We have been prototyping new computational tinkering activities that explore sound during the past 4 months, working collaboratively with our partners from the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten group and the LEGO Idea Studio.
During our first round of activity development with mechanisms and sound, back in Spring 2016, we came up with an activity we called "Kinetic Musicale" or "Robot Orchestra" in the early stages. We saw a lot of iteration as visitors were creating their "sound machines", however, deep investigations were focused mainly on mechanisms whereas "sound" felt more like a hook to draw people in.
— The LEGO Idea Studio (@LEGOIdeaStudio) November 16, 2017
A couple of months ago we picked up the topic of sound again, this time as part of our Computational Tinkering work (tinkering with computation in the digital world combined with tinkering in the real world). Our collaborators at LEGO Idea Studio started building small motorized sound making devices with LEGO WeDo and shared their experiments on Twitter. Unlike during our first explorations of sound and mechanisms, we had a clear intention that the mechanisms could be played together, controlled by a machine or computer. This is one of the early prototypes. The Idea Studio called this "Sound Circles"
This prototype from Amos and Liam at Idea Studio sparked a number of interesting new experiments and discussions about concepts of computation such as loops, events, sequences and physical computing in general. We were also reminded of some of the challenges we faced investigating sound during our first explorations with "Kinetic Musicale". Namely that participants wanted to play their "sound machines" together, but it was hard to do this without a common beat. (https://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/2016/05/12/lego-robotic-orchestra). One of the ideas that our teams got excited about during this 2nd prototyping phase with computation involved was that a group of people can collaborate and contribute their sound makers to a larger system that controls the individual sounds and composes them together. Following this idea, we experimented with a few more prototypes in recent weeks.
— The LEGO Idea Studio (@LEGOIdeaStudio) January 4, 2018
This is the next iteration of Sound Circles from the IdeaStudio, with more build-out sound elements or "Sound Tiles".
— Sebastian Martin (@smartinseb) December 7, 2017
Here is a clone with a different type of trigger mechanism (a spinning disk) that I made in response to the Idea Studio's Sound Circle at the Tinkering Studio.
Since then we have had fun making more sound tiles controlled by Scratch code and LEGO WeDo. Each sound tile has a distance sensor and that way can be plugged into a larger system that controls it.
Amplified with a pic-up mic, this slinky makes some amazing sounds and Hernán made the perfect mechanism to play it: The Electric Slinky Shaker #Tinkering with #Sound #SoundTiles #LEGOTinkering #SoundMachines @TinkeringStudio #HernánLira #slinky pic.twitter.com/HP3VY61xrn
— Sebastian Martin (@smartinseb) December 13, 2017
Here's a particularly intriguing Sound Tile that "Hernán Lira", one of our visiting artists made. I love the variety we see in these explorations, and how Hernán's work can be tied into a system even though the material set and aesthetic is very different from some of the sound tiles we made.
Now that we collaboratively made a variety of examples of "Sound Tiles", we will play with inventing systems that they can be plugged into. They could be played by a human conductor covering the distance sensors with their hands, triggered by a rotating mechanism, or even programmed by a drum similar to the mechanism used in mechanical music boxes. I am excited to invite visitors at the Tinkering Studio to come up with ways to trigger and combine sound tiles.
Revisiting sound with a focus on computation while frequently sharing ideas and experiences with our partners at MIT Lifelong Kindergarten and the LEGO Idea Studio has lead to interesting remixing of ideas and inspired new directions. I particularly like that physical prototypes inspired by each other's ideas often took the work in a slightly different direction and served as jumping off points for the whole group to investigate new areas. It's always reassuring to see the same qualities of Tinkering that we value in our workshops present in our own prototyping process.