Sound, Image and Interaction Doctoral Symposium 2018

Doctoral symposiums are both a really comfortable place where to share your research, and a very daunting place to be. On one hand, you are part of a very intimate group that is there to share research findings and to gather feedback. On the other, everyone in that room is there for you to criticise, inspect and tear apart every single bit of your research.


Jokes aside, while being a stressful experience (designing the poster, printing it in the UK, smuggling it through airport security hidden under numerous jackets) it was a very useful one.

For starters, the location:

Madeira, little not-so-little island off the northwest coast of Africa, was a wonderful venue for such an inspiring event. The microclimates made my iPhone think we were going to a windy place in the middle of the ocean with an average of 15 degrees celsius all year round. Surprisingly, Funchal, the capital city, welcomed us with a warm and soothing 25 degree heat that stayed with us throughout the whole stay.

Enough about the place, how was the conference?

After a 3 and a half hour flight, me and my partner literally flew to our rented flat, dropped our bags, had a quick bite, and failed miserably to arrive in time for the opening keynote of the symposium. After finding quietly a place to sit, we enjoyed Fabio Morreale’s keynote speech. Having previously cheated, I had done a bit of background research on Fabio, that would have chaired my panel the next day. His talk revolved around specific aspects that tightly related to my research. One of them, the concept of transparency in DMIs, was such an eye opening discovery that it made it into the power point presentation I had prepared for the next day. Inspired and ready to tackle the challenge, after a brief city centre tour, we crashed in bed exhausted.

The next day, after an amazing coffee (or two, or three) in on of the many local cafes in the old town, we made our way to the M-ITI, HCI Research Institute for the actual symposium.

The day started with a great keynote speech by prof. Atau Tanaka, that showed throughout his many projects a spectacular variety of research interests, different methodologies, approaches and outcomes. I feel I can speak for everyone in the room: we were all amazed. But at the same time, I felt that more than ever that my research was a small grain of sand in a beach of other research(er)s.
Any how, that was my day, our day, so that feeling didn’t last long.

Daniel Ross opened the first panel with a really interesting presentation talking about computer aided composition. Even though it was not necessarily my field, and my questions were probably too technical, it was a really good start. The day was going by the second. I tried not to use all of my energies by getting involved in every single research project that was presented. However, there were a few that really stood out. On the trend of Fabio Morreale’s NIME DMI survey about longevity of the instruments, Raul Masu presented an overview of the use of score and notation in the NIME community. This provided a really good insight on the world of DMIs and the role of the score in 2018. I was really ready to give my contribution to this day.

After a short lunch break, it was my turn.

Presentation was smooth as ever. Magically I managed to transform what the previous night was a 24 minute presentation, into a 14 minute one. Considering that the limit was 15 minutes, I consider that a win. After my presentation, when my brain tricked me into thinking that everything was almost over, the grilling started.

21 minutes of questions

Yes, 21. More than my entire talk.

Having previously seen the typical focus of a research project, I should have expected the first comment. What is it that you are researching? You talked about this, and then this, and then that… but… what’s your research focus? I panicked. I shouldn’t have, because having a holistic approach to the problem I could have clearly defended myself. But I did. Off to a bad start. But that was the only time I did panic.
The methodology of the testing presented was questioned, and I confidently unravelled all the details that brought me to construct the test in that way. Some students redirected me towards performances I new, others to unrelated but nevertheless interesting aspects of piano playing. I nailed it. But no matter how much I did nail it, my mind was stuck in the first instance, the one where I panicked.
Luckily my partner was there to help me rationalise the comments and recorded the whole feedback session, in order for me to be able to analyse it with a clear mind a few days later.

The day carried on, a few more talks with some interesting aspects of data sonification by Sara Lenzi, and then we were off to dinner. Dinner, coupled with 3 back-to-back performances from 2 students that presented during the day and Atau Tanaka.

The mind had settled, the food, wine and warmth of the summer-ish night helped relax and unwind. By the time the concert started, I was ready to enjoy it.

With an outstanding performance by all of the performers, we slowly rolled home that night and, yet again, crashed on the bed exhausted/

The remaining days in Madeira were a gift: hot sun, warm water, and breathtaking landscapes.

The following Monday, back in the lab, I had time to listen once again to the feedback provided at the end of the talk. With the help of my supervisors, I was able to unpick every single comment, using what was good and useful to shift my research in the right direction, and discarding what was off topic or irrelevant to the scope of my research. Overall there is a need to focus the research more on the aspects that I’ve been researching, keeping in mind that my approach is a holistic approach based on concepts of research through design… and that mustn’t be forgotten!

The doctoral symposium provided me with the right tools to confidently present my research findings in a semi-public scenario. It helped me sculpt some aspects of my research, while giving me thought provoking feedback and comments. A must for and PhD student!

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