GPS Orchestra with the Digital Producers Lab

I’ve spent the last week running GPS Orchestra as an ongoing element woven through iShed’s brilliant Digital Producers Lab (a development programme for 12 producers working across Wales).

As a counterpoint to the programme of presentations and discussion settings led by some great speakers, GPS Orchestra was intended as a practical set of tasks to introduce working with GPS, electronics and the Arduino platform.

Starting with a ‘site visit’ out into Millennium Square, the producers were tasked with observing the space and thinking about how they’d like to nudge the atmosphere and/or behaviours they noticed.

That was the easy bit! What followed was a steep-learning-curved introduction to coding and prototyping to get them to the point where they could control motors and LEDs through live GPS data according to the movement of the contraptions they were to make.

Layering up the skills through the week, it was very heartwarming to hear that by Wednesday quite a few of the group were already planning to purchase Arduino bits and pieces to continue tinkering with after the lab!

By Friday lunch time – after only about 5 or 6 hours on their projects – they had made some amazing things:

  • Something that responded to the number of satellites it could see – initially intended to be rolled along the floor, but ended up getting lots of hugs.
  • Happbee – a wounded bee whose recuperation could be assisted if you carried him fast through the air as if he was flying.
  • The musical box – a small box that had the power to make you dance (or at least move differently).
  • The Digital Harp / y Delyn digidol – plays when you walk towards Wales and plays more the closer to are to the homelands.

It wasn’t an easy challenge by any means, but I was really impressed with the outcomes (not just the things they made). A lovely group of people and a very inspiring week overall. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

My photos from the week are at, and below are a collection of Tweets relating to the sessions:

GPS Orchestra workshop at The Public

GPS Orchestra

As part of the Many & Varied programme at The Public over the summer, I’m running another of my GPS Orchestra workshops.

Again limited to 10 people, but this time supported by Arts Council and running over 2 days, the £40 ticket price represents quite a bargain – get yours now!

We’ll be using a combination of Arduino, simple electronics and junk materials to make a collection of noise-making devices that play themselves in response to how you move through a landscape.

Whilst coding experience might be useful, it’s nowhere near as essential as imagination, a sense of humour and a willingness to give things a try. Absolutely no musical ability required whatsoever.

I’ll guide you through what you’ll need to read live data coming in off a GPS module and use an Arduino nano to translate this into taps, rattles, swooshes and whirrrrrs through an assortment of motors, servos and the like.

By the end of the weekend you’ll have a great utility belt of translatable skills and enough know-how to buy your own kit if you decide this is something you’d like to do more of.

As I said, places are strictly limited, so get your tickets soon.

GPS Orchestra

GPS Orchestra raw materials. Add imagination.

Morecambe noisy things

As a follow-on from yesterday’s GPS Orchestra workshop, artist Jen Southern and I today spent some time refining code, dreaming up new devices and generally prodding things with vibrating pager motors to see what interesting noises we could make.

The results were a few quick prototypes taken to Morecambe for some testing along the seafront in a surprise spell of sunny weather. We made a tapping box that indicates when it is being carried at different speeds (we haven’t quite got it right yet) and a tinned assortment of pager motors that responds to what direction you’re moving in (we tried it on foot at Morecambe and also in the car back to Lancaster – nice!).

It was really interesting to see what we could achieve with a handful of components: not only in terms of producing the device and its behaviour, but also thinking about how to effectively communicate changes to the person carrying the noise.

GPS Orchestra: Octopus edition

GPS Orchestra, Octopus Edition

Despite some seriously wet weather, at about 5pm yesterday some curious – and noisy! – figures could be seen/heard wending their way around Barrow Park.

Most of the day’s 7 Orchestrians were brand new to the world of using Arduino, so after a quick crash course we limited ourselves to using a vibrating motor each and some simple code that changed the number of buzzes depending on the direction being travelled. That and the most waterproof instrument builds we could manufacture!

bird in a tin from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

The bandstand in the park provided a nice setting for drifting around in large circles and we liked the idea of returning at a sunnier time (obviously not August – what were we thinking?!) and performing for an audience sat in the middle whilst watching us move around the outside.

Here’s a slideshow of my photos from the workshop:

Thanks to our hosts and to everyone who took part. Keep an eye out for more GPS Orchestra workshops around the country over the following months, and also for further interesting things coming out of Barrow Park courtesy of Octopus.

GPS Orchestra workshop with Octopus Collective

On Saturday the 25th of August I’ll be up at the Octopus Collective HQ in Barrow-in-Furness instigating much noisiness with a GPS Orchestra. This workshop is a challenge to invent and build devices that play themselves in response to movement through landscape. We’ve got a bunch of random stuff and Barrow Park to play with, so I’m anticipating a lot of fun!

Places are limited, so make sure you sign up on eventbrite. The (subsidised!) workshop costs only £3, payable on the day, and runs between 10am and 5pm.

The blurb:

GPS Orchestra

Join us for a day of making noise with devices that are triggered by GPS. This an orchestra like no other you have ever seen or heard!

After an introduction to networked devices and ways in which GPS might be used to influence things, we’ll spend the day collaboratively contriving and constructing our orchestral oddities.

Will there be drums that beat as fast as you walk? Things that ping more the further they travel? A crescendo as you get closer together? There’s no way of telling until we make them!

We’ll be using Arduino microcontrollers, XBee radios and simple electronics to play instruments assembled out of whatever we can muster. Whilst coding experience might be useful, it’s nowhere near as essential as imagination, a sense of humour and a willingness to give things a try. Absolutely no musical ability required whatsoever.

Please bring a laptop with the Arduino software installed and anything else you think Might Come In Useful. Examples include, but are not restricted to:

  • Arduino and/or electronics components (solenoids, servos, motors etc)
  • Bangy things
  • Rattley things
  • Tappy things
  • Bleepy things
  • Things for making other things out of

A selection of items (and a limited number of laptops) will be available on loan, but the more the merrier and who knows what amazing noises we might be able to get out that bric-a-brac you’ve got lying around!

The workshop will involve frequent excursions outside, so please come dressed appropriately for the weather.

Arduino + random = GPS Orchestra

GPS different: upcoming workshops

I’m a sucker for multiples, so you can imagine how excited I am as bits of GPS kit come rolling in not just in twos or threes, but in class-sized quantities!

GPS modules, cables and nano microcontrollers. Plus bonus bubblewrap!

I’ve been developing a couple of workshops designed to get people thinking differently about ways to use GPS.

I’m not saying I have all the answers (and it’d be a bit boring if I did!), but I can certainly furnish some basic skills and, in the spirit of hackspaces, getting a bunch of people in the same room at the same time with a load of stuff is bound to catalyse Interesting Things. So let’s have at it and push the possibilities!

First takers are the rather marvellous sounding Octopus Collective based up in Barrow-in-Furness who will be hosting GPS Orchestra. Here the challenge will be to invent and make unique noise-making devices triggered by location in – and movement through – space.

The other workshop currently on offer is Beyond Longitude:

With an emphasis on the experience of people moving through space, Beyond Longitude is an introduction to using the open source Arduino platform to make digital devices that respond to – and make things happen in – the physical world. We’ll work through a series of small projects and instigations asking how to use GPS to do more than just draw a line where we have been.

Both workshops are initially planned as being day-long sessions for about 10 participants. I bring the electronics and enough instruction to seed some possibilities, then we get making and see what happens.

I’m looking for groups and organisations around the country who would like to host one or both of these workshops. If you have a suitable workspace and are interested in investigating interactions with a nearby outdoor space, then get in touch.

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