01.tangible examples

The Theremin

I loved watching Pamelia Kurstin talk about her theremin in the above TED presentation. After performing some pieces on the theremin she speaks about the history of the device and how it is played.

The theremin is a fascinating instrument because its mode of operation is so mysterious. Simply by moving their hands over two metal antennae (which causes a change in capacitance), the theremin user can can affect the pitch and volume of an attached analog synthesizer.

From a user-interface perspective, the theremin is somewhat of a failure. As Kurstin explains, complete concentration is required to play a theremin effectively. Even taking a breath can sometimes make the instrument go out of key.

However, the theremin’s charming mystique makes it a successful interactive experience. Even though I’ve taken physics classes and know the concepts behind its operation, I’m always surprised that the theremin works at all. And I like being surprised.

Mind Forest: Haus Der Musik

While I was in Vienna last spring I had the chance to visit Haus Der Musik—a museum in downtown Vienna dedicated to the history and appreciation of music. The upper floors of this museum are home to a number of exhibits by the MIT Media lab including one called Mind Forest.

From what I can gather The Mind Forest toured electronic media festivals before ending up in Haus Der Musik near the year 2000. The exhibit is dedicated to letting people make music with little previous experience.

At various places throughout the Mind Forest, visitors can make sounds that are matched and remixed with sounds made by other visitors to the forest. After enough sounds have been collected, visitors can compose a musical performance by pressing buttons on different sides of the room that trigger archived voices of a certain type.

I was surprised by how fun this sort of interaction could be. Playing with this installation made me like a kid again. I love the way it fostered communication and creativity between me and my friends.

We stayed until closing time and had to be kicked out by the museum staff. Totally engrossed in the interactive experience, I was having too much fun to even check the time.


~ by Max Hawkins on January 14, 2010.

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