A creative exploration of the liminal space between the digital and physical.

Embodying Technology: Collaborative Projects in Physical Computing and Sound

Offered spring 2020

Sensor technologies and computers permeate our modern world, from smartphones to surveillance systems to automated machinery. These modes of physical computing create a direct link between human movement, touch, and computer-controlled technologies, giving rise to many avenues of interdisciplinary research, innovation, and creative possibilities.

Related areas of practice and inquiry include embodiment and gesture research, controller/interface design, machine learning/AI, haptics, embedded systems, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIMEs), musical improvisation, and sensor-based musical performance.

In this learning community we will explore how sensors and computers engage the physical world from a variety of perspectives. Through guest presentations and readings/discussion, we will explore implications of this ‘‘hybridization’’ between human and machine. Through hands-on projects, we will build embedded computer systems that use sensors to collect information about the world around them. In collaborative groups, we will create sensor-based music performance systems to present at the end of the semester.

We will frequently use maker spaces at Oberlin (OC3D and in TIMARA) and the LCCC fabrication lab. In alignment with generous sharing practices of maker communities, we will also publish our project technologies (schematics, code, performance documentation) in a github repository as an open resource for immediate and virtual maker and creator community members. 

CSCI 345 and TECH 350/361 are both required for enrollment in this learning community.


Course instructors for this learning community are Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Cynthia Taylor and Assistant Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts, Aurie Hsu.

Cynthia Taylor, Instructor

CSCI 345 Computers and the Physical World
Meets 3 pm, Tuesday and Thursday; 4 credit hours; enrollment 30

In this course, we will explore the use of sensors and embedded systems to interact digitally with the physical world. This course will cover topics from embedded systems, the internet of things, and human-computer interaction, including microcontroller programming, hardware and software interface methods, analog and digital sensors, communication protocols, and timers and interrupts, and interface and UX design.

This is a project-based course in which students will develop microcontroller-based systems that use sensors to observe the physical world, and display the results in creative ways.

Aurie Hsu, Instructor

TECH 350/361 Sounding Sensation: Creating Sensor Systems for Interactive, Embodied Performance
Meets 1:30 pm, Tuesday and Thursday; 4 credit hours; enrollment limit 15

Sensor technologies allow a direct link between human movement, touch, and computer-controlled technologies. In a creative context, this translates into a distinctive embodied experience.

In this seminar we will build and perform with sensor-based systems that consider embodied experience in several development stages including interface design, modes of interactivity, mapping strategies, and performance practice. We will employ tools such as sensors, Arduino microcontrollers, Raspberry pi, and bela boards. Software tools include Arduino IDE, Max, and Ableton.

The course is designed to deepen our critical approach to relating movement and sound while integrating technology, movement, and sound in interactive performance.