Alejandro Kauffmann


A representation of natural systems and their response to our often unintended input: aim a hairdryer at five glowing ice cubes to generate sound that decays as the heat they "store" dissipates.


Introduction to Physical Computing (Wed AM)

We are often unaware of our impact on existing equilibria until we've altered them. T.H.A.W. is an exploration of feedback and consequence and the springiness of equilibria.

Five plastic ice cubes with RGB LEDs embedded in them are mounted on a black metal tray. Each LED glows an icy blue thanks to a thermistor neatly secreted away beneath it. The thermistor sends MIDI signals to a KORG synth that produces soothing sounds of nature.

Then along comes a disgruntled hairdresser and environmental activist (or anyone else for that matter) and aims his hairdryer at one of the ice cubes. Slowly, as the metal beneath the cube (and the thermistor hidden underneath) heats up, the LED inside the cube changes from blue to red and the sounds of nature become fainter as grating industrial sounds grow louder, eventually drowning them out entirely. Once the hairdryer is turned off, the system slowly returns to its original state, with cool blue replacing hot red and soothing birds or crickets drowning out the ever fainter jackhammer. Each cube is linked to a distinct pair of natural/industrial sounds.

I wanted to see if I could put all the practical technical knowledge I gained this semester in the service of an abstract concept.

I started out with fans. I'm a huge fan of fans. I used a virtual fan in my ICM midterm to blow pixels all over the place and I used ten real fans in my PComp midterm to represent the spin of various news outlets. I was thinking about continuing with the fan idea was trying to tell my girlfriend but she was drying her hair and couldn't hear me. Sound and hairdryers. Air and noise. How could I possibly pursue any other avenue?

Everyone. Even the bald.

User Scenario
You walk into a semi-dark space. The gentle susurrus of a mountain stream mingles with the placid chirping of crickets and the birds that grow fat eating them. Then you notice an eerie blue glow emanating from what look like 5 ice cubes. It's strange, but there's a hairdryer sitting next to them, and you can't help yourself, you pick it up and test it. It turns on with a roar, its reassuring gunlike heft making you feel invincible, at least against five puny ice cubes. You turn the heat on full and blast an ice cube, which starts turning red. You blast another. You turn off the hairdryer and notice that the sounds have changed. The gentle beating of butterfly wings has been replaced by the drone of a helicopter. The crickets are gone too; in their place, screeching traffic. You sheepishly put down the hairdryer, chastened by the havoc you've wreaked, but then you notice that the ice cubes are returning to their blue color and the crickets are coming back. You look cagily over your shoulder and pick up the hairdryer once more. Those ice cubes ain't seen nothing yet.


Someone somewhere enjoys playing with a hairdryer as much as I do.

The cubes are little acrylic cubes from Canal Plastics and are already fitted with LEDs. The code that raises and fades the sounds is also written. The synth is programmed. MIDI is being generated by thermistors and transmitted as we speak. Even the black metal tray has been judiciously rescued from a dumpster. Final assembly will be done next week, and the hairdryer plugged in shortly thereafter.

I hate Garageband. Really. And I love MIDI synths. And MIDI is not difficult. And hairdryers are just so great. I wish I had hair.