Making Noise Machines: Non-trivial Internal Complexity as Facilitator for Curiosity

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 enable different interactions and sound qualities. This is a part of an ongoing investigation on creating interactions for curiosity.

This is post two out of three from Hobye’s residency at Instructables. Read post one and post three.

It has been an intense experience. Trying to build as many interfaces as possible within one month. I have tried to make all of them stand-out as finished, while still being hackable pieces. Everything I have done is published on Instructables for others to experiment with.

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.

Curiosity lies between chaos and predictability
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.

Chaos - Curiosity - Predictability CC:BY Mads Hobye
Chaos – Curiosity – Predictability CC:BY Mads Hobye

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.

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 Kaosduino – CC:BY Mads Hobye
The Kaosduino – CC:BY Mads Hobye

The end results are still crude and mostly serves as interaction enclosures with future potentials, although they do hint at different interesting interaction qualities. You can find an overview of the boxes here:

The singing plant plays with a classic trick of sparking people’s curiosity by adding unconventional interaction qualities to a familiar object.

The Kaosduino serves as a platform to explore the complexity of touch on x-y surfaces.

The Matrix machine serves as a platform to explore the potential of emergent sound patterns converted from particle systems.

The algorithmic noise machine serves as platform to explore the boundaries between chaos and order through complex bit shifting algorithms.

All parts in this blog series:
Artist-in-residence at Instructables: a field report by Mads Hobye
Making Noise Machines: Non-trivial Internal Complexity as Facilitator for Curiosity
Better ways to debug the internals of the Arduino board

Related articles
Have a look at Hobye’s most recent publication Mediated Body: Designing for embodied experience. View more publications.