Making Noise: Using SoundArt to Explore Technological Fluency
create a learning environment that supports creative and objective thinking, open-ended experimentation, and hands-on
learning. This environment couples nicely with the analytical
thinking required to build and manipulate electronics. Third,
the associated electronics are relatively friendly: electronic
music and sound-art generally inhabit a low-frequency range
(audio frequencies) compared to digital computer circuits, the
associated circuitry is fairly straightforward, the associated
high-level concepts in physics and art are relatively accessible,
and the use of computing platforms such as Arduino enables a
strong connection to programming skills.
While we deem this course an overall success, we highlight
several challenges encountered throughout the course and provide some practical advice that we hope will benefit our fellow
One set of challenges arose in Project four: Toy-hacking.
Modifying existing circuits using Hardware-hacking is, by nature, destructive to the circuits and relies somewhat on chance.
A typical first “bend” is to identify the RC timing circuit and
replace the resistor with a potentiometer (knob or slider) so
that the speed of the sound can be modified. Removing circuit
components and replacing them is subject to both physical and
electronic issues. This led to some frustration and disappointment within a group of relatively unlucky students whose toys
did not respond well to such treatment. Modern toy circuits
that use tiny surface-mount components also make toy-hacking
tricky. We suspect that proper framing of the project could have
helped to overcome these challenges. In particular, encouraging
students to seek out older toys that likely use larger through-hole components, and to take plenty of reference photos for
debugging purposes would likely improve success rates. Also
helpful would be to prepare students to anticipate and not be
discouraged by failures at each stage of the process, learn from
such failures, and know when to move on to a new toy. It was
not uncommon for students to go through three or four toys
before finding one that responded to their hacks in a way that
Another challenge, somewhat obvious in retrospect, involved the programming element of the course. Students were
encouraged to learn from and modify existing code, but many
submissions were simply copied and pasted with no documentation of where the code originated. We suspect that students,
especially non-CS students, think differently about plagiarism
with respect to code than for prose. Once again, we suspect
that better framing of the project, namely a clear articulation of
requirements, and discussion of legitimate use of online code,
could have helped to avoid this.
An underlying challenge throughout this course was defining a standard of creativity. In a course that relies so heavily
on open-ended, exploratory, and experimental learning, we often received the reasonable yet unwelcome question “Did I do
enough?” and grappled with finding an appropriate response.
We thus encourage our fellow educators to look to the studio
arts for inspiration and define a rubric that supports both creative and technological achievement (e.g., [ 13, 18]).
sound-art is accessible and compelling at many different levels
of knowledge and expertise. This element greatly supported our
diverse learning environment and, as we found, encouraged
peer learning among students. Second, the radical, exploratory
nature and history of experimental electronic music and sound-art, backed by a rich body of literature and multimedia, helps to
Figure 8: Final project of Kayla (fine arts major) in 2015. She painted
two small paintings, installed audio drivers on the back of the paintings,
and played a composition made up of sound samples she collected/
generated during the semester through the paintings.
Figure 9: Final project of Jordan (chemistry major) in 2016. He
constructed a set of pendulums that influence the sound of a multi-oscillator circuit by passing over light sensors in the sculpture’s base.