Building by imagination - design thinking your way through music

18 Sep 2017

It’s not every day you come across an instrument made out of fabric but that’s exactly what Trevor Hunter and his team created as part of their Physical Computing and Interaction Design Studio course.

Trevor Hunter is a tutor in the schools of Education and Engineering and he is currently studying his Master of Interaction Design. Read about his experience developing ‘SoundGarden’, a visual and interactive instrument that uses technology and movement to create music.

Physical Computing and Interaction Design Studio is a course where I could develop my skills by creating a new and physically engaging interactive user interface for a computer application.

During my studies I worked in a team of four students from different backgrounds of study to design and build our course project. The culmination of the course was to present our concept at a public exhibit held at The Edge in Southbank.

The installation we created for the exhibit was SoundGarden, an interactive instrumental space where performers engage with a user interface consisting of stretchy fabric surfaces, to create musical expression. The tactile surfaces of the fabric allows the user to be a composer, learner and performer. Combining music with a visual display, SoundGarden provides an engaging performance that aims to be as interesting for the audience as it is for the performer.

SoundGarden is a collaborative environment, allowing several people to work together to create a composition. By manipulating and changing the loops of sound material, they build their own version of a popular song form, while interacting with the panels also becomes part of the visual performance produced.

Our team consisted of people studying Interaction Design, Computer Science and Information Technology (User Experience Design). We worked through a user-centred design process to find out what people could imagine with this concept and what would be a fun and rewarding experience. We also had to consider what type of interaction would make sense in terms of creating music. Finally, we had to consider what would be appealing to users and the audience – after all, creating music can be difficult and at times sound awful. I must have put my family through hell when I was learning to play the bassoon. The sound of a sick cow springs to mind.

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