Wearable Sound Shields




Introduction: Wearable Sound Shields

About: The Lesley STEAM Learning Lab is a center designed to research new opportunities for learning through engagement and inquiry-based exploration.

This activity encourages the use of movement and sound to connect to arts/crafts and physics. This project is inspired by artist-dancer-educator Nick Cave's "Soundsuits," a series of sculptures and sound-generating costumes for live performances, photographs, and videos. Cave's "Soundsuits" are crafted from twigs, buttons, ceramic figurines, toys, and other objects that he gathers from antique shops and flea markets.

Students can create their own 'soundsuit' or sound shield out of any clothes/costumes or other materials they may have access to. Ask: Does it crinkle or swoosh or clank?

Cave’s costumes draw from a variety of sources, including both African and Caribbean traditions of masquerade. He created his first Soundsuit as a protective “second skin” in response to racial violence. After watching videos and viewing images of Cave's work, explore how these projects represent concepts such as movement or motion, style, and physics (ex. kinematics).

Smithsonian - Video

ICA Boston - Video

PBS - Video


For the base shield:

  • Thin cardboard, plastic (i.e. for face shields), or stiff fabric
  • Discarded canvas bag straps or elastic (ex. for masks, armbands or headbands)
  • Scissors or cutting tool (also a cutting mat)
  • Tape, velcro, buttons or metal snaps
  • Craft glue or hot glue

For shield decoration:

  • Objects to attach to the base shield: raffia, yarn/string, beads, rocks, rice (things that collide and make noise with movement)
  • Scrap fabric or small cardboard pieces
  • Craft glue or hot glue
  • Paint (optional)

For the DIY Photogate (to measure movement)

  • Tinkercad Circuits and/or
  • Arduino Uno board and software
  • Photoresistor (from Adafruit, SparkFun, Mouser)
  • A second resistor (ex. 5k ohm) to prevent a short-circuit
  • Three wires (ex. 22 AWG wire, strip the ends)
  • Breadboard
  • Laser pointer or flashlight

Extension Activity: Wearable Sound Reactive Garment

Step 1: Wearable Objects As Art

How can objects become wearable art?

"Soundsuits" are made with layers of brightly colored fabrics, beads, and natural materials to express the movement and sound of masquerade. After watching the videos in the previous step, write about, or discuss the similarities and differences between "Soundsuits" and other wearable art such as creative masks.

Describe how wearable art can entertain, tell a story or protect the wearer.

Key terms

  • aesthetics
  • wearable
  • masquerade
  • art

Step 2: Choose a Stimulus

A stimulus or stimuli (plural) refers to something (inspiration, starting point) that gives you an idea, which is the beginning of the making process.

For this project, choose a stimulus for your sound shield as well as how you will wear/move with the shield:

  • Auditory refers to music that dictates mood, style, length, etc.
  • Visual refers to what can be seen such as lines, shapes, rhythms, texture, colors, etc.
  • Tactile refers to the touch or feeling of material that produces a response (e.g. swirling, turning, flowing).
  • Ideational conveys an idea, a story or an emotion.

For example, the coronavirus is an ideational stimulus because it is not something we can hear, see (with human eyes) or touch. A virus can be a starting point for creating a protective (face) shield against highly transmittable diseases.

Other stimuli might include cellular respiration, digestion, the water cycle and so on.

Step 3: Make Your Base Shield

Shields are personal armor devices that can protect the wearer from attacks. Shields vary greatly in size and shape, ranging from large panels or coverings that protect the user's whole body to face shields or masks that offer different types of protection (e.g. flying objects, chemical splashes, infectious materials). For example, face shields or masks protect people from viruses and you can make non-surgical ones.

For this step, you will make the base for your sound shield. Choose any shield style/type you want. The face shield presented here was inspired by Nick Cave's "Soundsuits."

To create the headband for the shield you can use a canvas bag strap, or elastic strap. To make the front of the headband you can add a strip of foam for comfort then cover it with colorful or decorative scrap fabric (this part is recommended but not necessary). Use tape, velcro, buttons or metal snaps to attach the headband.

Use clear plastic such as acetate or Dura-lar or even a 2-liter soda bottle (with labels removed) as the base for your shield. You can find a face shield tutorial HERE or try out a face mask tutorial HERE.

What are other examples of shields?

Step 4: Decorate Your Shield

Nick Cave uses everyday objects to construct an atmosphere of familiarity with the rearrangement of different objects, translating them into understandable representations of culture. After assembling the base for your shield using acetate/plastic (and string or elastic) you can decorate it using materials from around your home, including sisal (raffia), dyed human hair, beads, plastic buttons, wire, feathers, and sequins.

Materials for the face shield includes:

  • Multi-colored raffia (tissue paper strips)
  • Tissue paper from shoe boxes
  • Pasta (as beads)
  • Multi-colored plastic beads (sourced from old jewelry)
  • Old or broken beaded necklaces

Step 5: Finish Assembling Your Shield

Nick Cave combs flea markets for buttons, stuffed animals and other flotsam to build and assemble his elaborate suits. He creates an under structure to support the volume of material (ex. face shield).

Once you have collected your materials you can assemble your protective shield. Use scrap paper or fabric as a base or support to glue and hang all of your elements (e.g. strings, strips, beaded chains, tissue paper flowers). In the example above, lighter materials such as paper and small beads were used over the acetate base.

When the shield is fully dry put it on; test it out.

Practice moving with your shield. Dance to music if you want to.

Step 6: Explore Science Concepts

"Soundsuits" come to life through the medium of dance – offering a new connection with the user, their body and surroundings. How can your wearable sound shield be used to explore science such as physics? There are two related areas you can explore with your sound shield: kinesthetics and kinematics.

Kinesthetics refers to movement (e.g., falling, walking, turning) and dictates a style, mood, dynamic range, pattern or form, etc.

Kinematics refers to the motion of points, bodies, and systems of bodies without considering the forces that cause them to move. For example, check out this kinematics dress.

To measure your shield's performance you can make and use a photogate, or a beam of light that is interrupted by movement. The photogate indicates the presence of an object or measure the time an object is at a certain position. The rate of interruption can be used for biomechanics measurement.

See a live demo here:

Step 7: Assemble the DIY Photogate Circuit

You can make a DIY photogate for measuring rates of movement (of your sound shield).

For this step you will use an Arduino Uno board and components such as a photoresistor that can be used to indicate the presence or absence of light and change the way a circuit behaves:

Assemble the components (Arduino board and USB cable, three wires with ends stripped, photoresistor, 5k ohms resistor). Use the above images as a guide.

Use Tinkercad Circuits to design your Photogate circuit:

Drag: Arduino Uno and breadboard, a photoresistor and resistor (change it to value 5k ohms).

After you have correctly wired the components you need to write and upload the Arduino code in the next step.

Step 8: Program the Arduino Board

In Tinkercad Circuits click the "

Type in the code (see image/attached file).

Click the "Download Code" button (downward pointing arrow to the right of Text).

Download the Arduino software, if you haven't already. Open your code file.

Upload the code (you can find it in step 4 HERE).

For more information on how to program and use the Arduino check out the tutorial HERE.

Step 9: Measure Your Movement

Arduino comes with a cool tool called the Serial Plotter. It can give you visualizations of variables in real-time. This is super useful for visualizing data and visualizing variables as waveforms. The Plotter takes incoming serial data values over the USB connection and is able to graph the data along the X/Y axis. The vertical Y-axis auto adjusts itself as the value of the output increases or decreases, and the plotter is updated along the X-axis every time the Serial.println() line in the code is updated with a new value.

After uploading the code to the board, click Tools > Serial Plotter. Point a laser or flashlight directly on the photoresistor. Test the photogate by moving your hand or another object in between the photoresistor and light source, then watch the plotter.

To perform with your sound shield, attach the Arduino board, breadboard, etc. to a flat surface (ex. cardboard, shoe box) and set up your photogate (light beam). Put on your shield and move through the photogate. When you pass through, it will measure how long the beam is blocked.

You should see something like this when you move:

This work is made possible by support from STAR, a Biogen Foundation Initiative. The team at Lesley supporting this initiative includes faculty and staff in the Lesley STEAM Learning Lab, Science in Education, the Center for Mathematics Achievement, and other related Lesley University departments and programs.

Arduino Contest 2020

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Arduino Contest 2020

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