“Reboot: Music” is Art at the Intersection of Sight & Sound

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the new digital music exhibit, Reboot: Music, at the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation. I thought an exhibit comprised of sight and sound —arguably our two most powerful sensory mediums — would do well for my creative soul.

As a designer, I do find a lot of inspiration in art and design blogs, but nothing beats getting off the computer and experiencing it all live — especially when one of the show’s co-curators, dear friend John Brian Kirby (JB), was willing to give me the VIP tour.

I was pleased to discover a healthy balance of visuals to accompany each audio piece. JB (Nonagon) and his partner, Rich DDT (Richddt.com), specifically sought out pieces with strong visual components, so that even someone with hearing disabilities could enjoy the exhibit.

[A] priority in our curation process is visualization: the representation and interpretation of sound as light. By creating a multi-sensory experience, we both create a multi-modal environment for exploration and learning, as well as an inclusive environment for people with hearing disabilities.

They also wanted to create an exhibit that the entire public could engage with easily, and also encourage them to improve their music skills.

The installations we’ve chosen to include in this exhibit invite participants of all backgrounds and skill levels to step into the role of musician with curiosity and excitement… Technology has the power to flatten the learning curve in a way that empowers instead of discourages newcomers in their initial explorations of an instrument; and we’ve done our best to pick pieces that embody ease, while still providing space for virtuosity.

I loved just about every piece in the exhibit, and immediately started brainstorming ways I could create something so invitingly interactive. Inspiration accomplished! Here are some of the show’s hightlight:



Jono Brandel + Lullatone

Patatap is a portable animation and sound kit. Viewers are encouraged to touch an iPad screen, which activates melodies and sounds, complimented by dynamic shapes and color schemes. The moving animations created by your touch are then projected on to a wall near the iPad.


I liked the simple application and interaction required with this piece. It felt a bit like doodling in the form of animation. It was fast and dynamic, making for easy engagement.

You can also play online at Patatap.com



Ryan Alexander + Gabriel Dunne + Daniel Massey – created in collaboration with the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

Seaquence is a musical composition based on 16×16 step-sequencers that take form in “sea creatures.” Touch interaction combined with the unique sound and timing of each “creature,” forms layered harmonies and rhythms. The concept was inspired by the observation of living sea creatures swimming in concert, creating an ocean of sound.


At first, it seemed, the “creatures” were just there to move around, but upon further inspection, I found that my movements actually alter the experience, creating my own completely new and unique worlds. This is quite possibly my favorite piece from the exhibit.

You can also play online at Seaquence.org


Space Palette

Tim Thompson

Space Palette is a musical instrument with accompanying graphics controlled by 3D camera vision. Viewers gently move their hand through holes in the wooden palette to conduct harmonies, notes and visualizations. The separate holes in the palette function as 3D mouse pads, allowing viewers to play up to four different instruments. Positioning hands horizontally, combined with vertical depth and speed, enables all three dimensions to be used for expressive control. I wasn’t able to capture a video that did the Space Palette justice, so below is one from the Tech Museum’s YouTube Channel.

This is one of the more subtly beautiful pieces of the exhibit. The 3D visualization was quite adept at tracking my hand gestures, and the graphics followed gently in sync.

In addition to implementation, the actual palette was beautifully crafted from wood, making for a very elegant presentation.

More info: spacepalette.com


Stepping Tones

Anticlockwise Arts + Matt Sonic + Cory Barr + Rich DDT + Paul Mans

Stepping Tones is a multi-player instrument that loops patterns of music and projected-mapped animations, activated by drum pads. Hitting the drum pads initiates a sound and visual “arrow” that loops around, and then plays the sounds again. The loops are then recorded and thus sounds can be layered, allowing for up to four participants to create a collaborative looping audiovisual composition.


Like Seaquence, this piece also required some extra attention in figuring out its full potential. It was only after JB’s explanation that I realized the illuminated “arrows” signified a loop. But once that was clear, I had great fun creating an entire “symphony” on the drum pads.

More info: Anticlockwisearts.com


L’HA! Laser Harp

Johnny Dwork + Art Drots + Andy Tibbetts + Rich Burton + Austin Trafficante + Matt Stanbro + Jen Lewin


Using lasers, the L’HA! Laser Harp turns light into sound. Viewers are encouraged to dance and move through the laser beams of light to hear different melodies. An accompanying iPad offers different musical themes.

This was a really fun piece! The required interaction was intuitive and invited “collaboration” from other viewers.

More info: laserharp.cc/



John Brian Kirby + Rich DDT

VoiceBox invites viewers to use the most ubiquitous instrument: the voice. By wearing headphones, two participants can speak or sing into the microphones to hear how their voice may be affected. Accompanying buttons allow for different effects to be applied to the voice, while a central spectrogram visualizes the sounds the participants create collaboratively.


This was probably my second favorite piece of the exhibit. I loved the simplicity of its concept. The highly synthesized effects being applied to my voice allowed me to get weird, creating strange soundscapes, with eerie tones and maniacal laughing.


Red Hot


Red Hot is a baby grand piano suspended vertically from a tripod. The piano’s top has been replaced by clear plexiglass to reveal a deconstructed interactive sound sculpture. Viewers perform a conductive gesture in front an accompanying motion sensor, which activates the piano’s kinetic hardware. Like Space Palette, this was another beautifully crafted piece.


More info: Richardsavery.com/trimpin-red-hot/

Reboot: Music is a fantastic exhibit and great for kids, too. It runs March 7 – August 17, 2014 at the San Jose Tech Innovation Museum. Check it out if you can, and bring the whole family — it’s well worth the visit!

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