For my final project, I am want to create a dynamic sculptural-like device that allows a user to interact with music in a new way. My initial inspiration for this project came from the original implementation of frequency spectrum audio visualizers. These visualizers break the audio spectrum in to discrete chunks, and adjust bar levels which correspond to the amplitude of each range. They usually also include bright colors that correspond to bar height, or to distinguish the each range. The fancier implementations added an additional level of information by sustaining a bar at the highest peak (for each range) for an extended level of time, while the real time analysis would continue. This can be seen as the white lines in the below image.
I always envisioned that the colors bars where lifting up the white lines, where they would levitate for a second, before falling back down. As I started thinking about it, I realized that we have some innate fascination with objects that appear to defy gravity. If you have ever seen the rock sculptures that people build next to Boulder Creek in the summer, you will understand the intrigue of balance/levitation that I am attempting to describe. I want to try and capture this quality, and incorporate the the aesthetic in my project.
To do this, I am currently toying with the idea of levitating a row of ping pong balls using fans. Just like the audio visualizer above, the ping pong ball heights would be dynamically adjusted to the changing frequency of input music. I am thinking that it will be possible to have a separate clear plastic tube for each ball, and then the fan speed could be adjusted to move the ball up and down the tube. I believe this will be the critical aspect of my project, and if it does not work, the project will not be feasible at all. My plan is to prototype a single tube/fan/ball setup this in the coming week to determine if I should move forward with my idea. It may be possible to do it without a tube, similar to the classic hairdryer ping pong ball levitation experiment, but I am not sure that I would be able to control the rising and falling of the ball fast/accurate enough to implement an appealing visual experience.
My final project would likely include bright RGB LEDs to mimic the aesthetic of the original visualizers. I would like to hide the fans in a base below, but have a frosted acrylic top so the lights would nicely diffuse across the surface (and maybe light up the tube). I have also been thinking about ways to make the final product interesting without inputting music to be analyzed. It occurred to me that it could be cool to have an alternate “boot mode”, which allows the user to conduct the height of each ping pong ball using their hands. A quick initial search shows that it is possible to buy IR rangefinders on EBay for a couple dollars a piece, which could make this idea a reality. Stay tuned for some hand sketches and an update on the outcome of my prototyping.