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Tinkering with sound - developing tools to explore and share sounds

Tinkering with sound - developing tools to explore and share sounds

Sound Safari

Investigating sound as a physical phenomenon

We love to ground our activities in the direct investigation of phenomena. Recently, we have learned a lot about how to engage visitors in deep explorations of sounds made with everyday objects amplified with contact microphones. To read about our initial sound experiments with visitors, check out Luigi's blog post.

To allow participants to study everyday sounds in a playful way, we developed a new tool, a portable contact microphone with an IPad amplifier and headphones. Visitors can use this contact mic like a stethoscope to closely listen to otherwise inaudible sounds. We often describe it as a magnifying glass for sound.
Sound SafariWe observed a lot of curiosity and delight as visitors went on a "Sound Safari" to discover and record unexpected sounds from everyday materials.

sound-sheet blog
Our desire to better understand what visitors are thinking when they deeply investigate sounds from specific materials lead us to this documentation sheet. We uncovered that sounds were often described in imaginative and personally meaningful ways by visitors. We also overheard some visitors talking about stories derived from sounds they recorded.

sharing discoveries and ideas

Since it's conducive to the tinkering process to share and build on the ideas of others, we wanted to make the sound recordings sharable between participants. On a small scale, we found that working in pairs with headphones makes for great collaborations and supports the exchange of ideas. However, it was challenging to share sounds this way with facilitators and the recordings themselves needed a home to be stored and remixed.


Keina Konno a media artist and currently visiting artist at the Tinkering Studio conceived of an app that visually represents recorded sounds in a "sound field". She dove right into creating a prototype and we've since tried out different versions with our visitors. The screen becomes populated with sounds recorded during the workshop and visitors can share, combine and compare sounds on the touch screen monitor. This video shows a collection of sounds that were all recorded from Lianna's bicycle during a 45 minute long sound safari recording session.

How to create with recorded sound

Good tinkering activities invite participants to explore a topic and in the process develop their own path of understanding and their own ideas for projects. During the next phase of activity development, we will focus on adding context that encourages creating personally meaningful projects that incorporate the recorded sounds. As we often do as part of our R&D process, we invite our team and collaborators to create projects based on their own interests. As we all create and share our own sound-based creations over the next couple of weeks and months, we will move toward understanding the core concept of the activity and then decide on how to frame it to visitors. For a start we are thinking of sound collages, visual animations that incorporate sounds using the Scratch visual programming platform, sound sequencers similar to Eric Rosenbaum's MmmTsss that the sounds can be added to, and a collaborative "sound wall" where visitors contribute their sounds and trigger other sounds by touch or dancing.

As we transition to developing activities using recorded sounds as a material for story telling and composing, we will look more closely at computational thinking concepts and practices present in the activities, such as sequencing, modularizing, abstracting and iterating.

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This work was supported by a grant from Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation

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This project was made possible through the generous support from the LEGO Foundation