Students in ENAS 118 meet with Susan E. Thompson on 26 March 2015 to learn about the acoustics
of instruments in the museum’s gallery of keyboard instruments.
This spring, Collection staff members Susan E. Thompson, Curator, and Kelly Hill, Museum Intern, had the privilege of working with students and faculty of the Engineering School in their course ENAS 118: Introduction to Engineering, Innovation, and Design. During this six-week collaboration, students were charged with the task of bringing hidden aspects of the museum to the attention of daily visitors. Their projects were carried out in the industrial labs of the department’s newly built Center for Engineering, Innovation and Design (CEID).
Pipers and Narwhals
Led by professors Eric Dufresne and Lawrence Wilen along with graduate assistant Matthew Reagor, the students were divided into two groups of five.
Music Team A (“The Little Pipers”) was instructed to devise a project or model that would address the unusually fine acoustics of our second-floor keyboard gallery and concert hall; whereas Music Team B (“The Narwhals”) was instructed to develop a way of acquainting visitors with instruments hidden away in storage. Each group eagerly embraced the challenge of producing an interactive installation aimed at educating our public, enhancing their visits, and encouraging their return in future.
The Narwhals wasted no time in imagining a game that could be played by both children and adults to discover “behind-the-scenes” instruments. They created “The Music Explorer,” which challenges the participant to select a particular instrument based on the sound it makes. If the player guesses correctly, he is taken to an informational screen where he can learn more about the instrument through gifs, graphics, and brief textual descriptions. The team had the opportunity to explore many modern technologies, including 3D scanners, 3D printers, and the CEID’s laser cutter. Together, they programmed the game completely from scratch and created a keyboard-like console to house the unit’s electrical workings and screen.
The Little Pipers: Ben Rodriquez-Vars, Amelia Holcomb, Doo Lee,
Ariège Besson, and Rodrigo Huyke
Meanwhile, The Little Pipers brainstormed to find a way to feature the invisible instrument of the Collection: the acoustically live gallery upstairs. Musicians are sensitive to the fact that the space you perform in is just as important as the instrument you play on. Our gallery, which doubles as a concert hall, is acoustically well-suited to enhancing the sounds of early musical instruments. The Little Pipers worked to explain this hidden phenomenon by creating a hands-on installation. Two wooden pipes were built to demonstrate maximum resonance frequencies–G and D–when a Bach minuet was played. An 11-foot PVC pipe coiled into a transportable case enables visitors to gain a better understanding of the physics of sound and, in turn, a better appreciation for the construction of our gallery and the music it helps create.
Although the goal of the collaboration was to reveal hidden aspects of the museum and its holdings, the creative process involved in realizing the students’ projects served to strengthen the bond between two distinctly different departments at Yale. Because the Collection is housed at 15 Hillhouse Avenue, right next to Mason Laboratory and across the street from Dunham Laboratory (which connects to Becton and the CEID), such interdisciplinary explorations are easily possible, enabling all concerned to investigate dimensions of the arts and sciences that are sometimes overlooked–that is, the creative and artistic sides of the sciences as well as the structural and analytical sides of the arts. This need for collaboration was eloquently expressed by student Cameron Yick, ’17:
“At the risk of over-generalizing, humanities disciplines identify problems in context and the engineering disciplines develop tools for solving problems. However, it’s very possible to get totally stuck in your specialty and forget that you need to work with people from the other space for your work to be meaningful. These collaborations may not necessarily happen in the professional world, so it’s especially important that such teamwork happens in school. Getting people to appreciate the value of interdisciplinary projects early may plant a seed that encourages people to be more curious and open to finding solutions/problems from unexpected sources as they go about daily life.”
We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the School of Engineering and Applied Science in future and hope our public will enjoy interacting with these unusual additions to our galleries for the duration of the period that they are on display.