The Color Play user arranges colorful plastic wedges of varying widths to compose a sound loop. Each color represents a pitch and the width of the wedge determines rhythm. The goal is to experience a voluntary feeling of synesthesia – hear pitch by seeing color.
The relationship between sound and color has been a curiosity throughout history. The Color Play was originally inspired by Newton, who created a color wheel with corresponding pitches.
The design is based on a record player, and features removable trays, interchangeable color pieces, and a knob to change the speed of the spin. A light up arrow points to the color sensor made from an RGB LED and a photocell. Because each color absorbs and reflects unique colors of light, it shines Red, Green, and Blue light at the target and records the amount of light that returns. The Arduino sends a midi note to Ableton based on these values.
The Color Play is a project by Louise Foo and Natasha Dzurny from Introduction to Physical Computing at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. Please contact us or go to our project website to find out more.
(video documentation coming soon)
From the very beginning we wanted to make colors control sound. We were both interested in human vision / hearing and perception and we thought it could be interesting to make a device that translates a visual composition into a musical composition
We brainstormed and played with different ideas for interfaces of color controlling sound
We found inspiration in old record players and toy record players
In the beginning we imagined having a bunch of different discs with different patterns, that you could play on the device.
I looked into the history of visual music, also called color music. It is a genre in the art history, where artist have been experimenting with devices which can translate sounds or music into a related visual presentation. What we wanted to do was the opposite – translating composition of colors into music.
I found this post about the history of optical synthesis by Derek Holzer. It was inspiring to read about the development of the technology of synthesizing sound from light.
We also found great inspiration in works by other contemporary artists experimenting with sensing rotating discs and re-contextualizing nostalgic devices such as the record player .This first one is an ITP project by Inessah Selditz
Since the ancient greek philosopher Plato first linked color to sound, humans have been mapping sound to color in a number of ways. Here are some of the color-sound mappings we’ve found.
In the school of Bauhaus Gertrud Grunow would teach her theory of harmonisation, that was a circle on the floor divided into twelve points. The individual positions of the circle corresponded with the chromatic sequence of notes from C to B and were associated with certain body postures and colors.
The concept (reinventing the wheel)
We learned that Newton actually had notes assigned to each color in his famous color circle. Here is a drawings from his book Opticks of 1704, showing the colors correlated with musical notes. The spectral colors from red to violet are divided by the notes of the musical scale.The circle completes a full octave.
We decided to make Newton’s color (and sound) circle into a physical device – and bingo! he concept of Color Play was born long before us!
The first Color Play
We came up with a concept of a device that looks a bit like a record player. Each color in a color circle is triggering a sound on a musical scale. In this first version we imagined the sensor (perhaps a camera) sensing the colors from above.
We bult a cardboard model of the device, to play test it
We talked to people about questions like where it felt natural to have knobs, and if they would rather have the device sitting on the wall. The most important lesson we learned from play testing was that people really liked to create there own compositions and that they liked the record-player like design idea.
Checking the sound – color aesthetics
At some point we were considering if we should aim for a chromatic scale, with 12 notes or if we should stick to Newtons 8 notes, so we sketched some color and sound compositions made with a C Major Scale, and 8 rainbow colors, to see if the music and the visual compositions would be interesting enough. After the test, we decided that we liked the simplicity of this aesthetics and that we wanted to wait with a chromatic scale for a later version of the product. In this way, going with the C Major Scale – we will always get a composition that “sounds good”
Here is the final circuit (with motor and switches)
Programming the Arduino
solving problems with the circuit and weird readings
Here is the final code
Building the tray
Making it spin
Making Color Play into a MIDI device
For the first version we played notes with the Arduino Tone library, but we wanted to be able to play different sounds, so we made Color Play into a MIDI device with help from MIDI output LAB and the Arduino To DAW LAB. The Arduino inside Color Play is sending MIDI notes to Ableton based on the color readings.
At some point we experimented with adding beats, but we decided that we really liked the simplicity of the color-sound concept.
Color Play was part of the ITP wintershow 2012 (documentation coming soon)