—– In collaboration with Louise Foo. —–

Color Play fosters synesthesia by translating color to sound.

Louise and I set out to explore the relationship between color and sound, and make something that would spark the same curiosity in others. After much research, we chose to map the 8 colors of the spectrum with the 8 notes of the major C scale. We decided to create a record player-like toy that would allow a user to compose sound by rearranging colored wedges. With extended play, the user begins to internalize this relationship and may experience mild synesthesia.





Brand URL Description
Design Within Reach Modern, Sophisticated
BoConcept Simple, Interesting, Strong
Uppercase Smart, Clean, Well Made
Brand WHY?
Etsy Values design, talks at the level of “real people”
Think Coffee Honesty, doesn’t try too hard, “good”
ZipCar Witty, feels local although it isn’t
What do you want your thing to be known for?
The experience of using it – fun and unique
What group or niche would LOVE your thing?
Group Things they love now…
Creatives Kid Robot / Brookstone / Sculpture
Educators Interactive Toys / Brain Games
Kids Simon / Blocks / Making Noises
Media Where u are…
Photography Our best trait, but need to re-shoot
Video Better at editing than shooting – must resolve audio issues
Writing We need to find our “voice”
Visual Design Needs to be done – until now it’s just been thrown together

CP Tweet

ColorPlay + Rhythm = Not so much.

We spent weeks going back and forth about how to make the ColorPlay into a pitch AND rhythm instrument.


After talking through many ideas, we decided to make black and grey pieces the same as the color ones, except the black would play a low pitched beat, the grey would play a high pitched beat, and the white pieces would now be blank, or a rest. Here’s how it turned out:

The ColorPlay

Our completed midterm project!

We are thrilled to have the opportunity to improve on this idea for our final. Stay tuned!

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A Few Snags – Light & Motors

While building, we ran into a few snags. The biggest issue was the transparency of the plastic. Light could shine through, creating very unreliable readings in different lighting conditions. The solution? Making “double decker” color pieces by gluing them together with a piece of black paper in between. It was more work, but it was successful in making the readings more reliable.

The other snag was the motor. When we made the pieces double decker they became heavier, and the motor suddenly wouldn’t turn. It seemed to strip the tiny spokes on the motor’s head. We had glued the top of the motor into a round hole on our platform, and Tom suggested using the propeller piece that came with the motor. We got a new motor, recut the platform and voila! it worked. Lesson learned— use the pieces the motor came with! (Thanks Tom!)

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Building the Box

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We thought making flat laser cut color pieces was fun, but making something 3D was even better! I personally haven’t felt this accomplished in my entire life. The box required test cuts to make the circles fit and a lot of planning, but building it went very smoothly. The precision of the pieces was inspiring- the box fit with right angles and precise corners- something that would have been almost impossible by hand. The acrylic glue was also a perfect tool- there wasn’t any ugly glop-it just adhered and was invisible like magic! 

We built the color sensor into a tube so that it would be sturdy, and made three other pillars to stabilize the disk should it become unbalanced (and to make it symmetrical.) Then we laid the Arduino and wires into the bottom of the box running the USB cable through the hole in the back. The motor was propped up onto a wooden block covered in electrical tape to ( to make the entire inside of the box black, which makes me happy.) The front of the box was made last, so that we had ample time to create the controls. We decided we should have had the “white balance” and “black balance” buttons on the outside of the box. This way, we wouldn’t have to “lift up the hood” to calibrate whenever the light changed. So, we ran the wires outside of the box to a smaller bread board. (this will be built in eventually)

The Final Circuit

Our final circuit included the motor and potentiometer! Check it out:

The toggle switch turns the color sensor ON or OFF.


The speaker plays our SOUND!

The RGB LED and the Photocell placed next to each other are our color sensor.

The other RGB LED is for the light up arrow to point out the sensor.

We used a 36o Servo Motor.

The Potentiometer controlled the speed and direction of the motor’s spin.

Making it Spin

Having never made anything move before (except the motor lab a few weeks ago,) making our record player spin was a real challenge. Louise and I spent more time than we had hoped talking about the mechanics of the device. Our goal was clear- we wanted the user to be able to spin the tray manually OR with the motor. We were afraid that there would be too much friction between the motor and the tray, preventing it from spinning without the motor turning. With great luck, once we went ahead and built the platform, it did exactly what we wanted! If only we knew…

Some thoughts on the way it might work:


Thanks to Tak,  Merche and Eric for the advice!

Building the Tray

With a commitment to simplicity, we chose to make our final product completely from Plastic.

The laser cutter became our best friend. Take a look at our progress:

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Just how do you make a color sensor?

So, we must build a color sensor! We found many YouTube videos of successful DIY color sensors, so it can be done! We found the tutorial from the ITP Sensor Workshop to be most helpful (even though the images on the site no longer load.)

From the  ITP Sensor Workshop – A Brief Explanation of How It Works:

“The sensor essentially consists of an RGB LED and and a photo cell placed right next to each other with a small divider between them so that the light of the LED does not directly hit the photo cell. An object is placed a short distance … from the sensor. The red, green, and blue lights on the LED are switched on one at a time. If the object’s color contains any amount of red, green, or blue, that color is reflected back onto the photo cell when the corresponding light is on and read into Arduino as an analog value. The three colors are then mixed into one, the color of the object.”

Here is our circuit based on the Sensor Workshop and tweaked for our project:

We also found this diagram helpful (click to see the full tutorial):

And, here’s a video of our progress:

If you are working on a project with a color sensor, here are some links that we found helpful:

Instructables- Using a Photocell and RGB LED like ours – “Because colours absorb certain wavelengths and reflect certain wavelengths, we can use different wavelengths(colours) of light and take readings(from a sensor that has nearly human responses) and thereby make a pretty good guess at what colour the sensor is being exposed to.”

Great Explanation of How the Sensor Works – YouTube

Color sensor paperweight- Lights up color beneath it. – YouTube

Elegant Color Sensor lights Orb – YouTube

Sensing Color with ADJD-S311 + Arduino / Sparkfun – Color Light Sensor

The Real Relationship Between Sound and Color

We are creating an experience of synaesthesia in our project. So, accuracy is very important to us. However, there are many theories about the relationship and translation from color to sound. The most widely accepted theory seems to be from Newton’s Color Circle from his book from Opticks of 1704, showing the colors correlated with musical notes.

Newton’s Color Circle


Here are a few more examples based on his ratio:

Other explorations of this relationship can be found here:

P-Comp Midterm: The Prototype and the Play Test!

The Prototype was fun to make!

Here it is:

We took to the ITP floor for feedback on our project. Because we had no sensor, we played a midi piano while the user played. It was fun to pretend to be the sensor! We asked a lot of questions and here’s what the play testers said:


Should it look like a record player?

- Yes, being on a wall would be confusing
– The record player is great, and the cardboard is great because it looks like it can’t do much but it can!

Would you want to make your own combinations?

- Yes, and drum beats too…
– Yes, and it would make having a motor better because I would be interested in hearing my creation as a loop
– Yes, and making them quickly (having pieces ready to go) is more important than gaining other functionality

Sounds from Arduino or Computer? & If computer what sound do you expect?

- It would be nice to have the entire thing encased in the object; if you use midi sounds from the computer it may be too mechanical — why not just use a      keyboard.
– The beats may prohibit the Arduino sound library
– The midi beats would be cool with different drums

Automatic spin or manual?

- It could be cool if it spun automatically, but the manual spin gives it a more interactive feel.
– I like spinning it manually because if it was automatic you couldn’t change the beat.
– The most fun thing was that you could spin it back like when your scratching like a DJ
– Prefabricated is like a record- so the only way to change is manually changing the speed and scratch(back and forth)
– Automatic
– They wanted to flip it (like a real record) when it was prefabricated

Beats or Just colors?

- There could be a separate beat track- GREYSCALE for different drums
– Beats are good- he would want an automatic pace or motor to make it constant
– Beats and colors on separate disks

General Comments:

- Needs On/Off switch — for when It gets stuck on a color.

- Recognized what to do immediately but only spun in one direction. Once we told him it could go backwards he did that and had fun.

- Thought it would be great for kids but as a musician wanted to be able to play real melodies. Wanted to scratch the record immediately back and forth.

- Thought that having it look nostalgic like a record player helped them know what to do and having it on the wall would be confusing. They want it to say what it does on it- like a name. “The Sound of Color” ; “ColorPlayer” ; “ColorSong” ; “Visual Sound” ; “Audio-Visual Composition” ; “ColorPuzzle” ; “Sound Colorization” ; “SoundScape” ;

- The scale gives a better relationship with the scale of music.

- Almost everyone wanted to make their own.

What We Learned:

People like it!

Most users wanted to customize as soon as they understood it.

Customization is the most valuable thing to the user.

We Will…

We will make a book of “Patterns” for the user to create, or they can create their own, to remove the need for an example record.

We will make pieces that can be put together quickly by the user to compose their record, and be changed just as quickly to manipulate the composition.

We will incorporate an ON / OFF switch.

We will make the spin manual, and if possible, be able to switch between motor powered AND manual.

We will continue to explore connecting the device back to the computer and Ableton to use as a midi controller to trigger sounds; and will explore the midi library in Arduino.

We will build sensors or use the one from SparkFun

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P-Comp Midterm: Concept

It’s midterm time!

I’ve been paired with Louise for our midterm Media Controller project. We must make a physical device that controls a medium. We spent some time discussing what interests us, and decided to explore the relationship between Musical Pitch and Color.

So, we had a decision to make: Control sound with color or color with sound???

We decided that controlling sound with color would give us the opportunity to make something physical without the output being a screen. So, we came up with making a nostalgic record player that plays color:

We thought about what the relationship should be between the colors and sounds, and have started to do some research on the topic — it seems people have been looking at the relationship for hundreds of years!

The final product will look like a small record player and have a sensor where the needle would be to sense the color of the disk passing beneath it. Can’t wait to test it out!