spinCycle: a Color-Tracking Turntable Sequencer
Interactive Telecommunications Program
New York University721 BroadwayNew York, NY 10003
This report presents an interface for musical performance calledthe spinCycle. spinCycle enables performers to make visual patterns with brightly colored objects on a spinning turntable platter that get translated into musical arrangements in real-time. I will briefly describe the hardware implementation andthe sound generation logic used, as well as provide a historical background for the project.
Color-tracking, turntable, visualization, interactivity,synesthesia
The original spinCycle consists of a turntable and video cameramounted to scan the radius of the platter and connected to amultimedia computer. Several variations of the interface have been implemented, each involving different audio content, butall consisting of the same hardware setup. Translucent plexiglass disks, with diameters of 2 or 3 inches, and tinted red,yellow or blue, are used as sound objects that can be arrangedin visual patterns on the platter of the turntable. As the turntablespins, the video camera acts analogously to the needle and headcartridge of a traditional turntable, transducing sound from thecolors it senses rather than from vibrations. A visualrepresentation of what the camera sees is displayed, providingvisual feedback to the audience, informing them of thecorrespondence between color and sound.
Figure 1. spinCycle, an early installation prototype
Recorded history of efforts to develop a relationship betweencolor and sound dates back to the ancient Chinese and Persians.In the West, it was Sir Isaac Newton’s system for mapping color to tones, laid out in his treatise “Opticks” (1704), that becamethe most prevalent scheme for connecting musical notes andcolors. He arbitrarily divided the spectrum of visible light intoseven colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo andviolet), and made a connection between their mathematicalrelationship to each other and the relationship between the notesof the musical scale.There are also many precedents of mapping color to sound inthe design of musical instruments. Father Louis BertrandCastel, a Jesuit monk, built an Ocular Harpsichord around 1730that involved a six-foot frame above a regular harpsichord. Asystem of pulleys and rope would lift small curtains on theframe to reveal candles filtered by colored glass in time withthe playing of the instrument. Each curtain corresponded to akey on the harpsichord. Development of the color organcontinued, and several inventors have had measured successwith the device. In the late nineteenth century BainbridgeBishop outfitted an organ with stained glass windows that werelit based on the keys pressed, and Alexander Wallace Rimingtonrequested that the audience wear white to enhance the effect of the lights projected from his color organ.
Figure 2. Sir Isaac Newton’s Color Wheel (left) and Bainbridge Bishop’s Color Organ (right)
There is a rich history of performers and composers usingturntables in novel ways to create and perform newarrangements of prerecorded music. John Cage was one of thefirst to use the turntable as an instrument in ImaginaryLandscape No. 1, which called for records to be played on avariable-speed record player. Nikita Pashenkov also providesan excellent history of optical turntables in his paper presentedin NIME 2003, where he mentions the Piano Optophoniquecreated by Vladimir Baranoff-Rossine, which “generatedsounds and projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series of revolving paintedglass disks, filters, mirrors and lenses.” Gideon D’Arcangelo
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copiesare not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and thatcopies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copyotherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists,requires prior specific permission and/or a fee.
, June 4-8, 2006, Paris, France.Copyright remains with the author(s).
Proceedings of the 2006 International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME06), Paris, France75