Last week we hosted Playtronica, an artist collective that bridges education, technology and play through interactive musical experiences. We were excited to explore their toolkit that allows for the creation of sensory interactions with objects and space through different materials and circuit boards. Playtronica collaborates with institutions, curators, educators and artists to create unexpected cultural experiences like a musical slack line or an intereactive playground of sonic vegtebles. It was a lot of fun to spend a few days together and get the chance to mess around with their tools and technologies and start to brainstorm how we can integrate sound and music with some of our new computational tinkering experiments They brought a collection of interesting components and custom boards to test out with our group. I thought it was interesting that they started out by using some preexisting boards like makey makey and the bare conductive touch board in their workshops and installations before developing their own products.
They started off the week by hosting a workshop with the extended tinkering studio team for a couple hours so we could learn about each other's work and try out some new things together. They were especially interested in combining activities and artifacts from existing tinkering studio activities with the sonic technologies. This was a great way to get started and helped us better understand their idea that 'things should sound'. One interesting thing that we worked on was hooking up conductive tape and fabric to LEGO sound machines setups to try and add some extra digital noises to the rhythm machines. I'd like to see how these technologies can be yet another way to integrate LEGO into a wider range of tinkering experiences.
Deanna and Sebastian took the idea of the musical slackline and created a swinging pendulum with conductive fabric that changed sounds as the string stretched and loosened. If we had more time it would have been really fun to take some of these materials out on the floor of the museums to hear some of our exhibits in a new way. We also experimented with some of out LEGO tinkering balancing prototypes, specifically trying to make sounds through capacitance so that as the objects moved on the slow moving motor, they could interact without touching. It didn't quite work as planned but it was interesting to return to the problem of how to wire up something on a spinning motor. At the end of the two hour session, each group shared what they had been working on and what other things they would continue to think about.
Later on in the week, Sasha and Andrei presented about their work in an informal brown bag in the learning studio for the rest of the museum staff. We got a cross-section of people from different departments interested in their ideas and projects. After the presentation, a group of us tried the 'touch me' circuit board, a version of the brains of our musical bench that makes set up and experimentation easy and allows for many people to play and experiment together.
And we continued to explore their circuit boards with other materials and sensors that we've played with in the tinkering studio. Adding a light sensor to the musical 'touch me' circuit created a quick and playful impromptu installation. By Thursday, we started to prepare for a public event during the adult hours in the vein of our previous tinkering social club programs. Our plan was to show a few small scale demos, host an interactive installation, and have Playtronica perform alongside a local electronic music group called LoveTech. There was lots to take care of and prepare before the event. Sergey and Aglaya get started on the laser cutter to cut out stencils to use with conductive paint in the creation of an instrument for the performance.
We found an awesome bright red sheet of packing material in the shop racks, we cut it to the size of two tables, and stenciled on the conductive paint designs in groups of four. By adding copper tape, we could connect the inputs to the playtronica box to assign each touch pad a unique sound. For the installation, a few project explainers helped us set up in the tinkering studio by taking three 4x8 sheets of cardboard and coating them with aluminium tape. Together this would be serve as the pad for our interactive installation.
The idea was that the performers would wear fake rubber crocs from Daiso to be insulated from the floor that was connected to ground. Each of the performers had one of the other sides of the circuit attached to their wrists with a wire. Other people could take off their shoes, step of the floor and "play" the performers simply by touching their hands and completing the connection. One of the small experiments on the table was a recreation of the light sensor circuit from earlier in the week with a hacked circuit board toy part controlling the rhythm of the music.
Visitors had a lot of fun exploring these ideas when there wasn't a central activity going on in the space and they sparked a lot of questions and conversations. A couple of times over the course of the evening, we gathered volunteers to join in the interactive installation. Lots of people enjoyed kicking off their shoes and making music with our group of performers (many explainers included) who tried to stand still and keep a straight face as participants moved around the metallic floor and touched their hands to make sounds. The principle is similar to some makey makey experiments that we've tried, but something about the good speakers, the darkened environment, and the large scale of the interaction added an extra playful and immersive dimension to the collaborative experience.
Around eight o'clock we had our first performance from the Playtronica and Love Tech musicians. It was great to see the entire Tinkering Studio start fill up with excited people ready to listen, and get more and more crowded as curious visitors stopped by to hear what was going on in the space. I think the shape of the workshop worked well for the tiny concert and it was a nice culminating event for the residency to perform in this community setting. The group sounded great and again to me it emphasized the importance of demonstrating not only the low threshold digital sound experiments like a makey makey banana piano with computer speakers, but and the high ceiling possible with these materials when accomplished musicians create immersive soundscapes and play them on these large scale instruments. It was very inspiring for us to get the chance to work with the Playtronica team and I'm looking forward to more chances for future collaborations.