An interactive installation project started by two summer interns that could display some of the possibilities of combining technology with materials. Using The goal is to turn the walls and pillars of the lab into different types of musical instruments.

Over the summer, Reed Burnham, an industrial design student from Rhode Island School of Design (US) and Morgan Muguet, a materials science and engineering student from Polytech Grenoble (FR) spent their time in Material Design Lab working on an interactive installation to highlight another aspect to materials other than their tactile properties. They were given free rein on design aesthetics but the goal was to create an installation that could display some of the possibilities of combining technology with materials.

Armed with just a Bare Conductive starter kit and the keywords “fun”, “interactive” and “understandable”, they were let loose to play with the technology and materials. Neither of them have a background in technology but they shared a love of music, so they decided to involve sound into their experiments. The goal was to turn the walls and pillars of the lab into a music system. The vision was that people could slap or kick or blow on the walls and create sounds.

The students ended up working on three separate installations that together could allow people to form a slapstick type of band.


A prosthetic tool to allow the user to create a consistent rhythm or loop. A lot of prototyping process was spent working on a system to move a ring around the finger, both with a motor and a simple mechanical gear system. However, this extra layer of complexity was no better than a free rotating fibreboard arm that could hold the human finger in rotation, passing over static paint increments. The finger loop is there to help keep the user on tempo, while still allowing them to change direction or repeat a single note several times (like a DJ scratch).


A conductive paint instrument, which requires no physical contact. The plan was to replicate the human body’s ability to activate the conductive paint by attaching a separate conductive flap that, when blown, would contact the paint and trigger the sound. The students found that what makes our skin able to activate the paint is our connection to the ground. Through several studies, they were able to attach a “ground” (material with low or no electrical potential) to the conductive flap and create the electrical impulse without touch. This ability to create sound through breath is similar to analog wind instruments.


The final installation is an instrumental pillar which you can wrap your arms around and stroke to produce the different sounds. The idea of an intimate experience with a structural cylinder is amusing to use, and the sound quality of hitting six notes in quick succession is also interesting.

The phrase ‘back to the drawing board’ was uttered a lot over the summer months, as the students had to revise and restructure their plans numerous times when they hit a wall (no pun intended) when either the programming or the conductivity of the materials they were using, proved problematic.

It is often noted that some of the best lessons learned come from failure and while the project did not always go exactly to plan, it was a very valuable learning experience. The interns ran out of time before the project could be properly completed but they have left detailed notes of their process, so if any KEA students wish to continue working and developing the interactive wall then just write to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.