What does raw musical potential feel like? A blank canvas where anything is possible. At the Royal Academy of London’s exhibition “Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined,” visitors have discovered the power that lies beneath the surface with Contact – an interactive audio-visual installation by designer, musician and creative coder Felix Faire.
Contact is deceptively simple. On the surface, it’s just contact microphones, a projector, loop pedal, and a Leap Motion Controller. Behind the scenes, however, it’s a complex setup – Arduino boards, piezoelectric sensors, and music programs like Ableton Live and MAX/MSP. Processing is the rug that ties the whole installation together – and the full source code is available on GitHub.
When you touch the interactive surface, the microphones track your vibrations and Contact translates them into musical sounds. At the same time, you can control the beat with a foot pedal. With the Leap Motion Controller, you can tweak the effects with your hand – or use one, three, or five fingers to control different effects on the recorded loop sample. In this video, Felix shows some of the creative process behind creating Contact:
Felix believes that the worlds of architecture, music, and computer programming collide as beautiful designs that unfold through time. We caught up with him recently to ask about this unique design philosophy.
As a designer, musician, and creative coder, how do these three worlds collide?
I don’t really see these as separate disciplines. They share so many qualities, and often completely cross over in my mind. I find the process of programming much like composing music – you curate a series of events in a sequence to produce unlimited effects and interesting outcomes.
In programming, it’s a much more logical and mathematical process, whereas creating music is a far more emotive and personal process – yet they share this fundamental aspect of time. This for me is the same with architecture. I believe the emotional power of architecture relies on the sequence of spaces and journey of inhabitants as they move through it.
How do you imagine the relationship between art, interface, and our senses?
They are all a personal experience. I guess there are many ways to interpret that. My view has been heavily influenced by the theory of “embodied cognition,” in which the body, the brain, and the world are not conceived as separate entities (à la Descartes) but form a symbiotic and dynamic unity. Your body and nervous system is a brain, and you cannot think without enacting in the world. In this way, interaction is the most visceral way to “think,” and I think that art is often (or at least can be) the most successful interface between the mind and the world… except for a musical instrument.
What challenges did you encounter while integrating Contact with Leap Motion?
With the limited time I had to develop the audio control gestures, the main problem I found was smoothly moving in and out of the gesture recognition space. Oddly, the main challenge is not with the technology, but the nature of the human body. Our hands do not move in straight lines, due to the hinges and biomechanical structure of our arms and hands.
This translation from natural corporeal movement into the rigid Cartesian 3D world of the digital model makes it challenging to create gestures that feel natural. However, I feel this is a good challenge, as it requires developers to understand more about the nature of their own bodies and how it affects their ability to interact with a system.
What’s your process in bringing an idea to life?
In my view, it’s always best to have the concept or idea before you approach the technology. This way, you’re not tempted to just reappropriate something you know is possible, but might actually produce something new and exciting. This is evident in many projects that use commercial software or hardware packages.
I hope that design never becomes dependant on the latest Photoshop filter or Grasshopper plugin (Voronoi, I am looking at you). I am certainly no exception to this, but like to be aware of it. In the case of Contact, it just took lots of different methods and technologies to achieve what I had imagined at the start.
From contact mics, foot pedals, and projectors to drones and robots, what sorts of devices would you like to see combined in exciting new ways? Let us know in the comments.