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August 28, 2005

Improbable Orchestra + Burning Man


Tribal Knob Twiddling in the Desert

The Improbable Orchestra (IO) is an interactive audio installation designed to make digital music accessible to anyone. It consists of a central control unit surrounded by four speakers designed for up to four users to each control a sound sample using manual controls (knobs and buttons).

This sound installation was designed by our team to accomplish the following goals: 1. to create a tool to allow any user to experiment with working and designing music; 2. to create a visually appealing structure that creates a musical space; and 3. to create a musical tool that allows interaction between different players while they experiment with music.


Burning Man: Laser Harps, Improbable Orchestra Knob Boxes

For some of the most bizarre and unusual music-sound installation art, look no further than Burning Man [Related 1, 2, 3]. Burning, indeed: this desert-based event has in the past featured Eric Singer's Max/MSP-controlled pyrophone, a propane-powered flaming sound organ. (And, incidentally, that installation is making a repeat appearance this year.)

And what better activity when in the middle of the desert than tweaking knobs and producing strange electronic grooves? That's the idea behind improbable orchestra, an interactive table full o' knobs for collaborative soundmaking. Build one yourself: check out the copious design notes. Basic specs: the free Pure Data graphical multimedia development environment is running sounds, gutted Pentium PC with custom power supply, custom circuit board connecting the knobs and fiddly bits thorough a Parallax basic stamp board. (Lots more specs on their site, missing only details of the Pd patch.)

"But," says you, "I hate knobs. Give me lasers, man." Sure! You obviously want the interactive Aeolian laser harp, which suspends a series of laser beams through which you can walk to trigger sound. It's the creation of former NYU ITP faculty member Jen Lewin, now based in Colorado and doing interactive sculpture full-time. She has other fantastic projects like interactive butterflies. [blogged by Peter Kirn on Related.

Posted by jo at August 28, 2005 10:22 AM