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Sound-Activated Light Suit

Apr 6, 2017

In this collaboration Charlena Russell and Bernie Rohde, a technologist in circuit sculpture, have designed and built a one-of-a-kind costume for Charlena’s stage performances. We see this as a creative trail-blazing, engaging our community’s growing desire for tech-art and DIY innovation. Our sound-activated light-suit provides a unique experience for ourselves and for audiences of all ages, combining authentic science with visual art and musical entertainment.

The suit will be worn while Charlena performs her electronic-jazzy songs with a loop pedal, vocals, violin, ukulele, trumpet, guitars and multi-instrumental backing tracks. Projected video images will also visually enhance the experience. Audience participation is key, as there will be danceable songs that require call backs and clapping. The suit even makes music accessible for the hearing impaired, allowing them to see the sound!

We both consider it our life’s work to MAKE ART HAPPEN through learning and connecting with others. We become a strong team by integrating knowledge from our previous individual studies. By EXCHANGING IDEAS we get perspective which an artist might rarely if ever discover alone. Working with someone from a slightly different planet (gender, generation, education, art genre), we have made a way of making, an environment for evolution with unpredictable results.

Machine intelligence was supposed to help the human race somehow, but engineering by itself, with top-down planning and pre-determined goals, is going in the opposite direction. Big data is only good for business and war. Programmed intuition is an oxymoron and a hoax. Present-day smart machines are purely left-brained calculators. A machine which actually could think needs both hemispheres to be real. So forget about virtual reality—where do you get an actual right-brain?

Tech-art usually means art made by tech, such as a painting or music composed by a computer. What about making tech by doing art ? When it comes to thinking outside the box, we want to inspire and lead by example. We think of art as not so much the product as the process – the dreaming and improvising – spontaneous combustion from thin air.

When the dust settles our machine has figured out a few things on her own. Analog math with body language adds a new dimension, a parallel operating system for the digital computer. As with our collaboration in making, 1 + 1 > 2. The rules of engineering are only a line in the sand. We get to use the whole rest of the beach.

See you at the next show!

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund.

How the Suit Works

The circuit has 96 LED lights, powered by rechargeable battery packs, controlled by an Arduino-compatible processor, code written in C.  The lights automatically switch on/off in waves according to sound picked up by a built-in microphone.  Any one of eight preset colours can be selected anytime, even in the middle of a tune – it doesn’t miss a beat.  

Audio gain and LED on/off threshold are self-adjusting for any sound input. Sensitivity (noise margin) is user-adjustable.  There are 12 LEDs/pixel, 8 pixels/frame.  The frame rate is ~140Hz, adjustable in software.  There are no preset or triggered sequences.  The display is raw data in time-domain – like the x-axis of an oscilloscope screen – not a colour organ, spectrum analyser or EQ bar graph.  

  • Atmel 328p cpu w/Arduino bootloader A000048, 28PDIP replaceable in socket  
  • Texas Instrument TLC5947 24-channel PWM s/p register (pcb design J. Bastow)  
  • Diodes Inc. DMN3404L n-channel FET, LED drivers  
  • Microchip MCP6001UT-I/OT audio op-amp  
  • Carobotix 0940-PRT-9922661 400mAH 3.7V lithium battery, for the logic circuits   
  • Sparkfun PRT-10217 usb/micro charger, modified for 370mA  
  • Staples 28246 5V usb powerbank (nom. 6.6AH each)  2 x 4AH useable at 2.4A   
  • Battery wake-up 2 x 200mA, 75% duty at 30 Hz  
  • YoCv8 pcb with v11 code modified for Charlena’s LED colours  

For more info regarding tech, please contact 

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