Rainmaking on Mars WIP blog

Rainmaking on Mars final prototype

Ars Electronica Festival 2017

Visitors interacting at Ars Electronica Festival 2017
  • I started to change the sounds on each day to test different sounds and its sustainability throughout the day. Mainly because some sounds became really high pitch by end of day but also to see how different sounds work with the piece, how people react to the piece.
  • The sounds are a bit indistinguishable so changing some of the sounds or mixing the sounds more during interaction is important for immediate feedback
  • Squeeze sounds are delayed in reaction
  • When the background rain sound was clear and affected by touching the leaves, people really enjoyed it.
  • During no interaction, I turned up the volume of the rain background sound to attract attention.
  • Not many people could create a steady rhythm or music yet, could be more interesting if they could, maybe they would also stay longer.
  • Many people didn’t know to squeeze the blue squishy part and press the 2 sensors together. More affordance needed.
  • Pressing the 2 sensors together to make background ambient music is enjoyable as a movement and as a sound. Make this into performance.
  • Have performers play with the piece at certain times. People can watch and then know more about how to play with it after.
  • The piece started conversation amongst strangers sometimes, I really like this aspect.
  • Try having multiple balls hanging in a room and if you move around a room, it will be experienced throughout.
  • People will swing/hit/pick-up ball and not handle with delicate care sometimes. Make this into a feedback. For example, sound changes when ball is picked up.
  • 1st thing people touch tend to be the 2 hanging leaves which don’t work without squeezing the blue ball. This sometimes made people walk away as there was no immediate feedback.

June 2017 — late prototyping and planning for exhibition

Notes from final crit June 13, 2017
  • Work on the haptic experience
  • Work with the sound to be more effective, noticeable
  • The haptic touch points need to be more self-explanatory, maybe change the squeeze to squeeze and only stays on for 5min?
  • Next, to focus on the cybernetics, learnability, machine learning for future development
  • Need to prototype the exhibition in the air, add haptics to top and bottom of object
  • Work on the aesthetics of how it looks and experience. Will it be clear/covered? Add lights?
  • Rainmaking sounds are calming and background story from Alison is interesting
  • Maybe add instructions for the order of interactions
  • make the audience feel the isolation in a small space or blindfolded
The drawing plan for exhibition of the project at Ars Electronica and an image of how the floating ball looks at this moment. Some of you may recognize the ball is actually a large hamster ball. I think it’s always good to find quick and easy solutions especially in prototyping and since it was a ball with all the slots and holes I needed, it was perfect.
Now that I have the main sensors that I want, I’ve been playing with what kinds of sounds to use. I also added a stretch sensor to control volume and could replace the volume touch sensor with this one. It would also be nice to control speed with stretch as well. Through this, I found that I need to curate the sounds a bit more in MAX so that they can sound melodic together.

Case Study: Binaural Listening

I have been working in MAX/MSP with the 12 soundtracks of rain. 8 of them from Hildegard Westerkamp and 4 from soundtracks that Nicolas sent me from Vande Gorne’s album. Left: The second patch focused more on interactions through capacitative sensor. By receiving serial numbers, this number from 0 to 11, turns on one of the 12 soundtracks. This was interesting but also limited in controlling range. Right: The first MAX patch that I worked in. I first got a sound to play through pressing a specific button, then I linked the Arduino ultrasonic sensor and capacitative sensors. Then I also added 2 record and loop patches to add voice interaction into the object.

Gestures and sound

  • Let the object carry it’s own essence of sound
  • Try different haptic surfaces to provoke different modes of movement, pressure, and gestures.
  • Trying to control not only turning the sound on/off but also speed, pitch etc along with different gestures.

May 2017 — prototyping

I made a prototype out of paper mache and attached capacitive MPR121 sensors
After I spoke to Jacob from the Media and Arts Technology program at Queen Mary University of London, he suggested that I could put conductive material on both sides so that when certain parts touch, they create different sounds. I like this idea very much and am going to continue with it.
This video shows the programming side I’m working on in MAX, where I have different input options to create different sounds. This so far includes a loop function that records and then loops, the proximity sensor I had before, and the key press input. Now I will have to think about how to join these together or which to include for further development. The looping is also not working as well as I had hoped yet.
I had great difficulty with MPR121 but once I figured that out, it now does exactly what I want. I also had to create a new MAX patch that will take input numbers from Arduino to trigger different sounds.

Workshop: how does the future sound?

Imagine astronauts floating in space with this object and the movement of their limbs and body will change the volume of the sound. The above images show several ways that these instruments could take form and be interacted with. I imagine them to be completely different from traditional instruments.

Colonizing another planet is a whole new step in human progress, the sounds and movements could be completely different and yet familiar to Earth. My project will facilitate interactivity, learnability, and creativity amongst the crew.

Using an ultrasonic sensor and a piezo to make the effect of a theremin and adding multiple controls for multiplayer modes. Although the piezo sound is not so pleasant this method can be applied with other sounds.

Alison Rigby, Scientist and candidate for Mars One loves rain. But you cannot have rain in space nor does a rainstick make sound due to lack of gravity.

I got inspiration by looking at sensor boards usually made for babies and the objects on them. This could be a direction I can take in terms of the physical modular instrument. I also referenced toys with modular or multiplayer components like BopIt! and fidget cubes.

April 2017 — research and early prototyping

Ideas: Touch and sound — A board of different textures such as grass, sand, substances from earth that when you touch them, make sounds of nature. This came from Alison, who likes to take long walks and may not be able to on Mars. Also, this could help monitor blood pressure which will help monitor stress levels. Theremin — since people are going to be floating, it would be interesting when their movements and interactions make sound. Ref: Human Theremin(Lucy Sansom), Odd Harmonics(Francois Chambard)

Sound healing

Virtual vacuum

Initial sketches for a modular instrument




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Betty Zhang

Betty Zhang

Strategist, designer, and researcher working in digital innovation, strategic foresight, and customer experience.

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