learning the ropes

things I made at ITP and after: sketches, prototypes, and other documentation

Friday, April 20, 2007


Images from the latest building session.

I made a solid wooden frame to hold one of the aluminum pulleys. There’s a problem, though. The shaft exhibits a fair degree of wobble when the gyroscope is spun. During critique on Thursday, it was suggested that there should be a piece of metal in the hole so the bottom of the shaft will turn more smoothly. It would be even better to use bearings… which I’ve now tried.

I salvaged bearings from the read/write heads of two hard disk drives. Mounting the bearings was tricky, though, because they must be precisely aligned. This is even more difficult for me as my bearings aren’t the same size. You can see this in my pictures of the PVC pipe gyroscope.

Gyroscopes 001 Gyroscopes 003 Gyroscopes 005 Gyroscopes 006 Gyroscopes 007 Gyroscopes 002 Gyroscopes 009 Gyroscopes 011 Gyroscopes 013

I think I would like to make a gyroscope frame out of metal pipe next.

posted by Michael at 2:32 am  

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

[M/Bre]aking Things

My friend Mark P. Sullivan always said he wanted to make windchimes with all of the dead hard disk drives he had collected over the years. This came back to me as we struggled to find ways to make music with tops, so I started disassembling all of the broken drives I could find to listen to the sound of the platters

Tops 001   Tops 002   Tops 003  Tops 005

Case Mods
We modified our original protoype using one of the disk platters. Several small screws were placed within a cavity in the top beneath the platter in the hopes of making a sweet ringing sound. This was not successful. The centripetal / centrifugal (I always confuse them) force kept the screws jammed against the walls of the top as it spun so it didn’t make any sound.

This is the best spinning top we have so far. Its proportions are comparable top those given in an article we found about machining tops from aluminum.

Tops 016

Whistling… Not Quite
I tried to drill holes in the platters, thinking it might be possible to get a whistling sound as the top spun. The only sound I produced was a pop as the platter shattered. It appears that the disk platters are not metals as I thought. They shatter like glass.

Tops 010

I constructed another test top out of a metal cone from a ceiling-mounted air vent we found on the junk shelf. I did my best to match the “ideal” top proportions.

Tops 012   Tops 013

This one doesn’t spin very well — and is quite dangerous when launched from the power drill.

posted by Michael at 3:24 am  

Monday, April 9, 2007

Top-Related Links / Reference

Top Design Principles
Machining Tops from Aluminum Stock
Beautifully Handcrafted Tops
Paper Clip Top

Where did the Spinning Top Come From
Every possible way to slice up the properties and names of tops….


The sounds Ian Russell gets out of his tops are quite diverse considering he is only using a ribbed wooden fruit bowl as a resonator.

shaft – stem, peg
center of mass

posted by Michael at 3:08 am  

Monday, April 2, 2007

Final Project Proposal – A Series of Tops

Greg Stringer and I will create a series of musical tops which act as an improvised toy orchestra. Each top in the series creates a distinct and pleasing musical sound. As multiple tops spin simultaneously, their musical sounds will combine into a larger homogeneous sound. The sound of several tops spinning together will be unique and fleeting; it will be difficult to spin the same tops in exactly the same order at identical velocities.

I’m interested in systems which enable musical improvisation among people who have the desire to create music but lack the technical competence on a musical instrument. The musical tops present a low barrier to music creation; they are found in many cultures and require little skill to operate.

Spinning tops transform from one shape into another. No matter the starting shape of a top, once it rotates it forms the shape of a circle. In recycling, a similar process occurs. The designed shape of an object, after its operating lifecycle is complete, is transformed back into raw material and then back into a new designed object. The rotation of our tops will refer to this process.

The tops will be constructed from salvaged parts to highlight the theme of reuse and the cycle of products from raw material to designed object and back to raw material.

Several types of tops will be created to provide desired musical properties: percussive and melodic sounds.

posted by Michael at 9:08 pm  

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Improvised Musical Instrument Links

I’m looking for inspiration for the types of sounds we can make with musical tops.

- Outdoor musical instruments

- Experimental Musical Instruments

posted by Michael at 2:06 pm  

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