Sound Track

On Thursday, October 3rd our VIZA 630 class presented our work at the Brazos County Arts Gallery in College Station. The show is called PLAY: Inside the Box and the centerpiece was none other than Sound Track!

Sound Track is an interactive musical instrument that invites participants to create music with motion. Consisting of 14 laser pointers, 14 photo-resistors, and Arduino and MAX MSP Software, participants can ‘pluck’, ‘strum’, ‘wave’, ‘leap’, or even ‘dance’ their way across the Sound Track to create a musical composition unique to them.

Laser harps like Sound Track have been used in high-profile concerts and attractions since the early 1980’s having been popularized by Jean Michel Jarre, but Sound Track is meant to be a simple-to-use interactive experience for all ages: when a laser beams is blocked, a signal is sent to the computer prompting a tone.

Sound Track was created by Amy Richards and Cameron Coker with help from Morgan Jinks, Tim Swartz, Jacob Zimmer, Catherine Hervey, and their professor Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo.

You can check out the Arts Council website here:

Amy and I collaborated on Sound Track due to our shared interest in sound and music based art pieces. From the get-go we knew that Sound Track would end up being a series of lasers and sensors arranged in such a way that interrupting a beam with your hand would trigger a tone, similar to plucking the strings on a harp.

When we first started though, we planned on arranging the lasers in a rough semicircle around a single participant. We changed our plan to a wave-like line for multiple reasons: (1) the semicircle plan presents the piece as an experience for one person at a time so spreading the lasers out signals to viewers that multiple people can interact with the piece all at once, (2) we wanted the piece to be playful and encourage a wide range of interaction from simple hand waves all the way to leaping or dancing through the beams so stretching the piece into a line gave participants the room to freely explore the space and allowed the piece to serve as a centerpiece for the room, and (3) stretching each individual ‘note’ apart made it more difficult for a single participant to play elaborate songs which we thought would encourage people to request help from others and promote collaboration.

The first step was to buy dissect, and wire, and solder a series of laser pointers!

Next we bought, cut, painted, and attached wooden boards into two identical curved lines. With the help of our class mates and professor we used ropes to hoist one of the wooden tracks to the ceiling where we attached it to girders using plastic zip ties. With the help of our tallest colleagues we affixed and adjusted our laser pointers to the top track, then wired the sensors below so that they were lined up perfectly beneath the laser pointers below.

Using Arduino boards we wired up the sensors and lasers to a laptop computer. Using the Arduino we could collect data from the sensors. Whenever the light being received by a specific sensor dropped below a given threshold (a laser beam was interrupted) the Arduino would send a signal containing the sensor number to the computer. We used that signal along with MAX MSP to play a specific note each time a laser was interrupted. Voilá! Laser Harp!

All in all Sound Track took about a month of planning, construction, set-up, and programming to pull off but Amy and I feel that it was well worth the effort. Visit the gallery and see for yourself! The show goes on till October 26th!


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