Fuzzy Adventure: A Tangible Music Mixer




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Project Summary


When watching a musical performance, some people focus simply listening to the sounds while others try to inspect the musicians and discern how each is affecting the overall sound. At an electronic music performance, this can be especially difficult for the second kind of audience member because unlike traditional instruments, electronics are usually positioned on a table facing away fromt the audience. Additionally, some listeners feel “cheated” by not knowing what the producer is controlling or even knowing if they are doing anything but hitting play on a pre-recorded track. In our project, we tried to make the actions of a performer that would result in changes to sound visible to the audience. In this way, the performer has another degree of freedom in which to perform their piece, one of a physical dimension.

Our basic prototype consists of three looping tracks that can be manipulated in various physical ways. Each of the three tracks have a volume control and an effect control.

Track
Interaction
Parameter
Master
Place block
On/Off
Bass
Cup filling
Volume
Bass
Crush green flower
Bit Crush
Drums
Cup filling
Volume
Drums
Cover blue circle
Bit Crush
Synth
Touch Membrane
Volume
Synth
Touch Membrane
Bit Crush

Hardware



2 - pressure sensors https://www.sparkfun.com/products/9375
2 - touch membrane sensors https://www.sparkfun.com/products/8680
1 - photo sensor
1 - proximity sensor
1 - Arduino Uno
2 - breadboards
Some - Conductive fabric https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10070



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Challenges



Actuating the pressure sensors:
  • Building blocks on a platform - One small sensor could not reliably sense the weight of a platform because the pressure was distributed instead of localized on the sensor. We tried multiple methods of focusing the weight, including adding weights to a hanging structure which pulled a focused point down over a pressure sensor. this hack idea sort of worked but was unreliable, and was hard to move.
  • Solution: Cups - While not as visually appealing as the original idea of stacking blocks on a surface, it was much better looking than the hanging weight and much more reliably actuated the pressure sensor.

De-breadboarding our sensors:
  • Finding the right kind of connectors
  • Solution: Making our own connections - We resorted to using tape and popsicle sticks to attach wires to the leads of our sensors so that we could position the sensors away from the breadboard.

False starts with:
  • Flex sensors - We found it hard to actuate the flex sensors in such a way that the reading used the full analog range in a smooth manner.
  • Hall-effect, Vibration sensors - We had a difficult time getting either of these sensor types to give us a reading. Finding documentation on the parts was difficult and even having them, it didn’t necessarily tell you how to obtain a reading from the sensor.

Liked Best

The open-endedness assignment gave us freedom to choose a topic that we were interested in while satisfying the prompt. We enjoyed starting with the idea of making music, and then trying to figure out what needs we could satisfy with the input device. We also enjoyed having the opportunity to play with and learn how to use many different types of sensors.

Improvements


More feedback about the project choice would have been helpful in the very beginning of the project. Since this was our first project, we weren’t really sure how to approach it, and how difficult our ideas would be to implement.

A rough timeline (possible steps to follow if we got stuck) would have been particularly helpful. Our team had a rough idea of what we wanted to do, but it took us time to formulate our concept into a physical set of controls. Sketching out what a final prototype might look like, and thinking about the possible interactions we wanted implement before building would have saved us time.

The timeline would have helped us also realize how much time we needed to leave for building. We figured out most of the sensors by the first week, but quickly realized that we needed a lot of time to actually create the interactions that we wanted. It took us a while, for instance, to get the pressure sensors to reliably measure weights.

Appendix

GitHub

https://github.com/cimbriano/fuzzy-adventure

Inspirations


Electronic artist mixing music during a concert. What is he doing while he’s performing? How are his actions affecting the music?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5QwGr_0Xl4

Multi-user electronic music instrument with a tabletop tangible user interface. Creating a new way to mix synthesized music, visualizing sound manipulation.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XN_6Kjzf8c&index=12&list=PLl4JDwCcVJCdJU8KXEaSqgdQFJRFSigJh

Novation Launchpad Keyboard. Load samples into differents cubes on a touchscreen. Allows you to see visual more easily.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuV7L4bRkuo

Novation Launchpad iPad App
http://global.novationmusic.com/software/launchpad-app

Minim (Processing Library)
https://github.com/ddf/Minim/tree/master/examples/Synthesis