Aurora: a low-tech, tactile musical instrument

“Instead of reacting to opportunities, we’re able to create opportunities.”

At Second Story Labs it can be a challenge to share much of our hardware hacking and design, as much of what we do is specific to confidential projects. In December, we were very fortunate to receive a PixLed F-30 LED Mesh for just such a project.

We are fascinated with the interplay of a diffusing material against a bright low-resolution display. We were itching to share some of our experimentation. Not unlike a lego set Christmas gift, we couldn’t just let it sit there for its intended use; we had to do something cool with it to express our fascination. A 3-day deadline (we had to ship the hardware back) provided the spark for an experiment that surpassed our expectations.

Our creative approach was simple: let’s make a lo-fi interactive experience that works well in large spaces.

Aurora is a low-tech, tactile musical instrument. Unlike pieces that rely solely on visual direction, the interaction for Aurora leverages the senses of sound and touch to create a meaningful experience. As the user navigates vertically, the sounds and lights change in intensity. Moving horizontally, the user can activate different musical notes and colors. Pushing in on the fabric will make the LED lights appear more defined and increase the volume of the sound.




The idea for this project came from an interest in how visuals could be altered using tactile materials. A translucent sheet hangs in front of the large LED display, allowing participants to change the diffusion of the lights by pressing and releasing the fabric. A Kinect camera senses the position of the user’s hand and informs the audiovisual system. While Aurora was not originally intended to be a sound experiment, interactive developer Chris Carlson was able to apply his expertise in creating expressive musical interfaces to add the emotive depth to the piece. Sounds and visuals inform each other, resulting in an experience that feels more powerful than the sum of its parts.

Aurora pushes the boundaries of how low technology can create impact through large scale installations. This LED technology is typically experienced from a distance in settings such as stadiums and arena rock concerts. When used in close proximity, each pixel becomes accessible, resulting in interactions that are both immediate and intimate. The addition of a tactile element empowers users to physically alter the surface, closing the gap between observation and interaction. The convergence of physical and digital design gives new opportunities for audiences to interact in a way that engages more senses and provides more capability.


Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

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