Life as a new media student

Experience Analysis – FIELD TRIP!!

The “Weston Family Innovation Center” at the Ontario Science Center was amazing, I have many memories from my childhood of the OSC and now more than a decade since my last visit I can add another. At first I was skeptical about what we would be seeing at the OSC, works of new media? Really? YES, we did!! Many of the pieces in exhibit did not have names, I find this really interesting to note first. What makes it so that a group of twenty something students feel the incessant need for a proper “title” before feeling as though they can actually know, understand and criticise a piece of art? Moving on…

This piece, which I will call the “Ferrofluid Piano”, was the first I interacted with when we entered the exhibit. For some reason even after considering all the other works to write a blog response about I always came back to the FerroFluid Piano.  Essentially it is a vat of ferrofluid placed on top of a white pedestal covered by a clear plastic dome, probably five feet in diameter at the most…definitely not as large as some of the other pieces.  At the far end of the Ferrofluid Paino facing away from the entrance of the exhibit is a digital keyboard and beside that is a button, a microphone and a input jack for an ipod. Inside of the dark black ferrofluid appears to be twelve neatly arranged ‘squishy- spikey balls’ –much like the one seen here:

Here's a baby with a squishy-spikey ball

These balls are all uniform in size and seem to be the size of a small palm, they are only seen when the piano is played — the ferrofluid appears to be calm and flat otherwise.

Through the course of our hour and a half wandering through the Weston Innovation Center the Ferrofluid Piano held a certain amount intrigue for me, the concept of it was overall very simplistic but what was that liquid in the middle? What were those balls in the center of the dome? Why did they look like that? Is the liquid hot? could it be tar? It was not until we were all preparing to leave did it suddenly hit me. I’ve seen liquid move in that way before…MAGNETS(thanks Discovery Channel!). After approaching a staff member about it I had my confirmation, the liquid was call Ferrofluid and it was in fact being manipulated by magnets as this fluid is composed of nanoscale particles that are made of some sort of compound containing iron.  Intrigue aside, I think the texture of the gooey looking fluid and also the spiked balls the magnets transformed it into drew me to the piece. I also LOVE music and the fact that I could make my own music by either playing the piano (which I can’t actually do) or singing (…nope I suck) into the microphone in order to interact with the piece gave me a rush of happiness. I think I icing on the cake and what was most exciting to me was that I could hook up my own iPod to the FerroFluid Piano…unfortunately the only problem I could find with this is that the users were not able to hear the music being played out of the iPod, only see the ferrofluid ‘balls’ moving randomly over its organized grid of magnets.

When the group approached the Ferrofluid Piano many first saw the keyboard, this was attractive to them (probably because some of them could actually play it) they wanted to make music and didn’t really expect their music making to create and interaction with the fluid in the dome. I sat back and observed the other users, mesmerized by what some of them were playing and the fluid moving. After others had moved on to different pieces I began to test out the microphone and connect my iPod, I had already seen how the piano as an interface worked and wanted to visit new paths of interaction.  The Ferrofluid Piano is probably one of the more structured pieces in the center in terms of its output or affect, you will receive the same feedback every time you play or sing a note aside from the positioning of the magnet. This structured output has a lot of repeatability, which helps to convince the user that they are in control (your actions create a familiar result). The user input offered is free-form, you can play any song you want from a piece of Mozart on the keyboard to heavy metal on your iPod.  The user’s sense of touch, sight and hearing are all stimulated by this piece, your hands are the main performer in this interactive piece; your eyes and ears are the audience.

During my time spent with the Ferrofluid Piano I overheard others brushing off the piece, saying it wasn’t as interesting as the other pieces. I think their reaction may be a result of the simplicity of the interaction and that it did not really utilize any new technology. It was simply a keyboard and some liquid iron being manipulated by magnets.  We’re over stimulated new media students, I’m sure to anybody else the Ferrofluid Piano was just as interesting and beautiful as the other pieces in the exhibit. I personally find the combination of science, music and interaction found in the Ferrofluid Piano magical. Enjoy random ferrofluid images!!

ferrofluid on top of glass

ferrofluid on top of glass


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