7 – Tangible Color Music Instrument

Looking at the interaction between rhythm and technology, my thesis uses tangible, audio-visual interactions to illustrate how physical and representative objects translate, transmit, and are encoded with rhythm.

This prototype moves my “radar player” out into physical space and allows users to manipulate and move translucent, colored plastic pieces over a lit background. A camera above the lit platform provides information to my openFrameworks application that is looking for specific data points of hue, saturation, and value. As a virtual “radar” passes over combinations of colors, users are able to compose through exploring sound and the visual.

I focused on three specific aspects of the object and user interaction, which were:

  • color
  • look and feel
  • collaboration

I made 3 different versions of this prototype in 3 days to move quickly through a set of possible components and interactions. The components that were used consistently throughout were several pieces of translucent, colored-plastic (1″ X 1″ and 3″ X 3″), light, and a PS3 camera.

Initially I used a light table which provided a quick set-up but poor image quality (hallogen light) and too small a surface to allow users to work with.

The second and third iteration made use of a milk crate, cardboard spray painted white, and a translucent piece of plexiglass (18″ X 24″).

I set these prototypes up in the 10th floor lab here at Parsons and had a series of Design and Technology students (both MFA and BFA) try each of them. A total of 5 groups of students tested this instrument.

Within each of the scenario’s, the sets of user groups attempted different approaches to the plastic pieces. I feel these approaches differed based on the user’s own creative style. Some stacked them, others bound them with tape, and one even tossed the plastic pieces in the air and let them fall randomly on the lit plastic platform of the instrument.

In relation to the collaborative element, I feel the actual set-up of the prototypes influenced the users. The first prototype only allowed people to approach it from 2 sides, so there was a limited amount of space. Comments from users such as “Oh, I’ll wait until your finished” or “Sorry” were prevalent.

The second and third prototypes allowed users to approach the instrument from 3 sides, and the level of collaboration, such as combining colors and adding to a single piece together, was much more evident. The feedback that I received was directed more towards possible next steps and additional elements to include, which I felt reflected a successful prototype that provided an accurate representation of where I am at with the process.

Here is a video screen capture taken during testing, and it shows how users used the instrument:

Thanks to Creative Applications and Gizmodo for posting about the project. Looking forward to putting together the next iteration.