Graphene Interface for Ableton

Following my research in the lab with Graphene Institute Research Associate Edurne Redondo, I returned to my studio with multiple thin printed layers of graphene on copper and carbon coated aluminium.

The process of creating the liquid graphene and printing this onto each sheet was painstaking, getting the consistency just right so that it spread evenly across the sheet. The layer of the material was extremely thin and when dried some of the sheets were very delicate with the graphene sat on the top very loosely like powder.

The first consideration was how to work with this dark and almost dust like material that could quite easily blow away (an example of a particularly dry sheet below). I knew that I wanted to create individual conductive graphene modules that could be mapped to controls on Ableton. An aim of the interface was to create a response from the performer through gesture, I wasn’t sure if it would be possible for the performer to touch the graphene material, Edurne also said that although it was probably safe, it hadn’t been tested.

Working at Chris Ball’s studio and using the laser cutter, we experimented with sandwiching the thin layers of the graphene between very thin transparent plastics. Using the new standard firmata code for the arduino, that Chris had written, I mapped a segment of the graphene material to Ableton and tested. This worked first time.. success!! This meant it was possible to use the conductive properties of graphene as a capacitive touch sensor through the plastic, making it a workable and protected module that could be made into a full interface.

Each individual module was made from cutting a hexagon shaped section of the graphene (on copper) sheet and placing this between a thin layer of plastic and a thicker layer of laser cut perspex. The electrical connection to the arduino was created by hooking wire onto the spacers or feet of each module and patching these into the individual pins.

Planning the overall look and design of the interface, I aimed for a Constructivist aesthetic using the materials of wood and steel which I have used as resonant materials within the MATERIALITY project and Graphene as a conductive material to interface with digital music control. The controller needed to be large enough to playable, so it is clear that as the performer moves towards a particular module there is a distinct sonic intention linked to that gesture, also practically it needed to be portable for gigging. Thanks to the amazing Chris Ball who helped me to fabricate this at his studio with the laser cutter and persuaded me to include lights! Each module also lights up a tiny 70’s car light on the lower wooden board when played, which also works well with the iridescent perspex. #Retro-Futurism!!

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