• tumblr
  • youtube
  • mail

Mug Music: A Sensory Coaster System

Initial questions & themes:

How can we begin to explore the various objects around us with respect for their design, implied personalities, and values?
Can we, as designers, create objects that exude life, and perhaps arouse curiosity and compassion for objects, and others which we might deem as lower beings because they are not human?

I want to explore the inanimate aspect of objects, or things that indeed oftentimes had a life or hold life in some way (through memory, design, symbolism, or literally) by making an inanimate object something with anima: the part of the psyche that is directed inward, and is in touch with the subconscious.

Anima is the opposite of persona: the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others.
This relates to the idea that something non-human is immediately sub-human. I would like to reject this idea with various data and experience:
– amoeba’s lunch : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvOz4V699gk
these two paramecium hold the same instinctual fight for life as most humans and other organisms, despite being single-celled organisms.
(brings us back to an animal=human theme of subconscious and conscious life) 

Why do people shun their instincts? Why have designers (minimalists, anti-aestheticians) hidden the incorporation of natural systems in their products and systems?
Exploring the presumption that a non-human is sub-human.
Why do people see humans on a higher level than animals? Not only are we clearly animals, but we, as designers, almost always take inspiration from natural forms, and indeed apply natural systems to our own via biomimicry?
//Nature is the ultimate design. How is technology surpassing/ altering how we view our natural systems?
//Are technological innovations really new at all? Aren’t they harnessing natural forces, arranging them in mechanisms already constructed by nature? (ex- the shape of the internet vs neural networks).

All these questions lead me to the bigger picture of anthropomorphism, of how our own human consciousness impresses and assumes things upon others. 

An anthropomorphic quality suspends the belief that an inanimate object does not have character or life. If we can feel that compassion for an object, perhaps we can pass that compassion on to actual living beings, & even recognize ourselves as small actors in a bigger system.


What precedences (other projects, etc.) have dealt with these issues:
Tamogatchi, Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman) Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson), Polar Express & other films made with CGI.

Also: 555timekeyboards, organs and theremins, kraadoo boxes, circuit bent objects, Bonnie Eisenman’s mug music.

All give life to something that was previously a bunch of wires, or dolls.
They do this well by making an instrument, something a human can create art with, or a character, which suspends the belief that an inanimate object does not have character or life. It allows these object to be anthropomorphized, and perhaps if we can feel truly connected to an electric guitar or a character in a film, we can pass that compassion on to actual living beings who inhabit the natural kingdoms around us, eventually recognizing ourselves as a small actor in a bigger system that we must carefully sustain or face chaotic repercussions for our greed and consumption.
Krakdoos/ Crackleboxes were particularly interesting to me because the sound changes based on the user’s frequencies. A design tension I predicted I would have should I try to employ this tech, was that I did not find the sound endearing.

Research / influences (specific text & how that informed you concretely)


Bonnie Eiseman’s Mug Music was the first place where I garnering this idea; however, in order to induce anthropomorphism, changes had to be made.

Neurological & Biological research:
Feeling compassion, or empathy, can be caused by mentally putting oneself in another’s place. Maque monkeys have been proven to have mirror neurons.

A recent discovery detailed in the Atlantic found that certain species have rhythm + capability to learn by ear, a quality once thought to only belong to humans. 


Experiences and Interviews:
Killers In Eden
This documentary is too lengthly to summarize in a few sentences, but tells the story of Killer Whales using human whalers as hunting companions. They communicated with us, collaborated with us, and were eventually betrayed by us after over an over 10,000 year relationship defined by the “Law of the Tounge” was corrupted.

Ideation and supporting pictures / personal writing / user feedback testing

I thought originally thought of 3D printing the mug in porcelain because I was unsure if I would be able to have access to a kiln. I felt that the factory-made aspect may take away from the familiarity and individuality I wanted the artifact to have.

IMG_5107 mugsketchIMG_6148


designing the enclosure, the imagery that would be on it, the colors it would take:

IMG_6145 IMG_6146

I went through a lot of going back and forth about the form the mug would take and how to keep its functionality as an object. Because the mug is such a personal yet overlooked daily item, I decided I would create a coaster to place the mug on that would activate it. The enclosure needed to look natural and go with the mug, but also be interesting on its own as an artifact.


IMG_5299.JPG IMG_5293 IMG_5294

What worked:
I think the first prototype worked because I wanted the user to feel connection / compassion / interest / love for the object, and people seemed excited to touch it and access the various noise outputs.
What did not work:
I could not have this object connected to a computer, as it does not suspend belief because of this digital umbilical cord (design tension).
Therefore the Chuck program needed to be done away with, and I would need a battery pack (design choices).

What I learned from prototyping: I need the object to provide a programmable sample base so the audience could input their own noises or recordings, relatable or special to them, and have this object speak to them in a aural vocabulary/language they are fond of.


IMG_6149 IMG_6053
Design choices: How many elephants ? Should they even be elephants (I chose yes because they are some of the most respected creatures for their wiseness, culture, emotional capacity, and memory)? What colors would the box be and how would this effect the mood of the artifact?

Laser cut trials varied on the depth of my paint, the power of the specific machine (even with the same settings the machines varied in what they produced) You can see here is these photos that some of the laser cutters would not always cut all the way through the wood.

IMG_6130I found laser cutter #1 to be the best for my file.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 12.57.31 PM Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 12.57.22 PM
Two illustrator files show the slight differences in box structure that were made.
Testing & Troubleshooting: https://vimeo.com/160792596

Demo : https://vimeo.com/161087218

The final instantiation


1 Arduino
1 Elechouse MP3 Shield
1 Temperature Sensor
Jumper Wires
1 Speaker
1 Battery Pack
3 Batteries (AA)
1 Resistor (10M)

Fritzing Schematic

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 11.58.54 PMwithout the mp3 shield so you can see the pins.
Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 12.55.32 PMmp3 shield and speaker included here.



Full Demo:



Please view the video at this link for a demo of the three following technologies:

1. Temperature Sensor
2. Mp3 Shield
3. Capacitive Touch Sensor
4. Laser cutter (see photographs, files above in process section)

1.  mp3 Shield Library
2. capacitive touch sensor library
3. temperature sensor code
4. capacitive touch sensor code
5. software serial library used to engage microsD card 

Future directions

I would like to work more with the sensors and their applications. The temperature sensor was not as sensitive as I had hoped it might be through the ceramic and although it works perfectly to trigger songs outside the enclosure, it did little for the project when housed in the box. Perfecting the box design would alleviate this.



Leave a reply

Skip to toolbar