Design Lab 1 Snapshot: The Force of Things

Several students place their hands on loudspeakers filled with percussion instruments.

Welcome to the first in a series of "snapshots" from the Design Labs! We'll be writing these periodically, highlighing some of the most active periods in the Labs.

Design Lab 1 (DL1) is vibrant as ever. The flexible room is, as usual, home to many engaging groups and course labs focused on topics such as creative process, robotics, entrepreneurship, animation, sound engineering, architecture, human-computer interaction, and the internet of things. Serendipitous collaborations happen here daily—a natural result of students, faculty, and staff sharing a work environment and being inspired to create. Groups that meet here are typically attracted to DL1’s many physical resources and its adaptability. Constant buzzing activity indicates that users are feeling productive and supported. The room configuration changes every day, sometimes every hour. Many of the visiting course labs involve students using different stations in DL1 throughout each session.

One such course lab is called “The Force of Things,” offered through the Living Arts program. The class is taught alongside a residency and workshop period—Ashley Fure, a professor of music at Dartmouth College, will be performing her music theater production The Force of Things in partnership with two University of Michigan professors: Adam Fure (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning) and Matthew Albert (School of Music, Theatre & Dance). They are also working with Ross Karre, an artistic director for International Contemporary Ensemble. Ashley explains on her website: “Drawing from traditions of object theater and puppetry, The Force of Things combines live and electroacoustic music, architectural design, and theater to present a narrative radically decentered from the lives of humans. Staged inside a ring of live performed and projected sound, this 50-minute work positions itself at the experiential boundary between immersive installation and live performance.”

Now, in the course entitled “The Force of Things,” Adam and Matthew meet weekly with a group of architecture and music students to brainstorm new systems for the performance—the piece involves many physical objects that rely on clever acoustic tricks. Both Ashley and Ross have visited the class virtually, via Skype chats with Adam (using the projector in DL1). Tuesday morning, Ashley and Ross visited the class in person to demonstrate several sonic experiments.

Ashley and Ross stand next to four loudspeakers lined up in a row.

Students were encouraged to experiment with the instruments following the demonstration. There were multiple instruments installed around the room, and DL1's flexibility was highly appreciated.

Students listen to a lecture from a musician and technologist.

The group started near the glass doors to watch the performers, migrated to the opposite side of the room to discuss the "monochord" (a one-string instrument that can be bowed or plucked), and eventually gathered around the projector screen to learn more about the technology behind the performance. Ashley explained how the programming works in Max/MSP, and also explained audio signal flow. Near the end of class, the students presented their findings regarding different materials (such as silicone) that could be incorporated into the work.

The group demonstrated a great use of the space, working across several areas of the room over the three-hour class period. Fun morning!

Students explore various physical objects that produce sound.