A new audio mixing board concept for use in musical theatre production

Project website.

Liebman, N., Nagara, M., Spiewla, J., and Zolkosky, E. 2010. Cuebert: A New Mixing Board Concept for Musical Theatre. In Proceedings of the 2010 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME 2010), Sydney, Australia.

Cuebert poster

This project marked a departure from the typical desktop or mobile research and design project. Spurred by an experience I had working in a theatre, I carried out this project as an independent study in conjunction with team members in the SI Interface & Interaction Design course.

Mixing consoles have been around since the early days of audio production, with few developments in physical design or layout in decades. Considering the capabilities of a traditional analog mixing board, it is a remarkably elegant device. This simplicity stems from technical limitations of analog technology: the layout of the controls, in general, must mirror an audio signal’s path through the board, and with relatively few exceptions, every pot, slider, or other control on the board serves only a single purpose, regardless of context.

The advent of digital audio removes these constraints, opening up tremendous feature possibilities, but at the same time allowing designers the freedom to focus on issues like how many channels or effects processors can fit in a given unit area, to the great detriment of usability.

We set out to determine whether there exists a viable new metaphor with which to represent audio on a surface, but guided by our user research, we instead overhauled existing mixing board concepts using modern interaction techniques.

Our work showed that the live theatre audio world is ready for a revolution in user interface design. Our design was received overwhelmingly positively by the audio community.