Matthew Kaney at ITP

Final Project: Play Space

Physical Computing


David Gochfeld and my final project was “Play Space”, a musically-activated space that used a Kinect to track the motion of people and transform that motion into musical output. We envisioned the project as a sort of collaborative instrument, one which would be usable even by people who just wander into the space. Along those lines, I think the project was generally successful—it quickly engaged people, but we also found that we, at least, enjoyed teasing out more sophisticated control of our musical output.

System Diagram

As far as materials were concerned, the project was quite simple. We used the Kinect camera for our tracking and a Processing sketch with the OpenNI library for interpreting the data. From there, we sent our musical output (in MIDI form) to a copy of Logic Pro X, which handled the musical instrument synthesis and final audio output. Besides the Kinect, our only hardware requirements were a decently fast computer, speakers, and the necessary cabling.

We set ourselves the challenge of creating a space that was both immediately engaging but also interesting and rich as a musical instrument. The biggest challenge was communicating to our users what was going on using only audio cues, and indeed many of our first user tests were confusing for people. Our simple instructions (a taped rectangle around the active area and the injunction to “PLAY”), seemed to help a bit—the people who moved in the most interesting ways (not coincidentally, the people with dance/movement backgrounds) created more interesting sounds and more quickly were able to feel out the possibilities for the interface. One remaining challenge is how to encourage more people to move and explore in this way.

We didn’t have very clear ideas of the exact mappings we wanted between movement and music, so we experimented in many directions through trial and error. Because of this working process, I feel like there are so many ways the ideas here could be adapted for various uses. I’ve begun to conceive of this as less of a discrete project, and more as a solid foundation for future research.


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