Photo by: Mads Hobye.

Complexity through noise

Instructables (September 2012)

As a part of being an artist-in-residence at [Instructables](, I took it upon myself to build of couple of noise machines / music boxes. My interest was in designing objects that would enable people to explore the world of sound synthesis and for me to get a better understanding of how the different interfaces enables different interactions and sound qualities. This is a part of an ongoing investigation on creating interactions for curiosity.

All of the projects consist of a few basic components: An interface and sometimes a screen or a led matrix. The basic sound component is either a Gameduino or a software synth written for the Arduino platform.

You can find an overview of the results here and I will introduce them in this article as well.

My interest as an artist-in-residence at Instructables were to design different machines that would spark the user’s curiosity. Here, simply put, curiosity lies between the extremes of chaos and predictability. Where chaos becomes uninteresting (from an interaction design point of view) because of its uncontrollable nature and order becomes so predictable that the interaction itself slides into the background of the end-product of the interaction itself. One such example is the light switch. As an adult you usually do not notice your interaction with it.

The core question then became how to make people who are interacting with it drawn by their own curiosity of not being able to decode the interaction pattern, all at the same time having a sense that their actions are the main contributor to the sounds.

Although arduinos are good for simple action <-> reaction interactivity, there are a limited amount of examples that work with more complex interactions. Here I mean beyond game design’s way of working with narratives, but more in the sense of adding personality to your projects. Personality not as much in the way of looks (e.g. putting an Arduino into a teddy bear), but more in the way of complex interactions that makes you curious about its devices potential possibilities.

Most of these machines would have been simpler to make as software programs on a computer or even as multitouch applications on a smartphone, but I wanted to have an aesthetic criteria as a frame for my experiments: I wanted to create simple tangible interfaces that would inspire curiosity. The objects themselves should welcome the user to try out and explore their interfaces. Last, I wanted each experiment to be self-contained. Instead of them becoming interfaces for a laptop, they should be the ones who created the music.

The end results are still crude and mostly serves as interaction enclosures with future potentials, although they do hint at different interesting interaction qualities.

###The singing plant The singing plant plays with a classic trick of sparking people’s curiosity by adding unconventional interaction qualities to a familiar object. Learn how to construct it here.

##The Kaosduino The Kaosduino serves as a platform to explore the complexity of touch on x-y surfaces. Learn how to construct it here.

##The matrix machine The Matrix machine serves as a platform to explore the potential of emergent sound patterns converted from particle systems. Learn how to construct it here.

##The algorithmic noise machine The algorithmic noise machine serves as platform to explore the boundaries between chaos and order through complex bit shifting algorithms. Learn how to construct it here.