Morning Raaga

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Most of us are accustomed to navigating the world using our eyeballs. If we think of the sense of sight as a muscle, we get regular, rigorous visual exercise as we stare into screens, navigate public spaces, and snap photos with our smart phones.

But what about our other senses?

This project by Viniyata Pany, Dhruv Damle, and I came out of a desire to exercise and explore two of those underappreciated, underutilized senses: the sense of smell and the sense of sound.

As ITP alum Alex Kauffman wrote, “Smell is subjective, it’s ephemeral, and it’s not binary.” Interactions that involve smell are qualitatively different from interactions that involve our eyes.

Since much has been made of the relationship between smell and memory, as well as the relationship between smell and pleasure, we designed a device that uses scent as a positive feedback mechanism to encourage vocal students to practice singing.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Select the note you want to practice by pressing one of the eight buttons. You’ll hear a recording of the selected note and a recording of the tanpura for you to sing along to.
  2. Sing! As you sing into microphone, the device determines when your voice is within the frequency range for the note you selected. When you’re within range, the device sprays a delicious smell.

Takeaways 

Olfactory feedback: how and when it works, how and when it doesn’t

The Winter Show gave us a chance to user test with dozens of people. In general, people were excited about the idea of smell as a feedback mechanism because it’s not something they were used to. That said, smell wasn’t practical in letting people know whether they were singing correctly or not.

We used jasmine as the “correct” smell and tangerine as the “incorrect” smell, but people had different feelings about both and the smells tended to blend together and disappear when a user spent more than a few minutes with the box.

With all of this in mind, when I think about what a more successful olfactory project might look like, I now think of delicious cooking smells that become associated with a particular activity: gathering people for a meeting. Practicing coding. Journaling. A single smell as a backdrop as opposed to multiple smells as tools, and an activity without benchmarks, that doesn’t require immediate feedback.

On the singing side, I find this project (which some smart stranger at the show told us to check out) really interesting: Vocal Vibrations.

Winter Show

I’d never participated in a show! It took a surprising amount of work to set up a relatively small exhibition space that worked with our project. Compared to some other projects, ours was meant to exist in a really specific environment: a cozy den or living room where you would camp out for an hour or two to practice singing. For the show, we were ultimately on the floor, surrounded by cushions, plants, and rugs.

The Morning Raaga Tumblr was helpful for explaining the project. We had it up on an iPad in front of our space.

Project Inspiration

Alex Kauffman’s Scratch N Sniff Television

Designing for All 5 Senses, talk by Jinsop Lee

Process

Arduino Code

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