Summary: Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research doesn’t often address sex and sensuality, two dimensions of life that are worth discussing and exploring. In this project, we wanted to provide a way of engaging with sensuality through interaction. We designed an art installation centered around a peculiar interactive object: a bag of beans that triggers sounds through movement.

Methods: physical prototyping.

My roleI was involved in the ideation of the design and installation. I also helped with building the interactive bag of beans (I learned how to solder!) I programmed the script that triggers the sounds using Processing.

When & whereUniversité Paris-Saclay, 2015, with Diana Lipcanu & Nam Giang

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In the installation, participants are blindfolded and wear a pair of isolating headphones. Then, they put their hand in the bag of beans and move it around to explore the sounds. The bag is made of soft, red velvet. A series of piezo sensors 1Their full name is piezoelectric sensors. They are very small and almost flat. From Wikipiedia: “A piezoelectric sensor is a device that uses the piezoelectric effect, to measure changes in pressure, acceleration, temperature, strain, or force by converting them to an electrical charge. The prefix piezo- is Greek for ‘press’ or ‘squeeze’.”  are attached to the bag of beans and connected to an Arduino board. Both the Arduino and the sensors are hidden under the velvet to create a sense of mystery around the interaction. The piezos will sense the movements of the hand and trigger different sounds based on the position and intensity of each movement.

Diagram of the Sonic Beans (made by Diana Lipcanu, who had the original idea of the project.)

When creating the soundscape, we curated a mix of voice-clips to evoke feelings of sensuality and intimacy. The audio segments come from intimate scenes in movies (“Adore,” “Antichrist,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Nymphomaniac”) and TV shows (“Looking,” “The L Word”). We also used breathing, moaning, and heartbeat sounds.

We performed a demonstration of the installation during a student exhibition at Université Paris-Saclay in 2016. During the installation, we conducted an evaluation with 26 participants, asking them about their experience while using the Sonic Beans. People had mixed feelings: some found it awkward because of the presence of other people. Others were surprised by the sounds and enjoyed the multi-sensorial interaction. Several participants wanted more control over the sounds and some would have liked a clear ending with a climax.