Evaluation of the Buchla Lightning and the Mathews Radio Baton

Participants: Carmine Casciato
Michael Collicutt
Marcelo M. Wanderley (supervisor)
Percussionist playing the Radio Baton.
Funding: NSERC Discovery Grant (Wanderley)
Project Type: Master's thesis (M.A. in Music Technology)
Time Period: 2005–2009 (Completed.)

Project Description

The project aims to compare and evaluate the Lightning II and the Radio Baton from three perspectives. This comparative analysis between similar instruments will add to the ongoing discussion over the advantages and limitations of digital musical instruments.

Radio Baton and Lightning II

The first deals with the sensors used by each controller, infrared and capacitive. Understanding each sensor type aids the comparison of the different control signals output by each controller. Typical measurable variables include sampling rate, data resolution, transmitter-receiver characteristics, and latency.

The second view adopts an HCI approach to input device evaluation, where the focus is on usability, gestural range and resolution, degrees of freedom, and how they affect the user. Due to the relatively long history of these digital music instruments, it is possible to question expert users on important subjective performance characteristics such as expressivity and difficulty.

The third perspective involves motion capture of performances on both controllers and an acoustic drum. Percussion studies suggested by percussionist Fabrice Marandola ranging from basic to more advanced ones are used in the evaluation. The performances are be captured using the Polhemus electromagnetic tracking system and a video camera. The evaluation of kinematic characteristics of performer movements while performing with both devices and with the acoustic drum is expected to shed light into whether percussion skills can be transferred to the performance with each device.

The evaluation of existing digital music instruments is difficult as it straddles the line between aesthetics and engineering. It is necessary to bridge the gap by exploring meaningful methods to evaluate devices so as to aid musicians and composers in choosing appropriate digital music instruments.

Percussionist playing the Lightning IIPercussionist playing the Radio Baton


  1. N. Orio, N. Schnell and M. M. Wanderley, "Input Devices for Musical Expression: Borrowing Tools from HCI", presented at NIME workshop during ACM CHI2001, Seattle, USA, 2001.
  2. Marcelo M. Wanderley and Marc Battier, editors. Trends in Gestural Control of Music, Paris, Fr: IRCAM - Centre Georges Pompidou, 2000.
  3. Eduardo R. Miranda and Marcelo M. Wanderley. New Digital Musical Instruments: Control and Interaction beyond the Keyboard, A-R Editions, Spring 2006. ISBN 0-89579-585-X