All the materials around us vibrate at specific frequencies, external influence can be introduced to create resonance in them, a playground swing works in this way, as does the mainspring in a mechanical watch and the optical cavity in a laser. Resonance occurs when one system acts on another, causing an increase in the amplitude of oscillation. Resonance occurs in and along specific frequencies. The classic example is the bridge swaying to the point of destruction as the susceptibility of the bridge to respond at an increased amplitude when the frequency of oscillation caused by footfall or heavy traffic matches its natural frequency of vibration causes it to undergo mechanical failure. Magnetic resonance imaging depends on atomic resonance, television reception on electrical resonance. Taking a neuro-scientific approach Wheatley and Sievers (2016) describe empathy and communication between individuals and throughout society as examples of social resonance – the mechanism by which brain signals resonate through social groups and ultimately society. Coleman at el (2014) trace the history of thought related to social resonance with particular reference to second order cybernetics, Ashby, Varela and Bateson etc. For the brief students were asked to design and make an object or system that demonstrates resonance, focusing on physical and social resonance as naturally occurring phenomena.
Petra Ritzer, Tayyib Cayirli, and Katrin Ho, designed, programmed and made a responsive fabric parachute. Intended to be operated by three people holding on around the edge. The white sheet had rows of LEDs in three positions that illuminated when waved up and down. With three people doing this simultaneously, the participants had to time their up and down actions so as to be in synchrony in order for all three LED strips to come on at the same time. The work acted on several layers at once. The behavioural layer involved a very simple action as an individual, but increased complexity in a group. The technical layer was outwardly straightforward, using motion sensors driving LEDs, but involved a great deal of iteration and testing to get right. The spatial layer required people to arrange themselves relative to the sheet and to each other. These aspects of the physical, personal and social contexts were particularly well integrated. Scaling the work up would make a big difference as resonant properties may only be perceivable with more participants.
Milda Samsonaite, Natalia Dovhalionok, and Ruilin Quan made devised a group game that we all played outside in the sun. We were initially given tabards featuring four different designs that placed us into pre-assigned groups. Linking hands in a circle we had to resist the force of external runners trying to break into our circle. If successful the runners were incorporated into the circle, while the players who broke grip to admit them became runners themselves. The interaction between these two systems quickly developed into a resonant amplification of action and reaction with runners struggling to break hand bonds and enter the circles. In turn, circles improvised ways of resisting outside force by bunching up or by letting runners pass straight through. One proviso was that the force necessary to break the link of two people tightly gripping each other’s hands could be painful to resist and that we did not have much connection to the circles around us.
Evan Reinhold and Alex Taylor built a system comprising suspended microphone into which sounds were played by cellphones connected to a tone-generating website. Users could manipulate the tones along a range of frequencies. When tones matched, a projected visualisation indicated resonant harmony, and a hidden sub woofer kicked in. Integrating such a complex technical and behavioural work required some developed systems thinking, not only to get the whole set up working as planned but also to render it legible to participants. Overall a very impressive effort and some sophisticated design work at play here. Some more attention to the user facing side of the design would have lifted it further. There were mapping problems between the lateral movement of the tonal range matching on the phone, and the circular visualisation. It was also hard to know what to do and when it had been successful despite the many signifiers.
Felix Scholder, Andrew Dhesi, and Yi Ru designed and made two body-worn sculptural pieces out of transparent acrylic. The first was a head mounted proximity guage designed to establish the distance two people are willing to get to each other physically. The second was a glove-style connection device designed to sensitise the wearers to each other’s distance and pressure. These designs were complex and fragile, made of a notoriously difficult material to work with. The quality of design and finish was high, choice of materials well considered. Resonance was used here as a metaphor for closeness between people. It was noted by other members of the group that they could be used practically for people afraid of, or averse to physical contact. One criticism here was that the devices were overly medical looking, and could be construed as controlling or measurement instruments.