sound art & craft



Playground - giant crochet ball musical instruments. October 2018.

Playground is an interactive sound art project, where giant textile balls make sound and music as they are played together. Music is made through play: rolling, bouncing, catching and throwing the brightly coloured balls. These social, playful and interactive objects seek to engage a broad audience in sonic art.

The project poses an artistic and technical challenge in instrument design, endeavouring to craft a portable sound art piece, adaptable for many varied settings. The project is in development, following an iterative methodology of making, remaking, workshopping/exhibiting and critical reflection.

A set of five large and brightly coloured balls have so far been handcrafted, crocheted with super chunky yarn. Each ball contains a BBC micro:bit adapted for e-textiles (electronic textiles), allowing the balls to wirelessly connect and transmit data. The music is composed digitally, coded to respond to the movement of the balls and the current music is soft, as a result of a sensory workshop. The balls seek to be expressive, curious, intuitive and engaging, with a wealth of interesting and dynamic musical material held within and to be explored through participant play.

The project has a broad socio-political intent, investigating an open, experimental and non-virtuosic approach to music making, with round and soft textile-based music technology. The large crochet balls seek to inhabit many and varied settings and spaces through workshops and installations.

Playground has so far been explored at De Montfort University (Leicester, UK), Wilson Stuart School (Birmingham, UK), Dubai Maker Faire (Dubai, UAE), eTextile Spring Break (New York, USA), Midlands4Cities Research Festival (Birmingham, UK) and Interfaces Sound Art Festival (Leicester, UK). This project is currently in progress, visiting schools, galleries, concert halls, public spaces, universities, makerspaces and more. Please get in touch for more information or to arrange a workshop.

Playground was awarded the 'Featured Project' award at Dubai Maker Faire in February 2019. The project has also been featured in Hello World! Magazine. Click here to read the article.

Sensory workshops at Wilson Stuart School.
Birmingham, UK. November 2018.

Big pink ball. November 2018.

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'Playground' visited Wilson Stuart School (Birmingham) this week. The learners are aged 2 - 25 and some pupils have additional difficulties including sensory impairment, learning difficulties, communication difficulties or complex medical conditions. I ran sensory workshops with different age groups throughout the day. For these workshops, the movement of the balls created soft and gentle musical textures. Aesthetically it sounds quite different from my previous work, but I felt it appropriate for the setting as I wanted the experience of playing to feel calm and safe. I was cautious of using any loud, sudden or surprising sounds as it could potentially have been quite a daunting experience, especially as some of the balls are so large. Overall, the learners responded very well to the balls and the teachers and assistants were great in exploring with them. The workshops gave me a lot of food for thought on how to continue to develop the instruments. Based on the learners' positive response, I now feel I can afford to push and experiment with the music the balls create, to be more exciting and dynamic. It was wonderful to see how valuable the balls could be as sensory musical instruments. I'll be continuing to adapt and explore this project with a broad audience - if you know of an organisation/venue who might like to play then please get in touch! It was a privilege to be invited to this school to conduct my research. Looking forward to visiting again next week!

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Dubai Maker Faire. Dubai, UAE. February 2019.

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An excerpt from day 2! 😂 #dubaimakerfaire

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eTextile Spring Break. The Wassaic Project, New York, USA. April 2019.

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© Sam Topley 2020