17 Feb 2012, 6:38pm
Submission 1

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Assessment 1 – The Circadium


The biological clocks that control circadian rhythms are groupings of interacting molecules in cells throughout the body. A ‘master clock’ in the brain coordinates all the body clocks so that they are in synch… Light is the main cue influencing circadian rhythms.”

As light follows dark follows light follows dark, the system unconsciously responds. Interdependent elements within the system undergo cyclical behavioural changes. During periods of activity, the system becomes more alert.

Conceived and constructed by a team of Masters students specialising in visual and sonic design, The Circadium is an interactive, audiovisual instrument that echoes the biological rhythms found in most living things. Responding to a central ‘brain’ the Circadium pulses steadily between light and dark, along with an associated ambient soundscape. Users are encouraged to interact with and manipulate various tactile ‘cells’ which generate projections and sonifications. The specific behaviour of the cells depends on the phase of the light-dark cycle, which in turn is affected by the overall level of user interaction.

The Circadium is about tangible feedback – there is an intuitive link between user input and audiovisual output. Users are encouraged to explore the ways in which their actions can affect each other as well as the system itself. Every aspect of the visual and sound design has been carefully considered to provide a stimulating and consistent aesthetic environment.


Inspiration and Context

Circadian Rhythms
Responsible for an organisms physical, mental and behavioural changes over a 24 hour cycle, circadian rhythms exist within most living things. The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) is a group of nerve cells in the brain that controls many separate, localised biological clocks throughout the body. The SCN can be considered the ‘master clock’ of the organism. The external day-night cycle also has a considerable influence on an organism’s circadian rhythm. As day turns to night the optic nerves tell the SCN to produce melatonin, the hormone that dictates our sleep patterns. It is this cyclical interaction of internal and external feedback systems that The Circadium represents.

The StyHarp for Matthew Herbert
Edinburgh-based sound artist Yann Seznec built an instrument mimicking a pigsty using Gametrak controllers for musician Matthew Herbert. The Gametrak strings are pulled and plucked, resulting in the triggering and manipulation of sound. Seznec is currently playing the StyHarp on Matthew Herbert’s One Pig tour. The Circadium uses Gametrak strings as physcial input devices, deriving spatial and acceleration data from user manipualtion.

The Sound of Touch
This instrument gathers real-time audio via the stimulation of a hand-held wand. The wand is physically manipulated against various textures that can be chosen by the user. Whereas a traditional instrument produces and manipulates sound based upon its concrete material(s) of construction, the Sound of Touch results in a ‘decoupling’ of sound from source. This delocalisation is present in The Circadium – user manipulation results in tangible but indirect audiovisual output.

PebbleBox and CrumbleBag
These interactive systems use the physical manipulation of grains to control arbitrary audio via granular synthesis. Audio directly generated by the grains affects parameters of granular synthesisers and results in a direct correlation between user input and audio output. For The Circadium we are adding the extra dimension of projected particle clouds related to the input and the audio.

Technical Details


The Circadium consists of a PufferSphere (a spherical projection surface acting as the ‘brain’) which sits at the centre of a roughly 9’ cube rig. The rig is adorned with LEDs which pulse between light and dark. There is a loudspeaker in each upper corner. Suspended from the rig are the interactive objects (the ‘cells’, varying from tennis ball to football sized), which users squeeze, poke and move around in space. This interaction generates projections on the PufferSphere and sounds from the loudspeakers. The rate of the light-dark cycle decreases with increased interaction, giving users control over the simulated circadian rhythm.



The interactive cells contain materials such as sand and plastic with piezo microphones and conductive wool at the centre. They are suspended from Gametrak controllers which output X,Y,Z coordinates and relative acceleration. Multiple data streams are therefore generated from user manipulation. A set of modular Max/Msp patches running on out-of-sight computers process this input and affect parameters within the system via visual software, Processing, and Arduino boards.





The Mighty Rolo, 2010. The styHarp for Matthew Herbert. Edinburgh: Yann Seznec. Available from www.theamazingrolo.net/2011/08/styharp/ [Accessed 16/02/12]

National Institute of General Medical Sciences, 2008. Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet. Maryland: NIGMS. Available from www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.htm [Accessed 16/02/12]

MIT, 2007. The Sound of Touch. Massachusetts: David Merrill. Available from alumni.media.mit.edu/~dmerrill/soundoftouch_install.html [Accessed 17/02/12]

O’Modhrain, S. Essl, G. PebbleBox and CrumbleBag: Tactile Interfaces for Granular Syntehsis. 2004. Dubin


The Team

Dave House – Sound design, composition, programming
Kinan Ballagh – Sound design, programming, hardware
Jamie Allen – Hardware, programming
Michael Heins – Visual design, projections, documentation
Tianqi Xie – Visual design, documentation
Xinxin Yuan – Visual design, lighting, documentation