One of my very favorite projects at Maker Faire Bay Area this year was SND – Sand Noise Device.
From a MAKE interview about the project:
1. How did the idea for the SND and what was your R+D process like?
Our initial plan was to develop a musical interface that was inviting and intuitive for users of all abilities and age levels. We also wanted to give the user the fine-grained level of control, such as one would find in a modular analog synthesizer. Very early on in our development, we decided that sand would be a great medium for control due to people’s familiarity with it as well as its tactile nature.
The original plan for user control was to track gestures and shapes in the sand as well as measure its topography. Our initial implementations and user testing lead us to the conclusion that directly linking the physical configuration of the sand to the instrument’s various sonic parameters results in an underwhelming experience. In order for users to get a satisfying sense of control, we had to exaggerate the sonic changes to a level we all felt was unmusical. By giving too much control to the user we ended up with a system that was neither inviting nor intuitive.
Our next iteration included tracking the location of colored objects in the sand. This gave the users an easy to understand the one-to-one relationship between their physical actions and the sound in a manner similar to a common X/Y pad. While this approach allowed for more intuitive interactions, it wasn’t an engaging enough experience to capture most of our testers’ interest.
Our current design is an attempt to replace direct control with a more indirect system. Instead of providing a sand-based musical controller, we instead decided to design a generative system and provide the user with a way to control its functionality. We used the same color-tracking and topographical mapping approaches as before but instead created a much more autonomous system. We also added a visual feedback component as well as revamping the style of the various physical components. At this stage we feel that we are providing the user with just the correct amount of control for them to find the experience engaging but not so much that they will get frustrated…
From the video description:
The Sand Noise Device (SND) is both a complex generative music system as well as a novel and intuitive interface for influencing and interacting with this system. The interface consists of a table height box filled with sand, a Microsoft Kinect (which provides an RGB camera and depth sensing capabilities), an overhead projector, and several internally lit tangible objects. The Kinect is used to track object position, object color, and sand topography. The projector is used to provide visual feedback. Sound is provided by a multi-channel loudspeaker system arranged around the box.
The various parameters that determine the functionality of the SND’s generative music system are influenced by the user’s interactions with the sandscape and provided tangible objects. By manipulating the sand and objects the user is able to influence various aspects of the generative music system.