Thursday, April 14, 2016

Playing with others and a Makey Makey board

Our emergent group making music by forming a human circuit with the Makey Makey breakout board, bananas, a 3D printed elephant, and a computer.
Makey Makey is a breakout board that, when connected to a computer via a USB cable, can act as a powerful tool for exploring conductivity and transforming everyday items into tangible interfaces that can interact with the computer screen. Exploring the Makey Makey in the MILL makerspace together with the other course participants was plainly fun.

This time, I took a much more communal approach to making, something that perhaps is not my first inclination when getting started with a project. This shifted how projects were presented on social media: while previously projects took center stage in the photographs (see photo left), this time the smiling group was the focus of the picture (see photo right). The switch in going about making also highlighted ways of thinking about being in the world that seemed to be backgrounded through other approaches.

My first learning companion in this activity became the friendly blue 3D printed elephant that was laying on the table. I picked it up and taped conductive tape to its belly and trunk. My idea was to make interactions playful and to make screen movement happen by completing a circuit with my hand wrapped around it's belly and the elephant's trunk touching a conductive surface connected to the circuit. I walked around the table holding my character, looking for a project I could jump in on.

Someone left a keyboard attached to a Makey Makey on the table. I tried to connect to it. When it did not work, I did not do what I paused and turned away from my usual approach: tinkering with the materials to understand how it works. Instead I turned to the person next to me to ask for help. They happily showed me how to connect to make the keyboard project sound. I wonder how much of asking for help and putting others into a position of helping plays into being a valued part of a community.

With my new knowledge of how to make it work, I changed places and moved to the other end of the table, where two participants were working together on a banana piano. I placed my elephant next to their project and stepped away to see what happened. Almost immediately, one of them picked up the elephant and integrated it into their explorations. After some eye-contact and exchange of smiles, we formed a human circuit. One person held the ground, the other the elephant and we became connected through the person in the center. All three of us had a blast trying to make songs on the bongos. Our laughter seemed to attract others who watch us and asked questions. This is when the picture above was taken.

Taking a different, more social, approach to learning and material exploration at this point of the course seemed to highlight playing much more than any of my prior explorations. Much less serious and directed, this change of doing felt much more trusting in the space, the community, and the material and made me think about the kinds of things that can be missed when approaching making the same way again and again. Switching things up, bringing in new aspects, backgrounding others seemed to highlight ways of getting to know the world and being in the world with other that seemed previously not accessible.

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