I happen to have several body parts stashed away in my house. A couple of hands, plaster cast lips and even an ear.

I carted over the hands, an ancient ceramic frog in a John Travolta pose, a bag of tech goodies we had been given with Random String (Arduino, sound shield, wires, portable power source), a laptop and an assortment of attachables (cable ties, elastic bands, tin foil), over to the STEAMhouse in Digbeth, to meet interactive technologies guru Nikki Pugh, to learn with her guidance how to make a hand speak in response to touch. This was the task I had set myself, having figured if I could do this, then there would be endless ways this know-how could be applied using other objects and other sounds.

Monkey Popping Out  As a beginner to the Arduino (the sum total of my knowledge was setting it up to make a light flash, after replicating what Dom Breadmore had shown us in an introductory workshop), I was really looking forward to the one-to-one with Nikki Pugh to learn more.
Nikki has applied Arduino technology in really inventive and witty ways. We had a look at a few video clips of her creations so I could get a grasp of ways this interactive technology can be used – one was of a toy monkey who appeared and descended – from a box where it was hiding in the ceiling – in response to people not moving (I loved this). Another was a secret policeman’s ball where the hidden disco lights would appear in response to people moving past.
This got me thinking that I’d like to know how to make creations responsive to movement (a waving hand setting off sights/sounds) as well as to touch, before the end of this Fellowship

Touching the Toe of the Frog

 We decided to use the frog (those toes!) rather than one of the hands. Nikki took me through the basic anatomy of the Arduino (what bit does what, what bit goes where), we then went through what the code does and what happens when you change the code on the computer, before numbering some sound files in the format the Arduino would recognise.
Then it was time to get hands on, connecting something that can conduct into the Arduino, connecting a portable power source, inserting the tiny sound file, and connecting a lead to a speaker so sound could come out. Rolling up some tin foil to make a makeshift conductive pathway from one finger and one toe of the frog and connecting the foil to two crocodile clips…..and attaching these to two ports on the Arduino…and hey presto. I touched the toe…and sound came out. Touched the finger and a different sound. What a delight! It really was pure joy. We then changed from the small speaker to a high quality speaker – and boom. Big sound in response to touch.

What a brilliant few hours. Rounded off with a grand tour of the facilities at the STEAMhouse.

Fingers Touch in the Creation of Adam

What I’d like to do next is to use a model of a hand wired up so that the fingers respond to touch with a burp, a lion’s roar, a few lines from Under Milkwood and/other random combinations of sound, with the famous Michelangelo painting of the Creation of Adam where two fingers touch, as the backdrop that gives the visual invitation to touch the model of the hand. This could be scaled up, but I would just go for the model size as proof of concept.


Wheel Idea The second idea is more ambitious. It stems from this day, from a random conversation with Nikki about bikes, which set me thinking about making use of the bicycle wheel I have in my garden. (Currently there just as an ornament). The installation will mix projection with interactive technology and body parts. Lips (projected and moving in the central hub of the wheel) will speak a few lines of poetry, (wheels have spokes – I couldn’t resist speaking spokes). The poem/visuals will be set off as people wave/move. And the lips will morph into an eye, a rat, a fried egg. I’ve Googled “Wheel and lips”, “Bicycle wheel and lips”, and “Bicycle art” and can’t see any images of what I have in mind. And in six pages of a Google search for “Speaking spokes” I never came across this specific word combination. So I’m heartened – and itching to get this idea going.

Nikki Pugh http://npugh.co.uk and http://npugh.co.uk/tag/arc_hijack/
STEAMhouse https://www.steamhouse.org.uk/blog/register/
Arduino technology https://www.pjrc.com/store/teensy3_audio.html

The Touch Board Pro Kit

Adafruit https://www.adafruit.com Nikki says, “They’re worth looking through for mp3 player options and they’re good on tutorials and example code, too, eg: https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-music-maker-shield-vs1053-mp3-wav-wave-ogg-vorbis-player
Freesound – Collaborative database of Creative Commons Licenced sound effects https://freesound.org/