Inspired by a trio configuration–which is very common in Jazz and Rock–Trinidad is operated by three participants. Following the trio model of guitar-bass-drums and their individual roles within the music ensemble, in Trinidad one player performs the melody, a second one performs the base, and the third player performs the rhythm.
My initial idea for Trinidad was to create an audiovisual system that allowed novices to play as a band. My assumption was that participants, when confronted to an interface that makes music performance accessible for everyone, would start jamming, trying to create different musical phrases and moods, just as experts would do with traditional instruments. Although this worked out up to a certain extent, after the initial prototype tests, I realized that my assumption was not totally accurate. People didn’t care about creating “great music” as much as they cared about having a good time together. It opened my eyes to the idea that although the musical outcome was important to provide grounding and facilitation, it was not as important as the social experience. This was a groundbreaking discovery that had a profound impact on the direction of the project in several ways: I was no longer interested in making an instrument but an experience, where despite the expertise and the musical expectations, everyone could be able to participate, have fun doing it, and ultimately experiencing flow. After all, isn’t that the point of making music?
Taking this idea into account, for the final user testing I chose a proper context, paying attention to the sound and lights conditions as well to the graphic style and general look of the interface, trying to provide fertile conditions for the social behaviors I was looking for. I tested this with three groups, all of them classmates, some of them knew a bit about my project and some of them didn’t, but none of them were musicians. The overall experience was successful: participants had fun, they communicated between each other in verbal and non-verbal ways, and they were completely focused on the experience. It was extremely interesting to see what happened in that test and I was delighted to be able to experience it from an observer position.
During the hour and a half that the experience lasted, I could observe a common pattern in the way the experience evolved in each of the three groups. First, they explored their own individual space, figuring out how to operate the interface: understanding how the gestural inputs were translated to sonic and visual output, discovering how certain gestures produced different outcomes. Once they learned and felt comfortable about their individual role in the whole system, they started communicating with the rest of the participants, most of the times being curious about each other’s sounds or about what the others were doing. Communication allowed sharing knowledge, teaching each other about the features of the individual sounds and controls. The last step was trying to make something together, coordinating and synchronizing to create a common outcome.
After all these steps, the most interesting phenomenon happened, they started playing with the interface in different ways, for instance, occupying the individual sound space of a partner without permission, jumping around in circles or trying to play–all together–the same sound at the same time. They were totally breaking the implicit rules of the interface and behaving as children.
I find this last thing very interesting: given a very basic and simple set of rules, the system allows the users to explore the interface, but most importantly, to explore the territories beyond the ruleset. As Salen and Zimmerman explain in The Rules of Play , emergent play is the play that arises from breaking the original ruleset of a game, creating then a new kind of game, becoming an endless loop that makes play evolve.
Most of the ideas from Trinidad are being carried to my current thesis, my plan is to keep exploring this phenomena around sound experiences: how people communicate, how they build up strategies to coordinate and synchronize, how they break the rules of the given system and create play, and how a joyful collective experience leads to the state of flow.
More details on Trinidad here : http://franciscozamorano.cl/?p=1067
 Salen, Katie and Zimmermann, Eric. Rules of play: game design fundamentals. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.