Lily Gabaree, Alethea Campbell, Siya Takalkar, and Poseidon Ho
H20TONE is a remote shared experience and communication device, that pairs water and music in a new, organic language.
One unit would contain the visualization expression container, along with multiple input water bowls. Touching the water in each of the water bowls would make a peculiar sound corresponding to the frequency of the sound wave, which would create the related pattern at the other remotely located units. The speed of the movement would translate into amplitude of the wave.
H20TONE started as the Fountain of Beats, a community resource and interactive art and atmosphere piece, in which a park fountain is responsive to the collective action of drum circle players. When played, each drum spurs a squirt of water from the basin, forming a fountain, given enough players and beats. Intensity of drumming increases the height of the fountain, and a variety of drums and beats produces varied and unique water displays. The spectacle grows with more participants.
Our group’s initial meetings focused on developing the input, a set of drums that detect drumbeats and translate it into a visualization in Processing. We found that a piezoelectronic sensor was the most effective way of detecting drum strikes, as it is highly sensitive to vibrations. Secured the the underside of a drumskin, it can detect individual strikes, and the intensity of the strike. We met with a local drummer, who advised us on the acoustics of hand-drums and the mechanics of playing.
We were hoping to hack a fountain, to program particular water patterns in response to the drum input. Dissembling a small fountain speaker helped us figure out one possible mechanism for building a larger-scale version: a rotating motor compressing a small water trove, pushing it through holes and into the visualization chamber.
While this work was in progress, we continued evaluating different possible outputs of the circle beyond water, including fire, sand, and air. Udayan gave us a tutorial about using the Pneudino and pumps, and making inflatables. We were considered making an inflatable shape that would be “conjured” by the drum circle, gradually inflating and distorting into unique shapes, depending on the rhythms played. As it turned out, creating adequate air pressure for a large inflatable public piece would require significant pump power. Udayan encouraged us to consider ways of making our interaction circular – having responsiveness on both ends, as opposed to pure visualization.
After our material explorations, we decided to stick with water, as it was pleasant to interact with, and seemed to naturally pair with music, public spaces, and the physical input of hand movement (a drum strike mirroring a water splash). We were particularly fascinated by the effect of wave frequencies on water and other liquids. One of our first experiments was with a mixed purple liquour that contained powdered mica, which formed unique patterns when frequencies were applied beneath.
After our conversation with Udayan, we decided to merge the interaction in one medium – water – as opposed to both drums and water. Water would act as both an instrument and a visualizer; it would be a communication device between individuals and groups.
To achieve this, we needed to make water react to touch. Our prototype system uses alligator clips and a Makey Makey circuit board, which allows the user to complete the circuit and activate a signal by touching the water in a vessel.
For output, we used a metal dish on top of a glass vibrating speaker, which was particularly suited to transmitting frequencies in the water. We staged an example of how this output might be realized on a large scale – as a fountain-sized vessel in a public space or village.
Finally, we found frequencies that were particularly interesting when transmitted through water, and used Processing to program the relationship between touching a vessel of water (input) and the resulting frequency being transmitted into the output vessel, forming distinct patterns.
The system currently works for small scale vessels, but we’ve modeled larger applications.