606 Tactile Soundscapes

This prototype captures the first acoustic experiences when arriving to a new city: every neighbourhood's distinct character is expressed by the stories the streets are telling you through sounds. During my free time in Chicago in the fall of 2014, I built a simple tactile–audio installation that aims to express the differences between various parts of this eclectic city.

Mentor: Simon King



One single soundscape can recreate different atmospheres through its changing dynamics. The melody explores how we perceive spaces: through echo, tempo and shifting musical scales. The tactile city map connects sounds and spaces through soft capacitive sensors: the stitched copper foil pops out of the pattern and invites people to play with them as sliders. Interactions like this may live in environments where the tactility of physical objects and a subtle acoustic backdrop can set the right ambience.

Prototyping and testing

The prototype was created using Noam, Arduino + Processing and NodeBeat. The Noam platform played the conductor’s role by syncing up all these tactile inputs with the audible outputs.

Three acoustic attributes are mapped out to one touch sensor each: tempo, echo, musical scale shifts. The capacitive sensors are wired up with a Noam-connected Arduino that runs a simple code with the CapSense library. High sensor values generate a message inside Noam, which then forwards the message to a Processing sketch with the Minim library.

At first, it was tricky to create a meaningful connection between the flaky capacitive sensor readings and the slow sound output. The capacitive sliders are not fully accurate, and live generation of complex sounds needs long response time. To solve this, pre-recorded sound snippets that were harmonious together were loaded into Processing, and were replayed in parallel, creating one coherent soundscape.

The Processing sketch triggers the respective audio snippet created with NodeBeat, depending on which end of which sensor was touched. These snippets build up the full soundscape resembling the ambient qualities of the place where you point at on the tactile map.