rePlay – Engaging Music Player

2015 – rePlay: an engaging music player that sits somewhere in between a playlist and a music instrument

This project is concerned with investigating the design space of musical objects that sit in between music devices and musical instruments. RePlay is an object that allows one to interact with digital music to shape its sonic character thereby creating a focal practice in a social context and unique experience of the music.

Use scenario: the aim is to establish a meaningful, social practice through continuous attention that is required from the rePlay music player

Working prototype of the music player

The prototype, connected to music software on a laptop to run the demo

This is how rePlay works.


Users playing with the rePlay and commenting on the experience.

In this project we focus on the consumption of digital music and propose a way to turn this into a focal practice thereby allowing people to construct their own individual experience of a commodity.

Referring to the thing, device and engaging device distinction (Verbeek, 2005; Borgmann, 1984) in relation to digital music we note the following. A thing is a musical instrument, such as a piano that stimulates engagement and takes effort and skill to master whereas a device is a technological object that encourages solely consumption. In terms of music, online streaming services, such as Spotify or Dezeer, are devices that provide to music with the click of a mouse button. Devices can also be engaging, the electric piano or the synthesizer are examples. However, music production software and specifically software synthesizers with so-called presets simplify and even commodify the sounds and make it accessible for instant use.

However, there is still a large gap between listening, or consuming, music and composing music or playing an instrument. The questions we aim to address with the prototype RE-play are the following: how can a commodity such as digital music be embodied in an engaging device that leads to a focal practice? Furthermore, is de-commodification destructive in the sense that important qualities are lost, or does it enrich one’s experience?

We have designed replay, a de-commodifying digital music player, which allows the user to reconstitute and play recorded music, thereby constructing one’s own experience of the music. This prototype is a desktop box with 13 rotary knobs that alter certain characteristics of the music, such as tempo, frequency, tuning of the rhythmic elements and so on. One can start to play a song and is then invited to make the music sound to one’s suiting by using the knobs. There is no default way of the sound and therefore interacting with the device is always required. Apart from using this device individually it can be used in a group, which will lead to social gathering and discussion of how the music should sound.

This prototype is a first step towards investigating the implications of establishing a focal practice for highly commoditized goods. The next step is evaluating how people engage with it and develop follow-up prototypes.

Verbeek, P.-P. (2005). What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency and Design. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Borgmann, A. (1984). Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. University of Chicago Press.

This project was presented at the 4S Conference.