Sound of Silence: Music Hackathon at IIIT-D

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“Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.”- Rumi

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”- Aldous Huxley

It is usual for us to think of technology and arts as two disparate entities. One doesn’t seem to to cross paths with the other and each is supposedly meant to be dealt with separately. Truth is, art and technology are not so far removed as we think; in fact both depend on each other in myriad ways to sustain and to progress. Having organised two Hackathons at IIIT-Delhi that aimed at providing solutions to problems using Arduino and sensors, we decided to do things differently for our Third Hackathon with the first year students.

(Read about our previous workshops:On air pollution, On indoor agriculture and about this workshop here)

We at Makersbox believe in S.T.E.A.M and keeping that in mind, the topic for our third Hackathon was music. Now there are many who are adept at playing a musical instrument, some still trying out and learning, along with a wide majority that understands, appreciates and enjoys the music made. Our aim was to bring these different factions together and get them to create a build that would make music employing Arduino and various sensors, as well as a buzzer breakout board. For the students, it was a unique opportunity to learn some about music, some about hardware solutions and in the end bring it all together :creating art using technology.

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Discussions on first day of the 2 day hackathon began with the musicians amongst the attendees explaining what all entails as music. The difference between musical harmony and noise, succession between notes, how different frequencies of sound relate to various notes used in music and how in theory, music could be made by different arrangement of notes in an octave. The discussion saw involvement of major part of the students attending, and everyone learnt a thing or two in the interactive session. Moreover, students worked on how to define algorithms for a problem, gauging at what all assumption had to be forgone while thinking of algorithms plus how their algorithm helped give a solution. The concept of working with a black box to initially define what it does and tackling later how it does so, was an important technique that the students found intriguing as well  as integral to problem solving.

In order to complete their build, they would require hardware components and henceforth, the attendees were introduced to Arduino, various sensors such as Light Sensor, Flex Sensor and Ultrasonic Distance Sensor along with breakout buzzer board. In simplest of terms, the problem statement at hand was :Translate the change in readings of the various sensors using the Arduino and buzzer to produce music.

Day 1 ended with the students divided into groups, each with members shouldering different responsibilities of their choice(this being decided after mutual discussion amongst team members), though they need not limit their contribution to the build owing to nature of their role. Each team now was headed by a team-leader and had a researcher, coder, and two members working on hardware and documentation respectively. In preparation for the second day, teams had to read up on various components to be used, their working codes plus how to work with an Arduino IDE to program Arduino. This seemed like homework, but instead of complaining, the teams looked forward to this exercise of information gathering.

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On second day, the team leaders showed up earlier than the rest of their teams in order to be briefed about safety while using the common workstation. They went onto brief their teams one by one while  work on the build began in parallel. The teams had prepped up about how different notes in an octave correspond to different frequencies in the audible range plus how choosing different octaves would affect the frequency they got to work with. As afternoon ambled slowly upon first year students at IIIT-D, they figured how to work the sensors, how absolute values did not matter, but their change did, how the Arduino could be used to fire up different notes using the the buzzer and how beeps of the buzzer, discordant at first, were now sounding like music, in a humble yet sure way.

When noon melted into dusk, we had a bunch of musicians, non-musicians and in-betweens, who had toiled and tested and failed and finally succeeded in turning electrical impulses recorded as some form data from a sensor, into notes of a melody that rang loud and clear. We didn’t have to ask them if they were happy; it showed.

That’s the thing about music, it don’t matter whether you create it with a six-string, a piano, a 42-piece orchestra, a harmonica or in this case, with sensors, micro-controllers and buzzers; it matters that you took the time and heart to create some and thus both the world and you are left a little happier than before.

 

Do you want to organise a hackathon of a workshop for your college or school, get in touch with us!

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