Project:Young Hackspace/YH-3

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Young Hackspace: Making Electronic Beats, and The Physics of Sound

For the third Young Hackspace event the London Hackspace would like to invite young children of age 7-9, each with a legal guardian (e.g. a parent.) They will learn how easy it is to make electronic rhythm music, and be able to see exciting demonstrations of the physical aspects of sound.

Children can bring their siblings, if preferred by the attending families; but because of space limitations and out of safety concerns we want to limit the event to a total number of ten attending children. Because interest will be high we ask to only register once you know you can definitely attend. And we ask to arrive on time, so please make sure to check the directions when you plan your trip :)

Date: 22 May 2011, 2pm - 4.30pm

At London Hackspace
Units 23 & 24, Cremer Business Centre
37 Cremer Street
London E2 8HD

The event is split in two sessions, each about an hour long, with a brief break in between. Attendees will be split in two groups of five children, and alternate each of the two sessions.

Anthony Bowyer-Lowe will teach the kids how easy it is to Feel The Groove: We can all clap, we can all dance. Therefore, we can all learn to make rhythmic music. Anthony used to design stuff for a large music company, has a deep passion for electronic music, the knowledge and wisdom of years of experience, and a keen interest to teach. He will bring a few devices, start with counting and clapping exercises, and build up from there. And everyone gets to play.

Morag Hickman is curating a Physics of Sound session which will be executed by a few attending Hackspace members. They will attempt to convey basic aspects of sound, pitch, resonance, and related concepts with a series of exciting demonstrations and in a language appropriate for younger children. Morag is a physicist who most recently explained particle physics using Lego bricks at the Big Bang Science Fair. The full details of this session will be revealed on the day, but here is a sneak preview of a non-Newtonian fluid experiment we tried recently:

More information:

Upfront Preparation


  • Prepare more Physics of Sound demos (notes are below)
  • Prepare materials needed for the demos


  • name tag stickers
  • airzooka materials
  • ripple tank materials
  • candles
  • lots of balloons
  • Wine glasses
  • Prep more contact mics? (Maybe even waterproof them) and a multi-channel amp/mixer for the oscilloscope
    • or skip this and focus on other things.

Preparation for the day

  • Stickers for name tags
  • Collect materials needed for the demos
    • balloons
    • vibrations in a solid: strings & tin cans? or subwoofer & desk.
    • slinky
    • airzookas, incense, hanging balloons
    • ripple tank
    • resonance with flappy thing
    • tuned tubes
    • bucket bass
    • glob monster
    • wine glass, contact mic, oscilloscope
  • Prepare the Quiet Room, and the workshop area (work benches and sitting areas)
  • And the usual checklist.
    • Todo: put up signs that young children will be around, sent a @londonhackspace tweet, post to the LHS list (announcement and reminder)
    • Todo: hoover the entrance area and removed a fair amount of small things, prepare a desk for bags etc
    • Todo: remove everything from the quiet room that we don't need, wipe the desks, hoover the floor, all the corners, turn off all unused power outlets
    • Todo: turn off the people counter
    • Todo: check the state of the first aid kit
    • Todo: clean the workshop area around the work benches with a broom, move things out of the way, hide sharper tools behind the fire door, ...
    • Todo: prepare name tag stickers for the kids


  • 2pm: communal introduction, splitting into two groups
  • Then sessions commence
  • Approx. 3pm: break, then groups switch sessions
  • Ends 4.30-5pm (let's see)

Making Electronic Beats

ynohtna/Anthony: "One of my missions is to spread the joy of dabbling with music to others and I've run small "let's make electronic beats" workshops with children before way back in the past. I'd be delighted to show the kids some fun music tech (the Tenori-on, a small hands-on synth, some of the cool things that can be achieved with delay lines, etc) and see how and what they respond to (agenda disclosure: I consider this user research).

"We can all clap, we can all dance. Therefore, we can all learn to make rhythmic music."

Physics of Sound Demos

Pippa and Morag have come up with a running order and logical flow of demos. We haven't included them all, but anything already built can be included in playtime at the end.

Demonstrations of the Physics of Sound

What is sound? Think about what sound is? How does sound move from one place to another? Sound isn't a think in itself that moves, but is transmitted through a medium.

  • Vibrations in air
    • + Shout at a balloon, you can feel the vibrations
  • Vibrations in a solid
    • + Tin can string telephone
  • Waves that move through something. Not transverse, as in water waves,
    • + Shake a slinky
  • ... but waves of pressure
    • + Shove a slinky

Stuff can move through air really well

  • Does an airzooka fire a pressure wave or a packet of air? Fill with something smelly to test!
  • Demonstrate how well waves can move through air
    • + Hang balloons from the ceiling so that they form a curtain to use as a target for airzooka practice

How sound moves through a space

  • Demonstrate propagation of waves using a ripple tank, ideally, with tuneable wave generator
    • Propagation of waves
    • Diffusion
    • Reflection
    • Resonance (create constructive interference and make really big waves for the same input.
  • Which frequency will resonate depends strongly on the size of your thing. If it is right, it will interfere and be really strong, otherwise it will die away
    • + Flappy thing on a handle. Long vertical handle, which can be gripped at one end. Coming out of it at right angles, various lengths of something flexible (similar to thin metal rulers) stacked on top of each other. Shake at varying frequencies to make the different parts resonate.
  • Tone, resonance in metal tubes - different tone is due to which size of note 'fits' in it best
    • +Tuned tubes


  • + Bucket bass
    • [need decent explanation!]


Demo archive

Ripple Tank

  • "long tank of water, with a bit of board in one end, generally hinged on the bottom. Move it back and forth to create waves"
  • "washing up bowl with a white bottom, attach a rod with a ball on the end to the speaker cone and lower it into the middle"
  • build a wooden tank with plastic inner layer (pond style); probably needs to be quite even to work though
  • perspex will be too expensive for a large tank
  • could we drive this with a speaker & low frequencies?

Wine Glasses: Pitch

Everybody knows this one. But: we have equipment to visualise the frequencies!

  • Ken: Wine glasses tuned to different notes with a microphone and osciloscope to show the waveform


Wave Machine: Propagation

Nice, simple. Maybe a bit brittle; but invites playful interaction, which is perfect.

Glob Monster: Resonance

From Anthony.

  1. Take the amp in the space, lay it on its back and cover the speaker cone with cling film.
  2. Mix up some non-Newtonian fluid (corn starch & water) and throw a decent sized glob of it onto the cling film protected speaker.
  3. Throw various audio signals through the speaker and watch the glob monster dance!
  4. DIY cymatics!


Notes and suggestions:

  • mount a plate on a big subwoofer/bass speaker (that we don't need any more) to make movements more even
  • set up a frequency generator and let kids play with different frequencies (our frequency generators are all broken, but we can use a laptop and midi controllers for easy access). I'll bring along a Doepfer Dark Energy for complex waveform generation. Simple pure frequencies aren't as appealing (aurally and cymatically) as more complex, modulated tones. -- Anthony
  • add paint in different colours :)
  • high frequencies make it more fluid, low frequencies more rigid (Russ pointed that out while trying to fish a coin out of the glob)

Metal Tubes: Resonance

Demonstrating acoustic/harmonic resonance with metal tubes.

  • We have various hollow metal tubes in the space, of different materials and sizes. Balance one at its centre of mass and strike it with a hard material (screw, hammer, ...) and you'll hear a short high-frequency attack, followed by a sustained lower-frequency resonating hum.
  • The frequency of that hum, and the general sound, is dependent on the physical properties of the material; but also on the location of the point where you hold the tube.
  • Hold it (hang it vertically) at different positions to get different sounds (we could mark them with tape to indicate "notes".)
  • He mentions they even found a tube that had stuffing material rammed into either side, but at varying depths. The result was that the centre of mass of this tube was not the physical centre of the tube, so holding it at the centre of mass resulted in interference of two resonating frequencies, i.e. waves of modulated sound.
    • Block the end of a tube and it's fundamental resonant frequency halves. -- Anthony

Billy and a couple of other "old hippies" (his words) spent an evening striking tubes and playing the bucket bass...

We may have enough tubes to let every kid play with one, provided we can find a way to hold/hang it for them.


Resonating Spring

There's an excellent piece at the British Art Show at the Hayward Gallery atm, "A Grammar for Listening," where Luke Fowler and a few sound artists filmed sound environments. In one they attached one side of a metal spring to a stand, and subjected it to vibrations (audio oscillators?) of changing frequencies which resulted in amazing organic flows of periodic/chaotic movements.

Plasma Speaker/Flame Amplifier: Fire!

Cool demo, but probably too much work to build.

Directional Sound

Not quite sure how to build this.

Sound Generators

Misc ideas for sound generating setups, these things won't necessarily teach you anything but they're fun to play with.

  • Ken: Photon phone, make a musical note by tapping a small filament lighbulb from which the light output has been focussed onto a phototransistor and suitable audio amplifier. Old style reflector bike lamps were good for this.
  • Ken: Arduino theremin or note generator / bender controlled from 2 axis joystick
  • Ken: Musical drawing - use soft graphite pencil on paper to make carbon resistive traces of different shapes and resistances. Trace the drawing with a metal probe to get different sounds from an oscillator - use anlog inputs of Arduino