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Musical Roundabout

Play makes music, albeit in a roundabout kind of way.
  [vote for,

This is a bit of a tough one to describe, so please bear with me as I stumble through it as best I can.

Given that all Halfbakers are, by their very nature, experts in the niceties of Bluetooth technology, Piezo electricity and genetic engineering, I hope it’s safe to assume that we all know how the humble music box works. Rotating cylinder with raised dots that pluck a series of steel spines as they rotate past them… I’m sure you know the kind of thing I mean. They’re usually clockwork and often accompanied by a tiny plastic ballerina of limited repertoire.

Now; expand and enlarge the rotating cylinder. Imagine it as being a kind of bollard that’s about a foot in diameter and roughly three feet tall. But it still has a “tune” on it, in the form of the raised dots embossed on its surface. As the size of the thing has increased, so has the density of the bumps. This is now a bollard rich in bumps. You also want to stop that bugger moving – so drive it vertically into the ground, preferably embedding it in concrete, just to be on the safe side.

So far all you’ve got is a kind of really dull totem pole, which comes up to about waist height and is covered in lots of raised, Braille-like dots. Now you retreat to your drawing board for a year or two, only to eventually emerge with a highly-detailed and eminently doable blueprint of the following sketchy idea:

Basically, you’re designing a roundabout that fits over the rubbish totem pole and uses it as its axis. It’s almost like a simple collar that slips over it, but with one nightmare-of-engineering twist. The platform of the roundabout is made up of a series of tapered wooden planks that radiate outwards from the centre spindle. When someone (even a little kid) stands on one of these planks, it depresses slightly, and a set of tuned steel tines in the centre spindle moves forward so that it comes into contact with the raised dots on the central cylinder. The tines are thus plucked, and a particular sequence of notes is played. Each plank that makes up the platform of the roundabout activates a different “tine-fork” on a different vertical “track” of the central cylinder – hence the practical engineering headaches that would inevitably result from actually having to make this monstrosity.

Playing the whole central cylinder at once would just create a cacophony of noise, but each individual “track” on this crap totem pole shares the property of stopping where it started, and so being a circular kind of melody. Each plank is painted a different colour, so that (after playing with it for a while) you get to know the kind of sounds your next footfall will make. Strategic jumping off and jumping back on an a different plank (with the timing being crucial) is a must.

I’m imagining some kind of bizarre concert being staged, with some young tot, probably called ”Ludwig”, waving a lolly-pop stick and shouting: “faster, faster… Now you jump off, Ben; leap back onto red… Now! Holly, step on yellow slightly, but then move back to green. Enough! Perfect! Jump off… Now get the big boys on to increase the tempo... Excellent! Timmy, you just concentrate on staying where you are and fighting back the tears as well as those centrifugal forces …”

P.S. I've jiggled around with the name and category of this; just can't seem to find one that seems fitting. I'm open to suggestions, though.

lostdog, Apr 09 2003

Music Box Composer http://www.artofthe...bin/piece.pl?pid=21
Kind of unrelated, but interesting nonetheless. [lostdog, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

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       Yes. Nightmare. I like it though.
bristolz, Apr 09 2003

       I don't understand. This is a lot of confusing description.

Are you saying that each plank is just a different set of notes?
But every plank plays its musical sequence at the same (pre-determined by totem) meter, at the speed of rotation? And all the note sequences have been painstakingly pre-programmed by pianist pedant? This doesn't sound like it would be much fun, nor allow for much creativity.
Toys that work for children are simpler and allow them to discover and create on their own. Let them make the melodies and meters, they have ears as good as you and I.
roby, Apr 10 2003

       Oh, a merry-go-round. I thought this was going to be a traffic circle, and the cars would ping tines sticking up from the road, like some disc music boxes.
FarmerJohn, Apr 10 2003

       [lostdog] Why would it have to be large? The same concept could apply to a hand-held unit. Don’t make the “bollard” stationary; allow it to turn as it does now. With carefully placed tines, you could “program” several songs onto the cylinder and use levers to switch between the songs allowing a completely different melody depending on user input. The engineering is relatively simple and could be built without any real sweat.
ato_de, Apr 10 2003

       Wouldn't it just be a heck of a lot easier to design a xylophone bridge? Or an actual musical roundabout?   

       (The roundabout I used to play on had a loud squeak - does that count?)
DrCurry, Apr 10 2003

       Be even easier to design a kazoo, [DrCurry]. Not nearly as interesting, but easier.
bristolz, Apr 10 2003

       But this thing has to go in a playground, subject to all elements, and the attention of every tyke in town. Much better to do a bridge of tuned wooden slats, that will sound as kids walk/jump/hop/bang each other's heads on them. No moving parts to maintain. The worst that can happen is that a slat might get warped out of tune, and who the heck is going to notice?   

       (Simplicity is everything when designing playground installations.)
DrCurry, Apr 10 2003

       Sorry, roby, but I did say it was kind of hard to explain. Stepping on a plank activates a particular simple melody for as long as the plank is stood on. There is no huge "painstakingly pre-programmed" tune - the only thing the melodies actually share is the same timescale. There's a percussion/dance outfit called Stomp who make music with all sorts of everyday items. Someone will come on with a matchbox and shake it in a regular rythym like the tick of a metronome. Then someone else will come in and bang two sticks together in a slightly more complex pattern which fits around the first. The whole thing builds and builds, until you have ten performers on stage all playing different rhythms with different instruments. They're all doing different things, but, because they're all working to the same beat (the humble matchbox metronome) the whole thing fits together in a rich tapestry of rhythym.   

       The roundabout does much the same thing, but moving from plank to plank effectively switches the performers on and off. plus, you may find that you don't like the melody that plank A plays; but, with a bit of experimentation and a good sense of timing, you may discover that if you jump from plank A after the first few notes onto plank B, then C then quickly skip to D, you get a much nicer tune. The idea is intended to capitalise on the creativity of children, not to stifle it. Let's face it, standard roundabouts are pretty dull - the only thing that lends them a bit of colour is when you manage to get them going so fast that some little kid throws up on it.
lostdog, Apr 10 2003

       Okay, beginning to get it: a musical roundabout with changeable music tracks, with the tines arranged in a certain order to make the tune, instead of fixed tines with the teeth on the spindle determining the tune.   

       I think you will have to demonstrate you can make your reverse music box mechanism can work first, before we can think about putting it into the playground.   

       Btw, I have seen a music box with changeable tracks: it involved paper discs, but the tines were still fixed in place.
DrCurry, Apr 10 2003

       Good point, drcurry - anything intricate isn't going to last long in a playground.   

       So how about this (with thanks to FarmerJohn for mentioning disc-playing music boxes) - the tines are underneath the roundabout, standing up vertically beneath it and only millmetres away from the spinning platform of the merry-go-round. The platform of the roundabout consists of a plethora of spring-loaded buttons, overlaid with a sheet of rubber. When you stand on the roundabout, your feet sink slightly, and you cause a wee bump to project on the underside of the roundabout. It plucks the tine, you hear a noise: you could even have two or three embedded tine-lines: closer you get to the centre of the roundabout, the higher the note you produce. Again, a swift drawing would be worth a thousand words...
lostdog, Apr 10 2003

       Uh...does it *have* to be metal tines and bumps? What law says it can't be electronic? Change the tune set at will.
galukalock, Apr 10 2003

       I still don't understand. How does a melody for each plank differ from a preprogrammed note sequence for each plank?
And how does a shared timescale differ from a common meter?
I still don't see how hopping on and off of planks to change to different pre-set melody fragments is engaging. And I have doubts about whether interest would be sustained long enough to master the learning curve about which melodies come in from which planks at which rotational points on the revolution, and the timing required to shift weight and land on the right plank at the right rotational moment, multiplied by all the possible planks.

Trying to salvage something interesting, it occurs that you could just have each plank's tines represent a specific chord, and the bumps on the "bollard" the fingering pattern.
That way, jumping from plank to plank is more like picking chords on a guitar, or just playing out the chord line on a keyboard. (chords played as a repetitive sequence of harmonic notes, not struck all at once).
Kids can play on this kind of roundabout to figure out the chords to popular songs, emulating music they like, or composing as they go, since they can control the chord changes and sequences (as well as speed).
And if the plank chords were labeled, they might learn a little music theory along the way, too!

You could also have a clearly marked 'hot spot' or two on the rotation where kids knew the entire chord would be strummed/struck.
roby, Apr 10 2003

       roby, you seem to be almost willfully misunderstanding me now. I'm not proposing some kind of new musical instrument, just something that kids could have fun with. I was trying to add something to what kids do anyway - jump on and off of roundabouts. I was just trying to make merry-go-rounds a bit more merry
lostdog, Apr 10 2003

       plank = chord/key and bumps = arpeggio? All planks within an easy hop are chords that relate well?   

       I dunno.
bristolz, Apr 10 2003

       yes, Bristolz - each plank that makes up the roundabout is the equivalent of an ivory key on a piano keyboard - thanks again for going with my original idea.
lostdog, Apr 10 2003

       [lostdog] I think I understand your idea. I don't think you understand me. It's up to you to confirm whether my paraphrasing matches your intention (i.e. melody= preprogrammed note sequence?)
I don't think your version would be very interesting to kids. Different planks play different melody loops. Everything plays at the same "timescale". You can interrupt the canned melody loops to change to different melody fragments by hopping from key to key (plank to plank). You have to figure out what canned melodies are associated with which keys, and where desirable fragments are, so you and your friends can plan out where to hop, then exactly when to hop, so you can 'play' a connected set of multiple melody fragments. But you can only connect certain melody fragments, depending on where they fall on the bollard, and you are constrained, as with chords, by the physical distance between desired planks.
It's musical, I give you that. But it doesn't seem interesting to me now, it wouldn't have interested me as a kid, and it certainly wouldn't interest any of my 3 musical children.

[bris] The simplified version, plank=chord, bumps=arpeggio, offers both musicality and a way for a wide range of ages and skills to intuitively understand what's going on. The melody fragments would seem arbitrary for quite a while to many kids.

And chord progression could be a collaborative affair, as suggested originally, when desired chords are on opposite sides of the round-about.
roby, Apr 10 2003

       Of course, you don't make it easy to understand your idea when you keep changing it.

Now you say //each plank that makes up the roundabout is the equivalent of an ivory key on a piano keyboard//?
Elsewhere you make clear that each plank activates a set of tines that represent a circular melody. Which is it: plank=single piano key or plank=melody?

You say you just want this roundabout play to be fun for kids, by adding in music that plays when they hop on and off. If you only want music, just make it play music, don't bother with all the bolluxed complexity. But if you want there to be a discernible method to the madness, I'm advising you to think more about your audience.
roby, Apr 10 2003

       It's plank = melody. I only made the piano key analogy because I thought it might help people understand the otherwise pretty rubbish explanation of my idea (and also because the idea of a circular revolving piano keyboard kind of appeals to me).   

       Sorry if I was a bit brusque in my earlier annos, roby. No offense intended. I was just realising the shortcomings of my original idea and my poor explanation of it rather than needling you personally. I came up with this idea because roundabouts always seemed quite dull to me as a kid - I was just trying to inject a bit of novelty into an idea that I'd already spun to death many years ago...
lostdog, Apr 10 2003


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