Wiring Challenges 3: Musical Controller

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by Lina Antolínez in collaboration with Jaime Patarroyo and Carlos Mario Rodríguez

This challenge was designed as an exercise for beginners. It is a basic approach to tangible interactions and prototyping with electronics. We assume that all the people involved in the resolution of this challenge have a previous knowledge in basic programming platforms like Processing and that Wiring software has been downloaded and installed.

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Design a musical controller / instrument in which its interaction or interpretation corresponds intuitively to the plastic of a specific musical genre.

  • How do you play, dance, sing or interpreted the genre?
  • Which culture represents the genre and what are its characteristics?

The controller must be built with Wiring and sounds should be played in Processing.

Groups can be 3 to 4 people.

What do we need?

  • A Wiring i/o board per group
  • Generic USB cable
  • Sensors and Actuators:
    • Temperature: LM35
    • Light: Photoresistor, LEDs
    • Movement: Potentiometer, Switches, Tilt sensor, Mercury Switches, Motor
    • Sound: Microphone, Speakers
  • UTP cable without endings(3m)
  • Bronze sheet and foam.
  • Soldering iron, solder wire and paste
  • Multi-pin socket connectors or 8 wire assembly jumpers
  • Wire stripper, diagonal cutter and pliers
  • Other materials needed for building the instrument.

How to develop this challenge?

If this challenge is going to be used as a workshop, it can be developed in 2 days. The first day, the Understand phase has to be developed in 3 hours and in the second day Build, Adjust and Test phases should be developed in 8 hours.

If this challenge is going to be applied in an academic context for a class or similar, it can be developed in 4 weeks with a 3 hour meeting session per week. Understand phase has to be developed in the first session, Build and Adjust phases will be developed out of the meetings but checked during the second session. And finally Test phase has to be developed in the third session.



Step 1: Introduction

What is this challenge about?

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Technology exists in our life as a media and as an extension of our bodies. Just as the animals seek survival or protection mechanisms or objects, such as building a nest made of branches, humans seek means to facilitate the way we do different activities, for example, communicating in real time with someone else anywhere in the world. Thanks to technology we can not only facilitate and optimize these activities, but we can amplify, enhance or enrich them from exploring new scenarios in which their use is relevant.
This challenge invites to the exploration of technology and the use of interactive media in music as a way of enriching the act of performance for different musical genres. Each genre has its own ways of interpretation and intuitive gestures that show the cultures to which they belong. Metal for example, carries with it the aggressive head and body movements to accompany the sounds of the drums and the guitar. Tropical rhythms make use of the hips and shoulders to represent the sound of drums and joy. What if we use these gestures and genre cultural heritage to design new and fun ways to interact and control our music?

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Cc license.png Images above are under a Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license
and belong to  rjforster, mckaysavage and L.A.Shooter Flickr users.

Step 2: Starting Point

How can we enrich the act of musical performance taking into account the genre cultural legacy and using interactive media?

At the time of filing the brief it is important to make a little journey through the different musical genres, their gestures, their cultures and the way their played. Groups must assemble and a specific musical genre must be assigned for each of them. The musical genres the Wiring Challenges team has been working with are:

  • Bachata
  • Carranga
  • Champeta
  • Disco
  • Flamenco
  • Salsa
  • Ska
  • Vallenato

In some workshops we’ve assigned specific songs from those genres for participants to devote more time to research and design rather than spending it choosing the song they have to interpret.

Step 3: Inspirations

What could be useful to solve this challenge?

The following projects are strong references and inspirations for this challenge because they show other approaches to the initial goal and explore at different levels the act of musical performance.

Humanthesizer by Calvin Harris

Wch3 Humanthesizer.png

It is a human synthesizer the consists of 15 beautiful women in bikinis. Each has an instrument sound assigned that is played every time they touch their hands, feet or pads in the floor. Thanks to a conductive paint that is applied to the body of the pretty girls signals can be send to reproduce sounds and achieve a unique performance as the one of Ready for the Weekend. Watch the video.

Tüist by Rui Pereira

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Is an emotionally driven multi-mode musical interface for 'super-star' wannabe's incapable of playing musical instruments. Tuist Website

Reactable by Sergi Jorda

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Is an electronic musical instrument with a tangible and collaborative interface based on a 60‘s modular synthesizer. Reactable can be manipulated by several people at once, moving and rotating the physical objects on the luminous table surface. These objects are scanned by the surface to create basic and complex sound sequences that can be modified in real time. Watch the video.

Step 4: Content

What do we need to know to solve the challenge?

In this challenge it is important to do some exercises to understand how to use specific electronics components that could be useful for some projects. With these exercises students or participants can become familiar with components and i/o board connections. Exercises of the Getting Started section are ideal for this:

1. LED Blink Turn on and off a LED

2. Photoresistor Connect a photoresistor and turn on a LED when reaching a specific value.

3. Switch Connect a Switch and turn on a LED when pressing it.

4. Digital Read Read and print data from a digital pin.

5. Analog Read Read and and print a value from an analog pin.

6. Sending Multiple Data Sending data from Wiring to Processing.


Step 5: Planning

Which is the interaction experience for every device?

File:Wch3 construir.png

Groups must be ready to undertake the investigation of their genre. It should be analyzed from its history, cultural heritage and way of interpretation to define a situation or concept from which they will design the instrument.

A good way to get to understand the genre is by analyzing the lyrics and the stories contained in them. Analyze its greatest performers, times and places where they occur, their characters, their costumes and their movements.

In this same way the instrument’s interaction must be designed. Define who, how and where it will be play and what is the value or importance this new tool has in the interpretation of the genre.

It is very important to make and share video scenarios, photo scenarios or storyboards of the experience that you want to design and then develop the prototypes.

As an example of experience design in this challenge we have two major projects:

Electro 1 by Sebastián Navarrete and Sergio Muñoz

Wch3 bocetoElectro1.png

Is an electronic music turntable, that redefines the way to interpret this genre, involving two people in the creation and control of sound and lights in the show. One person controls the beat of the song covering with his fingers different points on the disk, while the other controls the melody playing different parts of the song with a stick. The first song developed by Sebastian and Sergio was "One More Time" by Daftpunk.

Talento de Impresión by Juan Pablo García and Andrea Mora video

Wch3 bocetoTalento.png

Is a device that allows men that have "two left feet" and don’t know how to dance very well, dance salsa with rhythm and impress others with their movements. It’s composed by a jacket that the dancer must wear and a base where he should stand and follow the steps that are indicated with lights. The jacket senses the movement of arms and motivates the dancer to continue moving them in a natural way and the with the rhythm of the music by projecting patterns created by the movement.

Step 6: Implementation

What do you need to make real the interaction?

Understand actions, phenomena, components and identify which are the right ones to build a prototype and why.

Wch3 electro1Construir.png

Sebastian and Sergio made​a good choice of components by selecting unsophisticated parts and easy to find and integrate into the console. They decided to use photoresistors to detect when the person controlling the beats position his fingers in the different spots. The rhythm of the beats also lit the LED strips that decorated the console. They also used copper wire wrapped around the wand for touching different parts of the console made of aluminum foil.

Step 7: Connections

How do the components should be connected?

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After choosing the electronic components, they have to be tested in a breadboard before welding any component. Once the components work you can install them in the prototype structure and weld all the connections.

Juan Pablo and Andrea measured the rhythm times of salsa and previously synchronized the LED’s on the breadboard, then they welded and joined the components to the base where they were going to lid with the rhythm of the song indicating the position of the feet while dancing.


Step 8: Problems and Adjustments

What problems were identified and how were they solved?

Particularly in this challenge most groups presented problems sending data from Wiring to Processing. The way to fix these was to repeat the explanation of the exercise Sending data from Wiring to Processing and reviewing each of the codes and connections with members of the Wiring Challenges team.

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The most common mistake is to connect the cables to the wrong pin or using the wrong resistors, we recommend be patient and follow closely the wiring diagrams that exist for each component or review their datasheet : )


Step 9: Presentation

The ending of this challenge is perhaps the most fun of all. Each group must play their instrument and design how to do it. In many cases it is the performance of a chosen song accompanied by the respective clothing. During the presentation, groups should explain what it is and how it works and capture the best moments that will be include the Wiring Challenges Exhibition


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In case of an academic context, the team or the teacher should evaluate some criteria during the competition:
Interaction: Does the device allow the user to intuit naturally the actions that he has to do? The actions that the user does are coherent with the genre? The controler lets you perform actions with ease and efficiency?
Robustness: Does the device works well at the moment of the presentation and keeps working anytime after it? Is the prototype completely finished? Is his physical appearance consistent with the genre? Is it a finished, sturdy and neat prototype, without the use of expensive and final materials?
Components: Are the electronic components the most appropriate to measure the actions that the user does?
Process: The group assisted to all the project reviews? Did they follow a wise process of project development where they obey the corrections and evolved their ideas? If they didn’t assisted to the reviews for some reason, is the complete process in the document? Are there any prototypes or testing, failures identify and successes until the final result?
Documentation: Is the process of project development from the research to the final result documented? Is the process and the iterations logical? Is there graphical evidence of the process and a effective description of the project that serves as support for the presentation? Is it a well presented document with good writing and spelling?

Step 10: Certificate

Once all the presentations are finished is the time to deliver the certificates to all the participants in the challenge.

Download Certificate of Participation: Wiring challenges 3

These challenge was developed and documented at Universidad de Los Andes during november an december 2011.

Leader team: Lina Antolínez, Jaime Patarroyo, Carlos Mario Rodríguez and Luis Alzate.

Photo: Lina Antolínez y Jaime Patarroyo.

Language: English  • Español
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