Brains and Beakers: Reinventing Musical Instruments


Welcome to Brains and Beakers 2010!

Ever wondered how to make drums out of PVC pipe? Or Light-Emitting Diode (LED) graffiti? That’s the kind of stuff we do at Youth Radio’s Brains and Beakers events.

Four times per year, scientists come to Youth Radio’s studios in Downtown Oakland to demo their discoveries, methods, and inventions. Students interview the scientists and create media out of these dynamic dialogues.

This month’s Breaks and Beakers was hosted by Youth Radio’s Mobile Action Lab, a new project supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative and the National Science Foundation. Through the Lab, young people partner with pro developers to create apps that serve real needs in youth communities. (You can learn more about the Mobile Action Lab here).

We invited two of our developer-partners, Nick Kruge and Nick Bryan, to show us how they use iPhones, iPads, failed sports equipment, and even upside-down wooden salad bowls embedded with electronics, to create new musical instruments. “The Nicks” demonstrated how they’ve been pairing music and computer science to research and re-invent sound-making.

Photo Credit: Luis Flores/YOUTH RADIO

Both Nicks are students at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Nick Bryan is a co-director for the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra (MoPho) and Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk), where the scientist-musicians use laptops, speakers, and smart phones instead of traditional instruments. These two guys have also worked directly on some of the most popular apps on iTunes. Now they’re working with us at Youth Radio to create an app that re-imagines radio and activates youth expression by exploiting the unique properties of the mobile phone.

In the video, the Nicks demonstrate how they can use a joystick to model sounds from a human throat, and how they transformed a weird gadget designed to test your golf swing into a magic harp.

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