past.fm
Collaboration with Zubin Pastakia and Hideaki Matsui


past.fm is a tool that provides users with a tangible interface to browse through their listening history and other time-based music content.

Overview
past.fm is a tangible interface, rooted in how people associate particular songs with specific time-periods of their lives. Using a token, users can access their listening history and scrub through a timeline of their favourite music.

The token accesses this data through the user's last.fm account which "scrobbles" music services/applications such as Spotify/iTunes, tracking their listening history. Tokens can also connect to curated genre histories or artist discographies, allowing users to learn about the evolution of music over time.

When the token is placed in the dock, the songs are mapped onto the timeline based on their time-stamps. If the token is connected to a user's history, the range would be the time they have been using that service divided by month. At each point, it plays the user’s most-played song that month. Whereas, if the token is referring to a genre (e.g. jazz) the range would consist of several decades. The slider is then used to navigate through a curated list of jazz hits by year.

The tangibility of the interface encourages both focus and playfulness when reflecting on one's listening history. The use of tokens allows for sharing and exchanging between friends.

Design Approach
past.fm was built during the Tangible User Interfaces class in CIID.


The project started with user-centered research on home audio practices. Some of our insights were that people fondly associate music with particular periods of their lives, and that the perceived materiality of media formats affects their relationship to it. The need for compatibility of new audio devices with existing services was often pointed to as well.

We were inspired by the feelings triggered by flipping through tangible media such as records and cassettes. Such feelings seem to be absent when it comes to browsing digital music via screens, our main interface to music today.

We decided to build an audio device that focuses on the reflection and re-discovery of music, both from one’s own listening history and that of others’. The primary interaction using a slider to browse through music is a novel one and at a time when tangible interactions with media are being ignored, we provide an interface that encourages physical engagement with music.

We also found opportunities to use the same tool to browse through other kinds of time-based music histories such as genres and artist discographies.

Impact
The marriage of digital music and social media has changed the way people relate to music. We are getting exposed to new tracks every single day; we listen to what our friends post, we check related music, and we share the tracks we like. Listening to music is coupled with sharing to become a form of performative self-expression.

Unfortunately, this fast pace of engaging with immaterial media means that we cannot easily keep track or refer back to music we love in a simple, systematic way. Using existing services such as last.fm to gather useful time-based data, past.fm fills a gap in the market for tangible, networked audio devices.

We believe that children growing up with digital media are missing out on the tangible experience of music listening and the associations it evokes. By providing people with a tangible tool to reflect on their listening histories, past.fm encourages people to engage with music in a way that brings back physicality to the table, but also fits into the current digital home audio ecosystem.

Craft
In building past.fm, we used a mixture of digital technologies and crafting techniques. Our aim was to create the most intuitive interaction possible for navigating through a person's music history. After many experiments with form, we decided to use a linear timeline. It was important that the slider be of appropriate length; however, existing slide potentiometers in the market were not long enough. To solve this problem, we hacked into a used inkjet printer and appropriated the slider mechanism and the optical encoder. Great care was taken into crafting the perfect sliding feel and ergonomics. The "revolved" shape of the slider knob was chosen from multiple options that were handmade using a lathe machine.

For the materials, we chose beech wood for the main touch points which will age with use; like patina on furniture. The tokens contain small RFID tags, they are compact for portability and storage purposes. The bottom parts of the body were 3D-modeled using Rhinoceros to simulate the internal layout of electronics.

past.fm is a working prototype using a combination of two connected Arduino boards, RFID reader, optical encoder, LCD, an mp3 shield, and an amplifier.



Technologies meet crafts to create a new-retro appearance that matches our original concept.

/ (1 of 1)