Mingunk – Project 2: Water & Sound

I was always intrigued by one of the most fundamental elements in our lives: water. Despite its significance for sustaining life, it is a challenging substance to work with. Especially when it meets electronics, people often fear that water can easily bring about mechanical failures. However, if used correctly, it is a very interesting matter with countless opportunities to be utilized in various fields. When it comes to water with music, there are some performances that use sounds of contact with water or implement it as a stage effect.

In my case, I planned to convert water movement into music. Specifically, I decided to manipulate data about a form of water that we all are familiar with: rain. By using Node.js via Max, I was able to retrieve weather data from the MetaWeather API. I chose to take in numbers from four major cities: Seoul, New York, London, and Brasilia. Even though there was a variety of interesting data, I decided to only use each cities’ current weather state from this API.

Along with retrieving weather conditions, I set up four micro servos using two Arduinos in the ceiling of our Media Lab. Also, I placed a black rectangular container filled with water, approximately three meters below these servos. The servos centered perpendicular to center points of nonexistent four sub-rectangles of the container. With this system, I used my weather data to rotate the motors of servos for dropping water into the container. By doing so, the droplets caused water movement and a webcam recognized those movements to trigger musical notes. I not only used data from a specific form of water but also implemented a system where physical movements of water will make sound signals.

Following is the process of making music in this setup. At first, I used Max to convert weather status data into integers that I assigned. These numbers will control how fast the micro servos move in order to drop water into the container. As servos finish letting go of water droplets, a webcam set to view the water surface of the container will read in changing water wave movement as the drops splash into the container. The video from the webcam is manipulated so that four sub-rectangles each correspond to different musical notes. Also, within those four matrices, five rows of matrices were once again divided so that rows from the left to right corresponds to each notes’ -2 octave up to +2 octave, respectively.

There are a few important components of this project.

  • Attaching a funnel (narrow side blocked) as a carrier of water onto a servo
  • Having light shine onto the water surface in the container
  • Running two Arduinos in order to use four servos (one Arduino supports only two servos)
  • Using a black container as it is effective for Max to recognize any movements that happen in a webcam’s frame
  • Implementing variations in musical notes corresponding to water movement

With this system, a never-ending music can be made by water from rain (water) data. Compared to music that we listen on a daily basis, this water music can sound boring. However, if we think about it running for more than a few days, then one musical note created by a drop of water every five minutes is truly meaningful. Below are the screenshots of the main patches:

Patch that retrieves weather conditions and sends manipulated data over to the Arduino
Patch that takes in video from a webcam and uses matrices to convert frame data into musical notes

One of the most difficult parts of this project was building the container to hold water. I used black acrylic plates and cut sidewalls using a table saw from TechSpark. With the parts cut, I glued them using acrylic cement onto a plate that worked as a floor. Finally, I guaranteed the container to be watertight by applying silicon onto the sides of the container’s interior.

Overall, I really enjoyed how I could use a very fundamental element to make music. As much as I now understand why it is difficult to deal with water and electronics, I believe that water is a great source of inspiration for the field of music. There will be a broader spectrum to the usage of water when more people realize that water can be utilized for creative works. For that reason, I would love to continue exploring ways to incorporate water with art and music.

Link to this project’s Google Doc: https://drive.google.com/open?id=172NFpCFe8TwA5Eb65xX9gccARMKjXd-N