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Self Modulating Clay Synth

Luke Dash

This project is a response to the brief SENSE & REACT, during which we were to make a computational system which appears to sense and react to the inputs which constitute its habitat.

My idea was to make a system whose form and behavior are the direct sum of interaction between its own parts, and its environment.

This was done using a homemade analog synth encased in clay.

My practise prior to this module (as a Musician and Illustrator) was heavily influenced by self assessment reflecting a desired 'impressiveness' in my work in terms of its craft and aesthetic. Working in physical computing as a discipline for the first time presented a host of new limitations for my thinking and making which forced me to break abruptly away from this old ideal of impressiveness.

The Mono-ha movement became my primary influence on this shift of approach. Particularly the work of Lee Ufan. I admired the idea of allowing materials to speak for themselves through implicit complexity in relationships with their counterparts and surroundings. Less importance is placed on hand craft in work like this acheiving its intent.

Following this, the simple figuration of a habitat as a system of interacting materials became only natural as the conceptual rationale.

To make things clearer, I often thought metaphorically of my object as a shell near an ocean. More specifically, the way in which some shells sound like waves when pressed to your ear. Similarly, the shape language of these kinds of shells can reflect that of waves at some frames of reference.

In this vein, my chosen materials were: clay, whose simplest symbolic shape language is a direct manifestation of interactions between its environments constituent parts; and a homemade analog synth made using the Mozzi Library running simply on an Arduino.

The system reflects my concept because the sound it synthesises is controlled in real time by a rolling average of vibrations near it, and vibrations the speaker itself makes. In the same way, the clay form is the direct tresult of its interaction with its electrical contents. It was clumsily wrapped around the synth as it ran. When moisture or weight knocked a wire out of commission, it was torn open and the ugly process was repeated until the artefact "worked". 

It is very exciting to consider where this project has taken my creative thinking, and how fast it has done so.

Every part of my younger self screams no at this mad thing.

Yet, seeing it come to life in it's surprising way brings me a lot of joy.