Marcelo M. Wanderley. “A New Conceptual Framework for Digital Musical Instruments.” In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects (DAFx-06), Montreal, Canada, pp. 49-52, 2006.
  • Elliot Sinyor and Marcelo M. Wanderley. “Gyrotyre: A Hand-held Dynamic Computer-Music Controller Based on a Spinning Wheel.” Proc. of the 2005 International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression - NIME05, Vancouver, Canada, pp. 42-45, 2005.

More Information