Musical Backpack 2.0

Continuing my investigation to see if it is possible to design a platform that will encourage users to use their auditory memory instead of their visual memory when interacting with language, I decided to do more research and some user testing.
After my initial user testing and prototyping, I reach a point where I realized it is more beneficial to design a platform in which individuals can share both their visual and auditory interpretations of words. I developed a system using MAXMSP and Processing that will encourage individuals to create visuals as well as music for given words.

Music + Visual made for the word Rain
Connecting individuals through music and visuals for words

My previous research was mainly based on how I interact with language and how my auditory memory works when mapping letters to musical notes. As a result, I searched to see an example of text-to-music platforms. Typatone is a platform that is similar to what I have done for my previous project. It assigns a note to letters and provides you with a canvas that you can write, and it will turn to music. I typed two sentences from an article called Experimenting with Ethnography.
One of the things that I have noticed in this platform is because the musical notes are assigned to the letters, we don’t hear the rhythm and patterns that we usually expect in music. And for me to remember a musical piece, is to remember its rhythm.

Music made in Typatone. Paragraph from Experimenting with Ethnography
A Companion to Analysis, Andrea Ballestero, Brit Ross Winthereik, 2021

Therefore, I conducted a group interview with 4 Persian-speaking participants that speak English as their second language. I played 3 different songs for these participants, one in Persian, one just musical, and one in Italian.
The first one was a song by Mahasti named Tiny Heart. As soon as I played the song, everyone started to move and dance to the rhythm. Then they sing along with the song. When I asked about how they remembered this song, they said their body knew it before their brain. Two of them didn’t even remember the song or its lyrics but their body reacted to it. One of them stated that if they hear the word Tiny Heart, they remember this song. Two of them stated that they may think of this song by the way someone might pronounce this word. And they had no visual memory of this song. But they also stated because they have heard this song numerous times so they can’t think of a specific scene or memory.
The second song was A Town With an Ocean View by Joe Hisiashi from the anime called Kiki’s Delivery Service. None of the participants have heard this song. They stated that this song made them remember movie scenes but nothing specific. One participant tried to place themselves in an imaginary scenario and another participant tried to make their own story for this song. All of them agreed that there were so many factors to consider in this song and they all specified that this song has a storytelling side. One participant also stated that they focused on the opening and how the flutes were played.
The last song was Moliendo Café by Julio Iglesias. Participants never heard this version. Again they remembered movie scenes and mostly their own memory. One participant thought of their trip to Greece and others agreed that although they have never been to any Mediterranean country, they remembered specific scenes from those countries. One participant focused on the word Café, and two participants stated if they ever hear this song again, they will remember this interview.

If we take a closer look into these responses, we can conclude that in the absence of verbal communication (whether the music has no vocals or the words are not understandable for participants) when processing sound, individuals tend to rely on their visual memory to interact with music.

This leads me to my second round of interviews. In these sessions, I tried to find a concept that is constant in every language. Then conducted one on one interviews with bilingual students and asked them about Rain. First I asked them to think about the rain. Then asked them to write the word rain in their language. After that, I asked them about the process of thinking about rain. Did they think about memory? A scene or the word rain?
Furthermore, I asked them to tell me a story about rain and write something about that story in their language. Then I asked them to translate that sentence word by word.
Two participants thought of the word Rain in English first. All participants thought about the sound of rain in the beginning. After that, I asked them to create music about the sentence they wrote on two different platforms. One platform was Chrome music lab and the other one was Soundtrap.

First Participant – Process
First Participant – Music made in Chrome Music Lab
First Participant – Music made in Soundtrap using musical loops
Second Participant – Process
Second Participant – Music made in Chrome Music Lab
Second Participant – Music made in Soundtrap using musical loops
Third Participant – Process
Third Participant – Music made in Chrome Music Lab
Third Participant – Music made in Soundtrap using musical loops

This work session helped me realize that abstract representation of words could also help us establish a connection with language. So while I was trying to conduct these interviews, I also tried to learn more about MAX MSP and Processing. Processing is a flexible software sketchbook for coding and it is based on Java. Max MSP is a visual programming language for music. It is a space to create interactive multimedia projects. I developed a code in processing that will generate an abstract art form of audio input. Then used Max MSP to use the music and voice recordings of participants to generate interactive artwork.
This is a low-fidelity prototype, but my idea is by using these abstract visual outputs, we can create a platform where individuals can share their stories and recollection of words and their visual and musical output. This platform will connect people that have generated similar artworks for words.

Reflection:

My process for this research is a constant act of making and testing. Although I will collect important data through this process, it is important to read and follow the works of other intellectuals in this field. There are many factors to consider when we talk about displacement and our interactions with language. Aside from our own experiences, there are cultural and historical aspects that play an important role in our process of communicating through language. Thus, my goal is to study these cultural and historical aspects as well as learn more about digital applications for this project.

Musical Backpack

Moving forward with my research, I decided to investigate three different methods of assigning words to musical notes. My idea was based on the notion that we have our own story for how we learned letters. We also have our memory of how we learned how to write words. Although we can assume that we developed our literacy skills in school, other factors can help us remember how to interact with language. In this project, I’m trying to find that indirect interaction. Instead of focusing on the visual representation of the words, I’m trying to build a game by focusing on auditory memory.
Players can compose their interpretation of specific words based on their musical taste or lived experience.
When I talk about lived experience, I am referring to the memories we have saved throughout our life. It’s about remembering a word via memory and finding the right tune or ambient for those memories.

Assigning sound loops to words and play them in a sequence.

Level 1:

My first approach was to assign a musical note to each letter. Players can play and hear each given note over and over and re-arrange them in a way that would help them remember that word easier.

Assigning musical notes to letters.

Level 2:

After creating a short musical representation for each letter, users are encouraged to assign pre-recorded musical loops to given words. This level focuses on the memories and feelings that each individual may experience while thinking about those words. They can replace these pre-recorded audio loops with the ones that they created in the previous level. Also, the end result is a composition of all loops at the same time.

Assigning audio loops to words

Level 3:

In this section, individuals are encouraged to record ambient or the music they made and save it as a piece of music for the given word. Users can make music by whatever they have access to in their surroundings, or they can even record themselves talking about that word.

Recoding of Rasht Grand Bazar

Reflection:

My goal through this investigation was to see different methods of assigning musical notes to words/letters and analyze how to form a sentence using those short musical clips. My assumption was that if we exercise this interaction with language on daily basis, we are able to form a connection whenever we have to use our literacy skills. However, these methods are only useful for me. Moving forward, I am planning to test my assumption and ask users how they remember words with music. How do they access their auditory memory or is it even possible to establish a connection with language using only our auditory memory?

Word Game

This project is the result of a 2 weeks research on Dyslexia and an investigation into how design can create a system in which individuals with dyslexia can create their own connection with language. To do that, I started by researching Dyslexia and the platforms that have been specifically designed for dyslexic individuals.

Picture from: Design Strategies and Dyslexia: Improving the Accessibility of Course Material for Third-level Students with Dyslexia, Colm Dunne, 2015

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called a reading disability, dyslexia is a result of individual differences in areas of the brain that process language. (Mayo Clinic, 2022)

Picture from: Design Strategies and Dyslexia: Improving the Accessibility of Course Material for Third-level Students with Dyslexia, Colm Dunne, 2015

My first approach was to learn more about Dyslexia and identify the occasions in which design can create an opportunity for expression and innovation with dyslexic individuals. Through my research, I realized that Dyslexia is a learning difference originating from our Neurological process or it could be traced back to our cognitive process and how we decode words and letters.

Picture from: Design Strategies and Dyslexia: Improving the Accessibility of Course Material for Third-level Students with Dyslexia, Colm Dunne, 2015

Based on these findings, designers have designed several typefaces specifically for individuals with Dyslexia to help them decode the letters more efficiently and speed up their reading process.

Picture from: Design Strategies and Dyslexia: Improving the Accessibility of Course Material for Third-level Students with Dyslexia, Colm Dunne, 2015

Furthermore, I tried to research online platforms that have been designed for individuals with Dyslexia. What I have realized was almost all of these platforms were designed with the goal of helping Dyslexic individuals (mostly focusing on children) to overcome their literacy difficulty.

Unlike existing platforms, my approach is to change this perspective of “Helping” and “Overcoming Dyslexia”. Through this project, I’m trying to encourage those who have dyslexia to create their own relationship with language, and I think it starts by stopping labeling Dyslexia as a “Disability” or “Disorder”. My goal is to empower dyslexic individuals to share their methods and experiences regarding dyslexia, and hopefully, a system that will result in designing a platform based on their rules and process.

Reflection:

Although this was a 2 weeks project, I had the opportunity to connect with HDL (Health Design Lab) at Emily Carr University and find some resources for the next steps. However, there are numerous aspects that I have not considered regarding Dyslexia. Not only do I lack knowledge from phenomenological aspects, but also there is much design-related research that I have not considered for this project. Moving forward, I’m hoping to learn more about Dyslexia from both dyslexic individuals and health experts.

Musical Clay

Overview

In this project, I tried to design a system in which by playing with clay, you could also produce music. After experimenting and researching different ways of achieving this goal, I decided to use camera motion sensors and compile the coding in Python.

Camera capturing the motions of the clay and resulting in musical notes
The Final setup for my presentation

The Story

In my last project, I developed a game in Unreal Engine, inspired by the recent protests in Iran. In that game, I chose a paragraph and divided it into 13 sections, and put each section on a virtual wall. Because I wanted to show that it will get easier when you start to question and disregard the ideologies that have been embedded in our minds by a totalitarian system like The Islamic regime, I made each wall thinner and easier to break than the last.

Continuing my search and dialogue with my peers and friends, I was constantly asking myself: what is next? what do you do when you break down all these walls?

Observing that everyone is having a discussion around this matter, I answered myself: you can start by having a dialogue
And for me to have a dialogue, is to sit around a tablecloth name Sofreh. Sofreh is the Persian translation for a tablecloth. It is a hand-painted/sewn piece of cloth that usually sits on The Persian carpet to avoid stains on the carpet while people are dining. Another usage of Sofreh is at weddings when you decorate this cloth with flowers and sweets as a part of the traditional ceremony. Sofreh has always been an initiative for dialogue and interaction among Iranians. From dining to New year traditional settings (haft-sin) to putting it on a Korsi (a table that has a heating device under it and people sit around for warmth), Sofreh is a symbol of connection and story. The design and labor in making a Sofreh are the embodiment of love and care in Persian culture.

Ghalamkar (قلمکار) Table cloth – Sofreh

I decided to start my dialogue around a Sofreh that has been hand-painted with the words from my previous project. I think re-reading and re-evaluating those ideologies, can help us move forward as a society to reconstruct our country.

After making the Sofreh, it was time for me to start the conversion. but what should we talk about?
To answer this question, I decided to focus on the interaction between our body and our mind. For me, every physical object has an abstract representation. We all experience this interaction on daily basis; singing while washing the dishes, imagining scenarios when going on a walk, and …
I think by focusing on this dialogue between our body and our mind, we can reconstruct what we have destroyed, and it is a necessary step for us to understand what we want and what we should do.
This is why I decided to make Musical Clay. To demonstrate this interaction and emphasize that it doesn’t matter where you want to stand, be it making an object or creating something abstract like music, what matters is to have this conversation in a safe place within ourselves.

To achieve this, I designed a system using a webcam. Clay is the representation of the broken walls in my last project, and music is the representation of our minds. With the help of my friends, I developed a motion recognition system using Python that could trace light and color changes as well as movements.
I defined an area of work and piano keynotes in which the person using the clay can hit each not by making a move in that area using the clay.

My first attempt on checking the motion recognition code.

Reflection

For me, this project was an opportunity to share my story and perspective. It was a way of dealing with my frustration and anger; and how to cope with those emotions while learning new subjects and languages such as coding in Python.
Unlike my other projects that were more permanent, this project was a performance that needs preparations before demonstration. The audience for this project is broader and compared to my previous project, it has a massage and a possible solution. I think moving forward, I want to explore other types of dialogue. My work has been about stating and questioning the current situation in Iran. I hope I can design another series of performances or products and use them as the ending of my story.

Note: Thanks to my friends (Ariya Eini, Behnood Momenzadeh, Mohammad Naseri) and my brother (Yahya Asl Soleimani) who helped me learn Python and develop this system.

What Can a Body Do?

Overview

In this project, I developed a game inspired by Sara Hendren’s book: What Can a Body Do?
In the introduction of this book, Hendren states: “In a social model, it’s the interaction between the condition of the body and the shapes of the world that makes disability into a lived experience, therefore a matter not only for individuals but also for societies” ( Sara Hendren, 2020) and it motivated me to explore environments and opportunities that could surpass the limitations of our current space. Therefore, I decided to create a game and maybe explore this space using VR headsets.

This gameplay is on First Person Shooter view on Unreal Engine.

Discourse

During this project, I had two different but paralleled sentiments in my mind. The First one, as I stated above was inspired by Sara Hendren’s quote. What I interpreted from that reading, is that disabilities are defined based on the environment, not the shape or structure of the body. It is the space that is disabling us, and maybe if we change our environment, we wouldn’t have to identify our condition as a disability.
Furthermore, when I was in Iran, I had the opportunity to work with dyslexic kids. For this reason, I wanted to explore how text is demonstrated in virtual reality. Knowing that I can not design a platform that would benefit children with dyslexia at this time, I decided to first explore the VR environment. For that, I started by choosing one paragraph.

The notion that helped me choose my paragraph was the events that are currently happening in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Women are fighting for their rights on the streets, knowing they can be killed or imprisoned by the Islamic Regime troops at any time. As an Iranian woman, I know how hard it is to fight against all the sexist and misogynistic ideologies, and it is an everyday fight to stay a free human being. That is why I chose this paragraph from the book “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel.

“The post-totalitarian system touches people at every step, but it does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his or her ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.”

Process

I divided this paragraph into 13 sections. Moreover, I decided to write these 13 sections on 13 different walls in the game. Because I wanted to show that by breaking down every barrier, it will get easier to accomplish your dream, I made every wall thinner than the previous one. Therefore, as the game continues it will get easier to break down each wall. At the end of the game plan, we have a small light and an open sky as a symbol for freedom.
I developed this game in Unreal Engine. Although I did not have any previous experience with coding and game development, I found Unreal Engine very convenient and easy to understand.

Because I didn’t have any idea what the virtual world looks like, I started by experimenting with Hub and tried to grasp the basic rules of the virtual world.

Me trying out the VR headset for the first time

In addition, I wanted to make this game in VR space so that the player could break down each wall with their fist, but due to limited timing, I was not able to achieve that. That being said, this project is still in progress, and hopefully I can develop it in a way that is compatible with VR environment.

Reflection

For the past 6 weeks, I have tried to ignore the events in Iran. Although I was in mourning with the people we lost and scared for my family and friends, I tried my best not to let it effect my work. Working on this project and having a space to have a talk about your work and your state of mind at the same time, gave me the opportunity to address my concerns and approaches in an unconventional way. I believe designing this game gave me a better understanding of the virtual world and it capabilities, and a different perception of the reading.

Studio Stylist

At Emily Carr University, everyone has their own studio space in order to work and interact with their classmates. Although it is a place of work and study for students, everyone tends to design their space with tools and accessories. Violet and I teamed up for our service project and decided to help our classmates (most of them are new in Vancouver) set up their studio space. In order to show our service as Studio Stylist, we made an advertising video of our process and how we can help those students who don’t know how to begin or cannot come up with ideas to design their space.

The video to showcase the process and the service we provide

First, we conduct interviews with anyone who wishes to use us as their Studio Stylist. We ask them about their preferences and how they usually get creative:

  1. What is your favorite color?
  2. What does your room look like?
  3. How do you usually document ideas?
  4. What tools will you use when you work?
  5. Describe your creative process. Do you have a specific habit to get ready to work?
  6. Describe your happy place.

I interviewed Violet designed her space based on this information. She told me that she likes colorful things and she usually likes to have white and blue elements in her space because it calms her down. Her room also has blue elements and she has this ritual to clean her room before starting to work. She likes to use stickers and a magnetic board to document her ideas and put them on the board so that she can see them while she works. She likes to make hand-crafted designs so there’s always a ruler, cutter, and scissors on her desk. She also has a plant and pencil holder on her desk. She likes her space to be more functional than decorative. 

Staples

Later, I combined all this information to set up a shopping list and sketch how I should place everything in her space. I went to Staples to get the essential things she needs like a cork board, pens, pencils, cutter, ruler… 

After that, I went to an art shop to get more artistic objects such as a cutter board and sketch pad. I also bought her a small plant for her desk and two extra pots to use as a pencil holder and a place to put the pins and clippers. For the decorative part, I bought a ceramic coaster which is blue and white. 

I placed all these objects on her studio desk and put these cork tiles on the front wall so she can stick her ideas on it and see them all the time. 

Violets’ Studio before
Violets’ Studio after
Violets’ Studio after

I hope with this service we can help our classmates to personalize their space based on their preferences and needs.

Reflection:
As a new grad student, this project helped me interact with my classmates on a deeper level and this interaction increased my confidence and energy. Interviewing, thinking, designing, and shopping for someone else, created a clear and flexible understanding of service design for me.
The Shopping part specifically was also an opportunity for me to get to know my surroundings as an immigrant. In addition, the innate tangible quality of this service which is based on human interaction with the spatial environment was refreshing and educational.
I believe this service could expand and work as an actual consultant or design agency. We can help others on digital platforms (zoom, skype, WhatsApp…) or in person.

KiKi The Cat

So, I have to make a gift for someone who I just met…
This is the first project for our Interaction Design Studio class. My classmate, Violet, whom I have to make the gift for, told me about her cat. And how her cat symbolizes her design practice. She told me that she wishes to have more direct interactions with her audiences and told me a story of how her cat liked the toy that was made out of a cardboard more than any other toy that she bought for him. Apparently, Kiki loves to scratch that cardboard. She told me she got Kiki for her mother as a gesture of gratitude and that her mother cares deeply about Kiki.
This was a quite challenge for me. First, I have never had pets in my life. I love animals but I could never see myself as a pet owner. So I do not have any experience with the connection she has with her cat. Second, I never made gifts for anyone… I know this is embarrassing, but in my family, we have always given everyone money or asked what they want or need and then bought it for them. One time I asked my family to bake me a cake as my birthday present, and they called me crazy! Why would they bake me a cake when they can buy much tastier cakes from a bakery?
So, I started by researching cats while thinking about what Violet told me about direct interaction with audiences. I Googled “does cat scratches actually mean something?” and come across a disease named Cat Scratches and started to read about its symptoms and causes. Then, I read about other life-threatening diseases for cats that can be prevented if we take a closer look into our their behavior. I thought to myself, why aren’t there any platforms that people can record their pets’ interaction with their environment and find out whether they need to see a vet?

Therefore, I started to come up with an idea for a mobile application in which people can set up a profile for their cats and record their behavior. I categorized the ways of interaction into five categories and design an icon for them: Sleep Duration, Licking Pattern, Meow Recorder, Scratch Scanner, and Body Heat. In each of these sections, the pet owner can record and save the inputs and the application will analyze them based on the profile and the cat’s medical history and cross-reference them with common diseases related to cats. The user can choose to book an appointment with a pet or just try something at home.

Because I knew this would be a sensitive subject for pet owners, I tried to set the verbal identity of this application very friendly so that the user would not be intimidated by the questions. I choose a very calm color palette and designed playful icons as well. The Fonts are Lato for the body and Diodrum for titles.

Music: :Louis Armstrong- Hello Dolly

I wrapped this gift with Instagram. Which means I set up an Instagram account named When Kiki the cat talks (id: whenkikithecattalks) I will post some artworks related to cat diseases and how we can be aware of them. You can also watch the prototype that was made for Violet. And I’m giving access too so she could post all about Kiki and record his interaction on this page.

Don’t forget to follow Kiki on Instagram and wish him luck!