Hannah Snelling - Visualising sound with water

M.A.K.E. - Musical Audio Kinetic Electronics. Students from Ara Music Arts create their own instruments combining the physical with the electronic.

Sound 3 at Ara Music Arts this year has been full of interesting things to learn. Using Arduino, sound design and art, recording and exploring technology. It’s been fun. The best bit though was seeing my idea for visualizing sound with water take shape. Although I didn’t have the know how to build this project, the tutor, Dave Cooper, is very knowledgeable and showed me how to put it together.

So what did my project look like and how did it perform? What I made, with Dave’s help, was a series of 12 LED lit humidifiers which responded to the volume level of sound in the room. As the volume increased, new humidifiers started up to match it, in turn. The LED lights accompanying each one were green, amber or red. This was in order to imitate a mixing desk level: as the volume goes from a comfortable level to the high extreme, lights change from green to amber and then red. To clarify, if the volume level was at (1) only the first vaporizer (on the right of the row) would start, along with a green light. If the volume reached (10) all the green and amber lights would be lit (accompanying their humidifiers) but not the last two red LED’s. As the volume decreased, each vaporizer and light on the high end would turn off consecutively, as they had turned on.

All of that was made possible by wiring both the humidifiers and the LED’s through an arduino board so that they could be synchronized to turn on at the same time. The wiring process required some soldering to connect the LED’s and humidifiers to the arduino boards, which allowed the computer code to control them. A microphone and volume sensor was connected to control which ones should be on or off at the point in time. In order to make my contraption interactive with those of my classmates, the microphone was set up in front of the speaker through which the sounds coming from other “instruments” were heard. The code is a fairly simple, if ___, then___. For example, if the volume is greater than (1), then turn on (2). Or, if volume is less than (3), then turn off (3), and so on.

The most difficult part I think was getting the humidifiers to turn on by computer command instead of from their own individual switch. It was interesting seeing how the arduino board had to be wired so that the computer could “talk” to everything. So many little wires and connectors had to be plugged into the board in such a way that it would all work and not interfere with each other. I wouldn’t have known quite where to begin if trying to do this myself. My tutor did most of the difficult work for me, I just had the initial idea and helped with the wiring and testing. It was a lot of fun to build something so out of the ordinary.

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