Category Archives: art

MusicHackTee interactive musical scale t-shirt

Meep, belatedly catching up with blogging about Music Hackday London, which happened back in December 2011 and was held in the wonderfully retro boardrooms of the Barbican, London.

My hack for Music Hackday was an interactive musical t-shirt and as you can see I’ve ‘hacked’ the official Music Hackday t-shirt 😉 I didn’t win any prizes, possibly because just about every sponsor awarded prizes only to people who made apps with their APIs – so a bit disappointing and a bit of an issue for Hackdays.

Basically I wrote a script that allows a LilyPad Arduino to use its pads as a musical keyboard. I’ve elongated these pads to make a musical scale and the user can play tunes in the C scale – C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C

The piece uses LilyPad Arduino with sewable conductive thread, rather than wires to conduct voltage and signal.


To play it the user takes a stylus and plays the notes on the LilyPad pads or can play by touching the conductive thread tracks or pad on the corresponding LEDs which also light up individually when a note is played.

It was also an exercise in acknowledging one’s blushing embarrassment in that it’s quite odd and one feels self conscious to be wearing a musical t-shirt played by someone else – maybe better to stick to playing such things yourself 😉


If you’d like to see some of the hacks, have a peruse of the Music Hackday wiki.


Teapotty – electronic teapot exploration for Chi-TEK at the V&A

Over the last couple of months I’ve been thinking a lot about teapots…

Teapotty on display in a cabinet at the V&A
Me gazing at Teapotty installed at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

I was asked earlier this year if I’d like to create a tech teapot for the Chi-TEK teapot project, by Mz-TEK, who run a community for women who want to learn about and be creative with technology.

The brief is to create a tech teapot for a tea party and exhibition at the esteemed Victoria and Albert Museum in London. If you’re not familiar with the V&A it’s “the world’s greatest museum of art and design” – it is truly a wonderful place and an honour to be invited to exhibit my work there again.

For the past few weeks I’ve been on an odyssey of explorative adventure fuelled by excitement and enthusiasm for a myriad of ideas for tech teapots.

Ideas for my teapot have evolved from memories of tea marketing from my childhood. From the start I wanted to create something that used magnetic fields and magnetometers because I have a really early TV clip in my head of animated tea leaves diffusing tea in a teabag similar to a magnetic field – yes, silly I know, but it’s stuck in my head all this time. Something else I found really evocative about tea when I was wee, was the Tetley Tea Folk tune, I couldn’t get the score for this anywhere, but Ciaran Anscomb kindly wrote me a music routine for my red Teapotty which plays something similar-ish – it’s converted from 6809 machine code from the game “Tea Time” by Pocket Money Software, that ran on 80s Dragon computers.

I have made five variations of my ‘Teapotty’ project over the last couple of months and below are videos of my three favourites…

Above is the version of Teapotty that is currently on show in the V&A and will be demonstrated at the Chi-TEK tea party weekender.

It runs on C code and an Arduino Uno microcontroller and takes readings from a magnetometer that are influenced by neodymium magnets in a cup, plays a tune and informs the servo to move it to a new position. RGB LEDs (with polymorph heart diffusers) also use the readings from the magnetometer to reflect a colour across the RGB spectrum.

‘Fussy Huffy Teapot Bunny Ears’ is a wearable interactive, that also works with an Arduino Uno, servo, magnetometer and neodymium magnets in a cup to reset the position of the tin teapot. Eventually, tin teapot’s downfall was that it became magnetised and I couldn’t easily degauss it.

This Teapotty is a glass teapot on a battery driven turntable illuminated by LEDs. The music Ive used is ‘Modiste’ by Victor Herbert Orchestra CC Public Domain and available at the Free Music Archive.

Teapotty will be interactive and driving everyone mad as part of The Chi-TEK Tea Party during the London Design Festival at the V&A. Apart from during the Chi-TEK Tea Party, Teapotty will also be on show at the V&A over the next three months accompanied by a video of it and other teapots in action. During this time it will be displayed in a cabinet will so will be switched off.

Temperature sensing t-shirt (AKA: “Yr in mah face!”)

'Yr in mah face' temp-sensing t-shirt

At last weekend’s 24-hour Pachube Hackathon, I created an electronic wearable I wasn’t expecting to make! To clarify that statement, I intended to hack on a LoL Shield I’d recently soldered together (it has 126 LEDs = steady hands needed & much love to the soldering iron ;-)). Unfortunately, I’d mislaid an accelerometer to interact with the LEDs, so it was no go for that hack…

Spaghetti croc clip testing works!

After spreading out all my spare LilyPad Arduino components and kit from my toolbox on the table at Pachube Hackathon, I decided on a new hack – a temperature sensing t-shirt! I spent some time writing and debugging the code before it would happily compile in the Arduino IDE. I then tested the code by uploading it to the LilyPad and connecting all the modules together with crocodile clips, and yay it worked!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

I’m very interested in interactive wearables and so decided to create a t-shirt that would use loop poll Celsius data from a sensor on the t-shirt and average them, then visualise the results. The tshirt uses sewable LilyPad Arduino modules and conductive thread to sew all the connections together.

I didn’t have much time left, once I’d got the code to compile and uploaded it, then tested everything together with the crocodile clips, so the designing, cutting out from fabric and sewing all the fabric and components together with conductive thread was a manic rush. No prizes for tidy sewing and elegant design I’m afraid, but a prototype conceived designed and built is less than 24 hours!

Creating my hack: big heart cat heads

So here’s the amusing concept scenario… imagine you’re a shy and retiring geek like me, who might find themselves in a social situation, such as a loud, crowded bar. The temperature sensing t-shirt I’m wearing has two cat heads: one green – the colour of cool, calm collected cat – its LED eyes signaling temperatures of less than 27 degrees Celsius, if the wearer were to say have someone at close proximity talking loudly at them, the heat from their breath would push the sensor Celsius average over this point and the LEDs would turn off on the cool calm collected green cat head and come on, on the hot, red, angry coloured cat head!

Creating my hack: early conductive thread sewing

This would be a signal to whomever is causing the angry red cat’s LEDs eyes to light up, to back off “You’re in mah face” or perhaps if the wearer is hot and embarrassed, to have a nice sit down in a corner with a cool drink of lemonade.

Creating my hack: woo done in the nick of time!

Creating my hack: back view, negotiating tracks of conductive thread

But seriously, my t-shirt is a fun proof of concept, I’m very interested in how sensing tech such as temperature sensors can have wider and useful usage. For example, in a society where more of the population is living to a ripe old age, then smart wearables such as temperature and other sensing modules can help older or disabled people, who might need their health monitoring constantly, carry on living at home for longer and keep their independence. Also, I can think of various lifestyle and sporting uses, such as comfortable sports clothes that would also have reasons to track data, plus smart clothing for people who work with extreme temperatures, chemicals or in harsh environments.

Me and my hack - yay it works!

Maker Faire UK, Newcastle

Busy Maker Faire UK
Maker Faire main hall – there were several other rooms…

On 12-13th March the third Maker Faire UK took place at Newcastle’s Centre for Life as part of their Science Week. I have no idea what it’s like to visit an American Maker Faire and I *boggle* at what the sheer scale of their events must be like as I hear that about 80 thousand people visit them! But, what I do know is that the UK Maker Faire is one of the best technology and science events you can ever visit in the UK. Why? It’s because Maker Faire is all about getting to participate and have fun, whether it be playing with sound, solder, a pinhole camera, bacteria, making a pie or knitting a neuron, the visitor gets to experience tech and science first hand, it’s participatory and not a sitting back and watching experience.

Maker Faire
The Room of 29 Things stand

This year, Maker Faire UK was twice the size as last year and if I remember correctly last year was twice as big as the first. I must say I’m pleased that Maker Faire UK has grown so quickly over the last two years and aroused so much interest, as technology and science certainly has the best toys. But seriously, it’s a brilliant way to encourage and nurture fledgling (and not so fledgling) interest in these subjects, I remember science certainly wasn’t so much fun when I was at skool and it’s also really, really important to encourage engineers and scientists of the future for all sorts of reasons. Finally, I’m also pleased it grew in size enough not to be in a chilly marquee, as I remember how chilly it was for the first Maker Faire UK 😉

Space Science
Space Science ladies showing kids some fun stuff

I had my own stall this year, a bit of an undertaking as previously I’d been on the BBC R&D stand, but I enthusiastically set out with two trolleys, a rucksack and two bags (a slight mare to steer all that lot of ones own is an understatement) but I managed to make it to Newcastle for Friday set up day. I took three interactive LilyPad Arduino interactive sound artworks: Twinkle Tartiflette, I ❤ 0X0 and Twinkle Starduino, plus a selection of my electroluminescent wearables, including the Neon-Victoriana Queen outfit and crown.

Me at Maker Faire UK
Me and some of my electroluminescant / microcontroller wearables

My stand at Maker Faire
Sideways look at my stand

Hats off and huge thanks to the organisers and all the makers and hackers who put on such an inspiring show. I’ve tried to compile a list of inspirations, but as I was on my stand just about the whole show (except for running out to get lunch), I didn’t really get to view the rest of the show but I reckon my hacking heros Mitch Altman and Jimmie Rodgers must have helped a couple of thousand peeps have a go at soldering a blinking LED badge and the London Hackspacers (there were several other UK Hackspaces represented too) got up to mischief with Brightarcs’ tesla coils! At lunchtime I peered over the atrium to see tons of people having fun with Jam Jar and Curiosity Collective’s toys. Next to me were the Room of Things 29 with Bubblino and other exciting hacks, and on the other side Clockwork Zeppelin were inspiring people with their Steampunk jewellery workshop. I also saw my former BBC R&D colleagues totally busy with all their fab toys and could barely view Lush Project’s Lunar Lander and Bicycle Pong for players queuing up.

Maker Faire UK
Curiosity Collective

For a taste of some of what was on show, here’s my little vidjo, it’s in no way comprehensive because I was busy on my stall most of the time and yes, there’s a lot of images of my work 😉

A few thousand people came through the doors and I saw a queue wiggling nearly all the way to the entrance to the Centre for Life. A good percentage of the attendants were kids and I hope this event has inspired a fair few to nag their families to let them have a hack at something fun. Plus, there were many artists and hobbyists looking for tips and tricks, and I got asked a huge amount about where I buy my EL-wire and Arduino kit.

Mitch soldering at Maker Faire UK
Mitch Altman & Jimmie Rodgers, doing a bit of soldering prep

The following quote says something quite magical about Maker Faire UK; during Saturday evening dinner @Oomlout declared “It’s our two year anniversary – it’s two years since we all met” – it’s true, Maker Faire UK has brought together some brilliant people who were previously working disparately and who now stay in touch all year and help each other out with ideas, solutions and bits of kit – I’ve made some wonderful friends and co-conspiritors \(*v*)/

Mitch Altman sums it all up with “At Noisebridge Hackspace, SF, we have one rule ‘Be excellent to each other'” and I think the Makers and Hackers of the UK and beyond certainly are!

Oomlout stocks at Maker Faire UK
Oomlout stocks

PS, now that Oomlout’s crazy impresario has his new laser cutter I vote we make an Arduino catapult for the Oomlout stocks and have them in the Centre for Life courtyard – I’d pay to toss a tomato!

Twinkle Starduino – my interactive musical artwork

My stand at Maker Faire UK
I ❤ 0X0 – Interactive & musical game

Kinetica Art Fair, 2011, London


Kinetica is an art show that showcases work combining science and technology, in forms such as electronics, light, time-based and kinetic mediums. It’s produced by the Kinetica Museum and for the past couple of years has been shown as P3 in Westminster University Campus at Baker Street, London.

The atmosphere for visitors entering Kinetica is quite overwhelming, in that they walk into a warm, underground, bunker space and are hit by a cacophony of sound emitting from the artworks that clank, whirr or make music. There is so much to see from artists from all around the world working in so many specialisations with all sorts of materials and reasons for doing so. The sight of kinetic art is magnificent and awe inspiring – it’s worth going just to stand back and gawp, or get in and play with the artworks. The artists are usually always on hand to demonstrate and answer the what, why and how questions. It is hot and dark and round every corner lies something eclectic, visually stunning, technically awe-inspiring or deafening!

Tea time

This year I exhibited as part of the ArtHertz curators collection of contemporary artists whose work uses technology, unconventional spaces, film, DJ-ing, music or emphasizes themes such as electricity or stories to tell from ghosts of past eras. ArtHertz is run by Dennis Da Silva and co-curator, Beverley Bennett.

Here’s my modest video of the work on show on the ArtHertz stand:

I exhibited two artworks that use LilyPad Arduino sewable microcontroller technology: Twinkle Tartiflette, a stylus driven, embroidered, music making, interactive shirt and I ❤ 0X0, an interactive, music playing game of noughts and crosses using conductive Velcro. They both prove to be challenging in the public exhibiting environment as they’re so delicately constructed – I was able to let people have a play with both of these, but had to demonstrate how delicately their fabrics and conductive materials were first. I’m definitely on the look out for more sturdy conductive fabrics – I think this will become quite a difficult challenge to source as my work aims to prove that electronics do not have to be sharp and hard – which sometimes makes it tough to show these exhibits in such a lively and interactive show!

Twinkle Tartiflette & I <3 0X0

I also exhibited/wore some of my electroluminescent outfittery, here’s a slo-mo video of my Neon-Victoriana outfit that features in my other two Kinetica 2011 vidjos – warning: you might get sick of seeing this outfit 😉

I was honored to be in such great company on the ArtHertz stand… Sarah Angliss’ work, Ventricle, snapped and pinched to Sarah’s heartbeat in a way that scared rather than soothed. The handbag it was fashioned from shimmering blood red material and a tempting five pound note (not placed in there by the artist) for some time tempted passers by to try to pull it out without getting their fingers bitten.

Sarah's Ventricle

Andrew Back’s, Time for Tea, by comparison gently and stylishly informed us of when there were changes in voltage in the UK National Grid caused by peaks in usage during different times of the day, these times helpfully inform us when best to put on a brew.

Time for Tea

Adrian Lee’s Search for Extra Terrestrial Existence (SETI) Citrus Division’ hopefully directs a laser pulsing ‘we are here’ in morse code to aliens, by the awesome power of 65 lemons. Like a sekrit project by a mad professor it projects mournfully upwards and onwards, seemingly forever.

Lemon laser

Outside of the ArtHertz stand there were many other highlights to see. Some of these were huge, imposing and downright scary, such as the whirring, pulsating The Particle by Alex Posada which I nervously viewed incase it took off and went postal. Some tiny exhibits, beautifully made were a joy to observe such as the ferrous piece by PE Lang or the mechanical constructions inspired by nature from Tim Lewis. I could give you a long list, but it may be easier to just view my video that whizzes through some of my highlights.

There were also some great talks and performances by art legends such as Stelarc and the Musion Academy showed some of its awesome work throughout the show. Plus upstairs you could get your hands on Arduinos and other bits of kit to make synthesizers and all sorts of fun makes.

Cybersonica & Manchester Art Gallery – Make it yourself

Musion Academy

Anna Dumitriu & Alex May’s stand

Poietic Studio – Floating Forcaster

Lovely Stelarc & Rain
Stelarc & Rain

I <3 0X0 – LilyPad Arduino wearable / mobile artwork & game

I ❤ 0X0 is an interactive artwork, game, musical fancy and experiment in conductive Velcro. I created it to test the usefulness of conductive Velcro. I wanted to make something that was both interactive and interesting to the user. After much pondering a simple interactive game of noughts and crosses seemed like something viable and I could aim for.

As far as I could tell from searching online, not much had been documented on conductive Velcro and it’s uses. I found one project credited to AnaLou where it had been used as a toggle switch for LEDs (light emitting diodes) on a hat.

So I wanted to create something interactive, as I could find no other documentation for conductive Velcro, some sort of plaything seemed an interesting idea and after some pondering I decided that the 3 x 3 grid system used for a simple game of noughts and crosses would be something that would be both limited and simple in terms scale, i.e. a maximum number conductivity points and a square grid that would be easy to contain.

My schematic design for this artwork has 9 tracks of conductive thread stitches that lead back to nine digital LilyPad Arduino pins. There are 22 pins on the LilyPad Arduino 12 of which are digital I/O so having nine tracks of conductive thread was not a problem. I decided on a stylised heart shape for the design and placement of components, as I wanted the artwork to be attractive. I also chose the LilyPad arduino components and sewing of conductive thread to all be visible and designed to be part of the aesthetic of the artwork, so that the user is reminded that this is an electronic artwork.

At this stage I wrote the basic bones of the underlying code, as a ‘sketch’ in the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE).

Considerable thought went into devising how to connect the objects that would become the physical noughts and crosses. I would need a way of discerning noughts and crosses physically as well as in the code, so decided the 3 x3 grid for each placed nought or cross would be made up of three rails of connected conductive Velcro. The noughts and crosses would have two corresponding rails of fuzzy Velcro on their undersides, but would join to two differing rails on the grid.

After making a first set of noughts and crosses and connecting their underside Velcro rails with conductive thread, testing revealed that they cross-connected the rails in a bad way, which meant an effective circuit was created where none existed in the empty parts of the grid where no object was placed. After much testing and thinking about how to right this problem, crocodile clips and diodes showed it was necessary to implement a diode in each of the objects to push the current in one direction. This setback cost the project over a week in time as new noughts and crosses were made from scratch.

With the new noughts and crosses made and working okay on the conductive Velcro rails it was time to revisit the code. The project needed some music to play when a game was won, so I chose two old classics – can you guess what they are? A tune was also needed to signify a stalemate situation in the game and I chose ‘ The Death March’, which harks back to early arcade games where it was often played alongside a ‘game over’ message. The music was transposed into simple notes that could be played by the LilyPad Arduino buzzer and then entered into the code as frequencies.

It was rather difficult and frustrating to get the tempo and notes to the music to play on the buzzer convincingly, so I sought the help of hacker Ciaran Anscomb to transpose the three pieces of music I had chosen for this project and write a bespoke music routine for me. This took quite a bit time and code experimentation, but I am happy with how it has turned out.

With the hardware and code running as expected and reasonably confident that all the conductive thread tracks and respective knots were all working properly and not touching each other or fraying, I finally tidied up the artwork by backing it onto some coloured fabric and embellishing with star sequins, which also acted as a way of securely sewing the two fabrics to each other. One of the risks of just sewing around the edge of the heart to join the backing to the front fabric, is that when the noughts and crosses are lifted off the grid after each game, the fabric might become stretched or torn from the pulling off from the Velcro rails.

Thinking Digital 2010: Arduino Power Workshop

Thinking Digital 2010 kicked off with a choice of fabulous pre-conference workshops covering compelling topics such as web video, visual communication, origami and pitching. As a microcontroller enthusiast, I couldn’t help but choose the Arduino Power workshop run by Daniel Soltis of Tinker, Jamie Allen of Culture Lab and Brian Degger.

Most of the workshop attendees were new to Arduino, which was a good thing – Daniel and Jamie gave an overview of Arduino, its uses and some examples of cool projects.

We were each given a fantastic Oomlout ARDX starter kit – which is a great kit for anyone starting out or wants a nice kit with a variety of parts for projects, followed by a walk-through of a few simple sketches as a nice intro to Arduino, then let loose with various cogs, propellers, wire, balsa wood, glue guns and other bits to build and experiment with.

I created a dancing kitty, fashioned from balsa wood in conjunction with Arduino and a few bits of kit and a sketch – to become a simple example of how one can use a DC motor with a propeller to power a servo.

Here’s a little video of the simple whimsical kitty I made:

I’ve been asked to publish the sketch for this, and as all the wonderful libraries and examples in Processing are open source I’ve posted it below. As with all sketches, you can modify them to your needs or tweak the values to suit your project.

For example, you can experiment by changing one of the values in the sketch below to get the best turning response from the servo. So in line val = map(val, 0, 1023, 0, 179); – I changed ‘1023’ to the maximum value I got from the DC motor when spinning the propeller – I tested this using another sketch and while spinning the propeller and reading the voltage which in my case was ’45’.

You can just about see the breadboard / arduino pin layout in this photo:

Dancing Kitty breadboard / arduino layout

Knob sketch:

// Controlling a servo position using a potentiometer (variable resistor)
// by Michal Rinott


Servo myservo; // create servo object to control a servo

int potpin = 0; // analog pin used to connect the potentiometer
int val; // variable to read the value from the analog pin

void setup()
myservo.attach(9); // attaches the servo on pin 9 to the servo object

void loop()
val = analogRead(potpin); // reads the value of the potentiometer (value between 0 and 1023)
val = map(val, 0, 1023, 0, 179); // scale it to use it with the servo (value between 0 and 180)
myservo.write(val); // sets the servo position according to the scaled value
delay(15); // waits for the servo to get there

Many thanks to Daniel, Jamie & Brian for a fab afternoon of fun & lovely ARDX kit 😀