Hullabaloo

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Hullabaloo represents one of my first attempts at creating a tangible music interface. Child Chairs are simple tangible interfaces that allow children to participate in a music game that tests and increases their musical and memory acuity.

Overview and Background
Hullabaloo represents my second attempt at creating a tangible music interface and was designed and conceived at approximately the same time as the Adult Chairs installation. The name Hullabaloo means great noise or excitement and seemed like an appropriate term to describe the device I set out to create.

My first implementation of hullabaloo involved embedding a simple switch into the seat of a wooden chair. This was to allow children to have the ability to control a voice from simple melodies in an overall composition. I hadn’t actually thought of using pillows with the chairs at first, thinking that perhaps the pillows and chairs could be two separate devices. It worked well but to engage children in a more inviting way I thought an addition or change to this form was needed. As well, since the interaction was to be quite simple, I wanted to create a musical game around the chairs and make this interface as portable as possible. With that in mind I explored additional objects to add to the chairs and eventually I converged on the design of the installation using both the pillows and chairs at the same time. Pillows are an extremely common object in many peoples environment and represent an opportunity to allow for a great deal of aesthetic expression. They are approachable and may either elicit a sense of play or comfort.

Hiroshi Ishii’s Music Bottles were a great early influence on much of this work. In his paper “Bottles as a Minimal Interface to Access Digital Information” with Ali Mazalek, and Jay Lee he writes about the need to “explore the transparency of an interface that weaves itself into the fabric of everyday life”, a statement which fits very well with my overall goals. In selecting pillows as an interface, and this applies to all the interfaces I created, there are some important considerations. First, when we add new digital meanings and functionality to inert physical objects, we need to maintain coherency of the conceptual model in both the physical and digital worlds. This requires seamlessly extending the metaphor and built-in physical affordances of objects to the digital domain (Ishii., 2000). Secondly, when designing the pillows interface it was necessary to identify a fundamental set of interactions that were both appropriate to the task and also compatible with the available sensor technology (Ishii., 2000).

The basic affordance of pillows is to provide support and comfort. In addition to this there are some basic interactions such as squeezing and throwing. Unlike the Music Bottles I was not able to ascertain more sophisticated gestures. As it is I wanted to make the use of the interface as simple as possible, pillows are idea in that regard. I didn’t want the interface to suffer from a greater complexity and be subject to different interpretation. In order to eliminate since the problems that can occur in interpreting the proper use of the interface I opted for a minimal design that would implement only the basic affordance of pillows. This resulted in fixing the pillows with a chair and not as an independent object. Thus the basic affordance is one of comfort.

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The Game
The inspiration to the design of the game for Hullabaloo was university music listening classes. It was common practice to walk into class and have a professor put a LP on the player, simply drop the needle anywhere, and then require you to identify the piece of music and the location within that work. My game is naturally much less intimidating than that and primarily designed to test children’s listening and memory skills. A desired secondary effect is the introduction of various pieces of music in general.

The game is very much a group activity and may require some initial coaching. I consider it wise to use this game as part of an over all classroom lesson which includes a song from Hullabaloo’s song library or a piece of music very similar to what can be found there. The game scenerio is as follows:

Using the hullabaloo software GUI, the coach or teacher chooses a piece of music of a varying level of difficulty then plays the song in its entirety. The song can be then played again or it can be decided to continue on to the challenge.

Upon deciding to move on, the software then randomly divides the song into four pieces and each piece is assigned to one chair.

With help from the class, the child is then required to sit on the chairs to hear which piece of music has been assigned to which chair and try to put them in the proper order. The child is rewarded with a success signal if they get the correct piece and a error signal if they are wrong. They are then required to remember the order of the chairs to sit in them in succession in order to play the song in the proper order.

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Initial Design
The initial design for Hullabaloo called for 4 chairs with matching pillows. The pillows themselves were fixed by fabric to the chairs so as to ensure that they stayed in place. Activating the interface is fairly simple, the user must simply sit on the chair, an action which activates a switch. The switch itself was hidden inside each pillow, one switch per pillow. Upon activation the chairs communicate with a flash based client running on a old iMac and produces sound through a basic set of speakers. The switch itself was fashioned with standard off the shelf hardware and used reproposed keyboard to form the circuit. Though the keyboard proved to be an economical alternative to more advanced solutions, the time required to disassemble the keyboard, paste on wires to the plastic circuits, and connect these wires to the switches was prohibitive. In Adult chairs we decided on a different solution based on this experience. The game itself was run using a graphical user interface (GUI) where there was initial support for two childrens songs. The game software was written using actionscript with a flash client. Xml was used to gather song data. We envisioned Hullabaloo to be played by a small group of people – allowing for group play – with an Adult using the GUI and instructing the children on how to play. As we later found out when we ran an informal test this assumption worked out quite well. Although the pillow and chairs interface is based only on simple operations and is too restrictive to support a variety of functions for expert users, this constraint can be an advantage for providing additional values, such as aesthetic pleasure and interesting game play. Restricting function is also a valuable ideal for creating an interface for children. I wanted the children to be sufficiently engaged and interested in the installation but the focus should be on the game and the music, not the interface.

One of the most frequent comments about this initial prototype was the lack of any kind visual reinforcement in the interface. Examples such as, when a child sits on the chair a light could change colour, and a correct answer produces a green light while an incorrect answer a red light. This particular idea is entirely valid but I wanted to keep the use of visual signals and cues to the design of the interface only. I wanted the installation aesthetic to draw the children into the game and give them the impression that it was going to be a fun activity. But all signals as to indicate that you are interacting with Hullabaloo I wanted to be audio only. I wanted to see if it is possible for children to enjoy interacting with a device such as this with only audio reinforcement. In a world dominated by the visual I wanted have children focus with their ears.

Another frequent criticism was the selection of music. As this was an early prototype I didn’t take the time to arrange and mix more than two pieces of music. From this criticism came a suggestion which was to be incorporated into the next version. It was suggested that I include the ability to select different skill levels and corresponding pieces of music. As I had planned on creating a large library of music anyway, it seemed that creating a easy, medium, and hard categorization would be a worthwhile addition to the software client.

In addition to the software and hardware creations, I arranged and mastered 9 pieces of music to be used in the games.

Hullaballoo was informally tested at Hsinchu International school. The results were promising enough to create a proposal to allow for a more advanced prototype.

An early version being tested: