Bonus Day Project: Russ Chimes

As a brand experience agency built on innovation, Phenomblue is constantly developing internal projects that stretch the limits of our imagination — like Russ Chimes, today’s featured Bonus Day project, a study in indeterminate music.

Indeterminacy in music emerged in the 20th century and is best exemplified by John Cage’s 4’33”—a piece composed entirely of the ambient sounds an audience makes while waiting for a concert to begin. Phenomblue decided to give it a shot, 21st century style.

Using the MaKey MaKey invention kit, designers Tom F. and Sam W. built Russ Chimes, a wind-chime synthesizer. MaKey MaKey allows users to turn anything conductive — lemons, bananas, Play-Doh, etc.—into a controller. When a user touches the object, it closes a circuit. The computer recognizes this as a regular keyboard or mouse message and behaves accordingly.

Our designers took a set of everyday wind chimes, wired them to the keyboard’s four directional keys and wrapped the central clapper with tinfoil to complete the circuit. Using Ableton Live and the Native Instruments Massive synthesizer, they synched the device to a huge library of samples triggered by the chimes striking the central clapper. The tempo is quantitized in Ableton, so it’s always hitting a beat according to a set BPM. As the wind picks up, the chimes trigger more random samples and compose a song of unique, haunting sounds.

Joe Olsen, our CEO and president, said it sounded like the soundtrack to a Trent Reznor movie.

This is part one of our featured Bonus Day projects for the fourth quarter of 2012. Bonus Day is an internal, agency-wide flash-exercise in innovation, where teams of strategists, designers and engineers carry a passion project from conception to completion — in a day. Bonus Day gives us the chance to generate out-of-the-box new ideas that can inform our work with clients. This is how we keep delivering clients an array of meaningful consumer/brand experiences.