This article presents design and performance practices for movement-based digital musical instruments. We develop the notion of borrowed gestures, which is a gesture-first approach that composes a gestural vocabulary of nonmusical body movements combined with nuanced instrumental gestures. These practices explore new affordances for physical interaction by transferring the expressive qualities and communicative aspects of body movements; these body movements and their qualities are borrowed from nonmusical domains. By merging musical and nonmusical domains through movement interaction, borrowed gestures offer shared performance spaces and cross-disciplinary practices.
Our approach centers on use of the body and the design with body movement when developing digital musical instruments. The performer's body becomes an intermediate medium, physically connecting and uniting the performer and the instrument. This approach creates new ways of conceptualizing and designing movement-based musical interaction: (1) offering a design framework that transforms a broader range of expressive gestures (including nonmusical gestures) into sonic and musical interactions, and (2) creating a new dynamic between performer and instrument that reframes nonmusical gestures—such as dance movements or sign language gestures—into musical contexts. We aesthetically evaluate our design framework and performance practices based on three case studies: Bodyharp, Armtop, and Felt Sound. As part of this evaluation, we also present a set of design principles as a way of thinking about designing movement-based digital musical instruments.