Week 4 - Sound & Interactivity

This week the sculptures were ready to become living-breathing interactive artworks. As mentioned in my initial 5 week plan, the artistic theme of Playces was to explore the notion of 'what makes a place a place'. Now that the structures were completed, a core element of each of these locations could now be singled out and paired with both a sonic element and an interactive component, which drew on characteristics of what makes each of the distinct places unique. The first challenge was to single out a defining visual characteristic of each location. Not one that just stood out, but ones that held interesting potential for playful interactivity. To do this, I turned to the principles of affordance. Product design 101 at it's finest, and expertly covered in Don Norman's 'The Design of Everyday Things' (which emerged as a result of crappy "push or pull?" door design.) What clues does an object give you to interact with it? Was does the form/shape/material of each element allow you to do? Depending on the location that each sculpture was based on, these elements differed greatly. Then, the next challenge was to identify suitable sensors that would tap into the affordances of each of the singled out structural or visual elements of each sculpture. This aspect was directly influenced by any selections made in the previous step. If the affordance of one element of the sculpture rotated, then a dial would work nicely. If the affordance of another element of the sculpture bends, then a flex sensor could be used. The last challenge was with the sound. For various reasons (e.g. allocated exhibition space, resources for installation) this new series of sculptures for Playces would need to work harmoniously together as an ensemble of locations, not just visually, but sonically. At this stage, the sculptures were to be considered as voices in an ensemble; the instruments of a multi-sensory orchestra. So each of the core elements that were singled out for each location, after being paired with a sensor that tapped into their affordances, were then also paired with a suitable sonic profile; a reactive sound palette that worked well with the type of interaction each sensor expected of the user. Overcoming each of these challenges required a great deal of back and fourth, with plenty of reflection on how each modality related to the other (the visual affordance, the interactive sensor, and the reactive sound). After circumnavigating this multimedia love-triangle a few times, I decided on following multimedia configuration for each of the sculptures, which by this point felt fairly rounded, considered, and balanced:

1. The Shanty Town Affordance: Doors that can be opened and closed. Lights that can be turned on and off. Sound: Percussion. Representing community activity across various dwellings. Interactivity: Rotary and linear potentiometers used. Doors used to control low-pass filter on percussion voices to simulate the effect that a closing/opening door has on a room full of sound.

2. The Cathedral Affordance: Sturdy, resonant surfaces of the stained glass windows. Sound: Melody. Glassy and percussive representing the surface of the windows. Interactivity: Piezo/vibration sensors used. Windows can be tapped to trigger sound and generate reactive lights as part of a visual-sonic-haptic relationship combo.

3. The Factory Affordance: Tall hollow chimney stacks. Sound: Bass. Low and resonant. Suited to the relative scale of the sculpture and the context of a large industrial structure. Interactivity: Light dependent resistor (LDR) sensors. These allow the sculpture to detect when someone is blocking the opening to each chimney stack, which in turn will influence the sound that the sculpture generates.

4. The Cave Affordance: The opening to the cave. Sound: Echo and reverberation modeled from the impulse response of a large wet rocky cave. Interactivity: Microphone used. Takes live feed of anyone who speaks/sings/shouts into the opening of the cave. I got to implementing these sensors right away, after 2 days of progress this is how those interactions are currently working out:

At this fairly unpolished stage, I feel that each of these interactions are actually working fairly well! I went in with the greatest amount of trepidation for the stained glass windows on The Cathedral, because, well... it's such a strange and messed up interaction given the context of the place the sculpture represents! ...but at present, with the context of that location aside, it feels like it is allowing for the most satisfying interaction yet. The visual-haptic-sonic combo is immediate and strong which really captures your focus when interacting with it. The factory is making for a more mindful and focused interaction, one that focuses more on build up over time rather than immediacy. More refinement is needed here, but this will all be in down to the attack and release times for the drones for each chimney - too quick and it doesn't create the colossal industrial vibe I want to achieve, too slow and it'll result in an unsatisfying interaction for the user. The Cave has been the simplest to assemble. If I was to be brutal you could sum this one up as a glorified microphone stand at present, but I have to confess testing it for the first time was quite fun. Beyond this core objective for this step in the 5 week plan, there was room for some additional elements and new skills to bubble up - Cue the bonus round! First up, I learned how to glass paint, which resulted in these acetate panels that are now being used for the windows on The Cathedral:

...I also created some pixel art .gif animations for my LED matrixes, which will be used as digital billboards on The Factory. Big up to Miles Warren (the best of the best!) for helping me get my Raspberry Pi configured, which enabled me to begin working with these beauties:

This phase wasn't without its injuries though... I experienced more delicious hot glue burns as I finished adding detail to the sculptures, and even experienced a temporary loss of vision after testing an LED backlight panel I assembling for The Cathedral...

Ah well... the scabs will fall from my corneas eventually and I'll live, and I'll recover in time for the final showcasing efforts next week as I approach the end of this current 5 week plan.

Copyright © Leigh Davies 2020