Digital music is extending more deeply into the physical world, thanks to sensors and robotics. The result: gorgeous acoustic sounds as part of the lexicon. When we last spotted Simon Kirby and the Found Electronics collective, they were taking the tangible interface out of electronic music and applying them to ambient sampled sounds out in the woods. Now, they’re talking to plants and channeling traditional Chinese instruments.
Simon writes with some of the details:
It’s called "Three Pieces", and it’s our attempt to create an interactive musical installation that is in keeping with the natural environment of the beautifully restored Victorian Palm House. Rather than use computers and a PA, we decided to try and build something completely acoustic. In the end, we’ve got a traditional Chinese dulcimer and 12 chimes spread throughout the plants and foliage of the Palm House. The instruments are played robotically, controlled by two Arduinos. Motion detectors and a soil sensor allow us to react to people in the space and to the state of the plants to remix the music we’ve composed especially for the installation. The result is a strange combination of traditional and modern, organic and electronic, nature and artifice. Despite being composed in advance, the music will never be exactly the same twice, in part because it will change in response to the environment and audience, and also because the robots are a combination of accurately machined parts (e.g. mechanical solenoids) and natural materials (e.g. bamboo canes).
The installation will be open from Saturday [June] 14th for two weeks. On Saturday 21st, there will be a performance in the Palm House by the band Found for midsummer’s day, and we are planning a Q&A session for the public sometime in the two weeks, to be announced on our website: www.foundelectronics.net
You might also be interested in the other work we’re doing, also on www.foundelectronics.net. For example, we’ve been developing a purpose-built combination of audio-looper software and controller, which is quite fun…
The “mood” of the musical robots is actually affected by the plants:
The moisture content of the soil changes slowly as the plants absorb water, while on a much faster timescale, the temperature changes in the building as animals, including humans, move about. The installation detects this living presence in the Palm House and the music changes accordingly. The robots react to humans, but their mood alters with the plants.
The show has been extended through July 13, so if you’re near the Royal Botanic Garden, you can go have a look!