Project: Elementarea

This project requires a PicboBoard and the Scratch PicoBoard Extension. However, you could do something similar with Makey Makey Classic (v.i., s.v. “How It Works”).

What It Does

Elementarea is a responsive environment for invoking the four classical elements: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. As you step on each panel representing one of the elements, a color and sound corresponding to that element are manifested in the space.

How It Works

Four force-sensitive resistors are set beneath four 12 in.2 wood panels and connected to the four resistance sensors of a PicoBoard via copper tape. When nothing is set upon a panel, its corresponding resistance sensor in Scratch measures 100, but when you step on a panel the resistance drops. Exactly how much it decreases depends on how much you weigh, how your panels are attached to the floor (I used Scotch/3M reusable mounting squares), and how hard your floor is, but responding to anything less than 90 should cover most variables. When the resistance drops, Scratch responds with an appropriate color and sound.

Elementarea Panels
The four panels, with wireless speaker and incense censer in the center
Elementarea Sensors
The force-sensitive resistors beneath the panels. I first laid down black art tape to mark the sensors’ positions, then two strips of copper tape for each sensor, with more black tape to keep the sensors in place and to fasten their leads to the copper tape.
Elementarea PicoBoard
The other ends of the copper tape, attached to the PicoBoard’s crocodile clips with more art tape to keep the clips from moving and errantly touching each other or the wrong strip

Elementarea has only one sprite, Elmntarea, with nine scripts. The main script loops through checking each of the resistance A–D values and when it finds one that has dropped below 90, it broadcasts a corresponding message. Here is the check for the Earth panel connected to the resistance-A sensor on the PicoBoard:

Elementarea Earth Loop

When the message invokeEarth is broadcast, two additional scripts are executed:

Elementarea Earth Scripts

The costume earth is just a solid green color that fills the entire screen; the other costumes are similar (yellow for Air, red for Fire, and blue for Water). The ghost effect is used to fade the color in and out—a nicer transition than having the solid color change abruptly. The reason for broadcasting the message playSoundEarth is to play the note at the same time as the ghost transition. If we had replaced the broadcast(playSoundEarth) block with the play note (61) for (4) beats block, the repeat (100) loop that contains the ghost transition would not execute until after the note had finished playing.

The notes that play are E# (i.e., F) for Air, E for Fire, G for Water, and C# for Earth. Such are the notes for the fixed signs of the zodiac corresponding to the elements (per Paul Foster Case): Aquarius=Air, Leo=Fire, Scorpio=Water, and Taurus=Earth. For more about astrological and musical correspondences, I refer you to Astromusik by Ezra Sandzer-Bell.

I used a video projector to display the colors, and a wireless speaker placed in the center of the four panels to play the sounds.1 In the video shown above, I step on each panel briefly to show the response, but typically you would remain on the panel long enough to sufficiently invoke the element it represents, and you might strike an appropriate pose or perform an appropriate gesture such as drawing an invoking pentagram.

Elementarea Postures
Elemental body postures from Creating Circles and Ceremonies by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart (New Page, 2006) [3PC]
If you do not have a PicoBoard but you do have Makey Makey Classic, you can accomplish something similar to what I have demonstrated above, by using just a pair of copper tape strips for each element, and stepping on them with bare feet (or shoes having electrically conductive soles). I have made a separate project for this, Elementarea2 (download or preview online), which assumes the following connections:

  • Earth: one copper tape strip connected to the ‘LEFT ARROW’ input, and the other connected to ‘EARTH’ (i.e., the common ground strip on the Makey Makey board)
  • Water: one strip connected to the ‘DOWN ARROW’ input; the other to ‘EARTH’
  • Air: one connected to ‘UP ARROW’; the other to ‘EARTH’
  • Fire: one to ‘RIGHT ARROW’, one to ‘EARTH’

Make It Better

  1. In hindsight, keeping the center clear so I could rest there between stepping on panels would have been a more graceful dance, but I had originally designed this configuration to have the light projected down on an artifact in the center as I circumambulated the space and approached each panel from the outside.