September 19, 2012
In the summer of 2012, MzTEK and Guerilla Science made sweet music together, creating wearable instruments with festival-goers at Wilderness and Shambala.
With conductive fabric and soft circuitry, punters turned their t-shirts into synthesizers, screechers and recorders, and were then treated to a personalized recording session with composer Florian Tanant.
For more on the making of this event, check out the how-to guides on the MzTEK website, watch this short film by Debbie Davies about the first workshop we held in June 2012, read about the experience of Shauna Concannon (a literary studies grad turned electrical engineer) here, and see more pics of the making of the orchestra at the Centre for Creative Collaboration (our home) here, at Wilderness here, and at Shambala here.
Many thanks to Kobakant for their advice and expertise, Shauna Concannon for her engineering prowess, Louise Carver with the Natures tent at Wilderness for hosting the event, and to the Centre for Creative Collaboration for bringing us all together in the first place.
This event was generously sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
September 4, 2012
Engineer Shauna Concannon helped us build a Hacked Human Orchestra this summer, in a collaboration with tech artist collective MzTEK and composer Florian Tanant. She tells us about her adventures adding to “the victorious kingdom of electricity”.
The tent is aired out and packed away, and while a few reluctant specks of glitter still cling to my face, the human hacked orchestra festival tour has come to an end.
As a relative newcomer to the field of electronics, it takes little effort to recall the basement, utterly lacking in natural light, where I had my first foray into circuit hacking; inexpertly, and with a dose of trepidation, I handled tiny components with numbers written so small that a squint became a necessary (and becoming) accompaniment to hunched shoulders and a furrowed brow.
While trying to learn the basics at an accelerated rate I was simultaneously wiring up voltage boxes with unnervingly high currents to hacked-around-with circuitry and an arduino in the perpetual fear I might blow something up. Oh, the hours spent alone late at night connecting wires, hoping for the best and troubleshooting to work out which component was the wrong way round or a dud; praise be to my only friend, the multimeter (that I was semi-confident I knew how to use).
So, how refreshing instead to be sat in an airy tent, with merry festival go-ers, threading needles, stripping wire and combining chit-chat with the crafting of wearable musical instruments.
Within the space of a few hours individuals with limited or no previous experience created functioning sound circuits and discovered how capacitors, transistors and resistors could transform into hubs of sound creation. Throw in some coloured felt and keen design skills and the hacked human orchestra is born.
Off they marched to the pop-up studio to fulfill the musical aspirations outlined by the futurists, to add “the victorious kingdom of Electricity” to the musical poem. Well, perhaps that is a little grandiose, but they certainly made some noises of note…
Compared to the dank workshop setting, this seems like a vastly preferable environment within which to get a taste for electronics. Alas, working in fields all year round is not an option. I now await the recordings – perhaps they can help to prolong the Shambala and Wilderness experience.
By Shauna Concannon
Read more about the Hacked Human Orchestra on MzTEK’s blog, check out this short film by Debbie Davies about our first workshop, see more pictures from Wilderness here and Shambala here, and check out the HHO at the Barbican in November!
With recycled wood, old pallets, used timber and a handful of connectors, Buro Happold engineer Nikul Vadgama built three medieval weapons of warfare for us, which we brought to the Secret Garden Party and Wilderness this summer. In between lobbing balloons full of shaving cream at unsuspecting punters at Wilderness and making bondage fetishists cry at the Secret Garden Party, he learned that “engaging the public with science” can mean many things.
“How do we, as engineers, showcase the discipline of engineering to the public?” A question asked by many institutions, answered in several forms. For us, a group of engineers at Buro Happold, the answer was simple: “Let’s build catapults and fire paint balloons at buildings.”
Now, every good engineer must have a sense of pragmatism, and firing objects at London buildings using well-known medieval weapons of warfare does not present our industry in the best light. So timber cut outs of the London skyline were made by Guerilla Science and the title of the event was carefully chosen as “Paint the Skyline”, directing connotation to redecoration rather than destruction.
Trebuchets were chosen as the type of catapult as they are easy to construct and provided a consistent firing range. Three catapults were made all using old pallets, used timber, wooden dowels and a few metal connections.
The idea was to make a “Lego” set of catapults simple enough for anyone to build with a bit of guidance from us. There was some freedom to alter the pivot arm and weights to explain some Newtonian laws of physics to the public.
The test runs were successful, and the catapults ready to be taken to the SGP. However being stored in an open site in Newham, where tarpaulin is a high commodity and often stolen, the weapons of “mass decoration” were soaked by the British weather.
Arriving at SGP my excitement for the festival and the event was high, even though the rain was relentless! Friday morning I quickly got to work on constructing the catapults for a test run with help from my colleagues Gideon Susman, Victor Juarez, Joe Allberry and Ben Hall. Unfortunately the rain had soaked through the timber and although the catapults could be put together there was no way they could be repeatedly assembled and dissembled. So we changed the idea to more of an “introduction to engineering catapults”. Furthermore the paint balloons were replaced with water balloons to avoid any health and safety nightmares.
These taster sessions proved popular with the SGP crowd, who couldn’t believe that there was no catch to allowing them to fire the catapults. After some deliberation, the weights were replaced with a piece of string, which when pulled went into tension, whipping the arm round. This sped up the firing and gave a greater range to the catapults. As the crowd became more competitive about hitting the targets, their enthusiasm to learn more about the mechanics of the system and how to improve their action grew.
Not everyone loved the catapults. Our neighbours the S&Empathy tent resented their existence as they were worried the water balloons may hit their tent and ruin the mood. Although we were baffled by how water balloons could ruin the mood of a session entitled “Introduction to Spanking”, Guerilla Science stepped in as peace-keepers and the catapults were moved out of harm’s way.
After a successful weekend of throwing water balloons at the targets the trebuchets were taken to Wilderness festival and used in the Future Cinema’s Bugsy Malone movie extravaganza.
With help from Chris Grainger, another Happold engineer, the catapults fired foam-filled balloons into the giant splurge fight. The catapults were used to the point of utter destruction in the fight. It was an explosive end for the catapults.
Through SGP and Wilderness festival Guerilla Science brought me to an audience like no other, full of enthusiasm, intrigue and alcohol. Not something I am used to in the commercial world of engineering consultancy. At times communicating engineering to non-engineers can be a difficult task. But Guerilla Science is always able to present science and engineering in a creative medium making it easy to get excited about. Definitely an experience I won’t forget.
By Nikul Vadgama
August 15, 2012
We’ve been collaborating with art and technology collective MzTEK to explore the wonderful world of wearable electronics.
On 12 August in the Natures tent at the new and shiny Wilderness festival, we ran a workshop where people got the chance to build and attach electronic musical instruments to their clothes.
After hacking t-shirts with soft circuits, miniature speakers and conductive thread, workshop participants were treated to a personalized recording session with composer Florian Tenant.
We’ll be hosting this event again at Shambala on August 25th – come let us transform your threads into a musical instrument!
This event was sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering.