Absolutely on Music

by Lilian Leung

Project Description

Absolutely on Music is an interactive prototype of a potential living space. The space is composed of a sensor activated light that turns on when a participant sits on the chair and a copy of Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa’s book Absolutely on Music, which plays the music the author and conductor talk about in each chapter of the book.

This experiment expands upon my personal exploration in tangible interfaces, as well as research further into slow-tech and the use of Zero UI (invisible user interfaces). This exploration is meant to re-evaluate our relationship with technology as being able to augment everyday inanimate objects rather that creating alternative screen-based experiences centered around a hand-held device. The audio played beneath the chair is played in context to each chapter of the book, divided between six individual conversations centered around a different topic and part of Ozawa’s career. There are five tracks played due to the sixth chapter being without a musical piece discussed in detail. The auditory feedback playing the music featured in the book creates a multi-sensory experience, and broadens the audience of the book rather than being solely to music experts that don’t require musical reference, to anyone looking to enjoy a light read.

Project Process

November 21 – 22 (Proposal Day)

Early research pointed to using an Arduino UNO instead of an Arduino Nano so I’d be able to use an MP3 shield to play my audio rather than depending on using Processing. For early exploration, I looked into using a combination of flex sensors and pressure sensors on the binding of the book and on the front and back cover to detect when the book was being picked up. This layout was based on inspiration I found by Yining Shi (2015), where they mapped the Jurassic Park novel with the movie.

After having my proposal meeting, I switched to using copper tape instead of flex sensors as switches to make the thing more reliable data. From there I decided on the modes of the experiment and how the book and chair should behave when not being used.


Idle Mode Active
Lamp – Dim Light Lamp – Full Brightness
Book – Orchestra Tuning Book – Play Audio


Having purchased the MP3 Shield, I starting formatting the MicroSD card with the appropriate tracks related to each chapter using ‘track00X’ to be appropriately read by the Arduino and shield. From the shield diagrams, I would only be able to use Analog Pins 0-5 and Digital Pins 0-1, 3-5, and D10. From this, I laid out each switch for each chapter from D0-1,3-5 and kept D10 to be used for the lamp and sensor input and output.


November 23
To create a more natural reading space, I went to purchase a chair and cushion from IKEA. I tried to pick a more laid back chair so that participants would be interested in sitting down rather than repurposing a studio chair. The supporting beam in the back of the chair allowed for a space to safely and discreetly place all my wiring that wouldn’t be seen. 

For the lamp design, initially I had intended to create free standing lamp, but after some thinking, I decided to have it incorporated inside the side table so there would be less clutter in the space. For the design of the side table, I wanted it to be minimal and be able to discreetly hide the light and all the wiring involved.


November 25

To conserve time and memory on the Arduino, all the audio clips for each chapter were compressed to 7 minutes maximum rather than playing the full one hour to two hour performances. I tested out the MP3 shield using external speakers instead of just headphones to check the sound quality.

November 26-27

Early iterations of the code for the Arduino and MP3 shield weren’t working as tracks refused to play with the if/else statements. Some revisions I made with the help of Nick Puckett was adding a statement to always have the track play the default tuning audio (track 7) and to simply change the track number on each switch rather than playing and stopping each track as it played.

In the early production stage of the side table, I cut a set of 7.5” by 10” sheets of ¼ inch plywood with a 4.5” diameter circle in the center and one with a 5” diameter circle to be able to house the LED stripe for the light. A hole was drilled on the bottom to allow for the wiring to be hidden away. To diffuse the light from the LED, a frosted acrylic sheet was cut to be used to securely hold in the lighting. I chose to have the LED light on the bottom side of the table so that the light would be more discreet and so readers wouldn’t have a bright light shining directly up at their faces while reading. 



Once the wiring was complete, I soldered the wiring onto a protoboard to securely hold everything. I used screw terminals for the wiring for the book switches, the chair pressure sensor and the side table light to be able to transport my work easily between locations and to easily troubleshoot wiring problems. From there I mounted a small board I made to the back supporting beam of the chair so the protoboard and Arduino could safely be placed inside.

November 28 – 29

To finish the side table, I put 4 sheets of ½ inch plywood and glued them together to make the legs stronger. For the wiring, I routered one side of the ½ in plywood from the inside so that the wiring could be hidden entirely inside the legs of the table and discreetly come out the leg.


With the side table complete, I brought all the items together to see how the space would look all together.


December 1

To solve the last few problems I was having with the Arduino and getting the chapter working, I updated the code from a if/else statement to an if statement followed by an “else if” for the remaining chapters. Another issue I was having was the difficulting uploading my code as I’d frequently get ths following error in the serial monitor:


I managed to solve an error I was getting for uploading onto the Arduino Uno. From an online forum, a user mentioned it may be due to a pin being wired into pin 0 (RX) which would cause this error, unplugging this pin during upload managed to solve the issue. Another issue I was having was the consistency of the switches turning on and off as participants may hold the book from different angles and might now apply enough pressure for the switches to properly high and low.  Originally the switches were all formatted with all states stated with only the one switch indicated as HIGH. Though due to the inconsistency in pressure, I removed certain states that were inconsistent.

Ch. 1 Switch Ch. 2 Switch Ch. 3 Switch Ch. 4 Switch Ch. 5 Switch

From there the final test was adding in the speakers again with the finished chair and table to make speakers would comfortably fit underneath the chair.


Project Context

Absolutely on Music explores the use of audio and tactile sensors to create a more immersive experience for inanimate objects in the home, rather than creating an augmented screen-based experience. This experiment is based on the philosophy of slow-tech, countering our need to develop tools that work more efficiently to allow use to do more, faster (Slow Living LDN, 2018). The set-up space is meant to re-evaluate our experience technology and potential of creating a multi-sensory and accessible home. 

This work is an example of Zero UI, which involves interacting with a device or application without the use of a touchscreen or visual graphic interface. Zero UI technology allows individuals to communicate with devices through natural means of communication such as voice, movements and glances (Inkbotdesign, 2019). Most Zero UI-based devices are related to the internet of things and are interconnected with a larger network. For this experiment, I wanted to explore creating a multi-sensory experience not requiring any networked communication or quantified data gathered and allow participants a more immersed and mindful experience with an inanimate object.

I choose Absolutely on Music by Murakami and Ozawa purposely for the references to auditory content that readers may be unfamiliar with, and how searching for said music may interrupt the reading experience instead of making it a seamless experience. This makes the content more accessible to a broader spectrum of readers. 

A book was chosen as the object of choice because of the constant discussion between reading from a digital screen versus a physical copy on paper. A physical book is a dumb object and allows a slow more leisurely experience rid of distractions compared to reading on a digital device. 

The book used is Absolutely on Music, a series of six conversations between the Japanese author Haruki Murakami and Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa. Classical music, like fine art is generally difficult to access and deeply personal. Interest declines as individuals may perceive themselves distrust their own reactions as classical music may feel perceived to more sophisticated folk as mentioned in a New York Times Op-Ed (Hoffman, 2018). By playing the actual audio through speakers below the chair and having the music audible from headphones, any one can follow along the book without any prior musical knowledge of the works described.

Within the book, the author and conductor discuss both of their careers, from key performances in Ozawa’s career and Murakami’s passion for music, as musical pieces are always deeply integral in all his works from the Wind-up Bird Chronicles and opening with Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie or a Hayd concerto within the page of Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore (2002)

To elevate the sensory experience of the book, a set of switches were placed within the first five chapters (conversations) of the book. The audio described in each chapter is played with the use of a switch situated within each chapter of the book to provide context to the works Murakami and Ozawa are discussing.

Table of Contents of Absolutely on Music

1st Conversation – Mostly on the Beethoven 3rd piano concerto
Interlude 1 – On Manic Record Collectors

2nd – Brahms at Carnegie Hall
Interlude 2 – The relationship of writing music

3rd Conversation – What happened in the 1960s
Interlude 3 – Eugene Ormandy’s Baton

4th Conversation – On the music of Gustav Mahler
Interlude 4 – from the Chicago Blues to Shin’inchi mori

5th Conversation – the Joys of Opera
6th Conversation – “There’s no single way to teach, you make it up as you go along”

Based on the contents of the book, I pulled the main musical piece the two individuals spoke about into a tracklist that I would use for the interactive book. 

Timing (Chapter) Tracklist
Idle Mode Orchestral Tuning Audio
Chapter 1 Glenn Gould’s 1962 Brahm’s Piano Concerto in C Minor
Chapter 2 Seiji Ozawa’s Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
Chapter 3 Seiji Ozawa’s Rite of Spring (by Igor Stravinsky)
Chapter 4 Seiji Ozawa’s The Titan / Resurrection (by Gustav Mahler)
Chapter 5 Dieskau; Scotto;  Bergonzi’s Rigoletto
Chapter 6 (No Audio, No Single Musical Piece Focused)





Project Video

Github Code

You can view the github repository here

Circuit Diagram


*Within the actual wiring, the button switches are two piece of copper foil placed on opposite pages acting as the switches

*The schematic displayed is using a Sparkfun VS1053 though I used a geeetech VS1053, the available pins laid out are slightly different where as the Sparkfun version used in the diagram show D3 and D4 being used, they’re available on the geeetech MP3 shield.

Exhibition Reflection

For the Digital Futures Open Show, my piece was exhibited in the entrance of the Experience Media Lab. I set up the space with some plants and an additional light as props to make the area more comfortable. The space was quieter than the Graduate Gallery which worked out for the piece and allowed participants to sit down and experience the piece one at a time without having too much noise in the background. For the seat sensor, I kept the table light on so that participants could see the reading space clearly rather than being seat pressure activated.


My reflection on the experience would be from the participant aspect, where I noticed people were initially hesitant sitting down on the chair, not sure whether they were supposed to touch it, or that the space I created didn’t look like an art piece. I felt that the piece was successfully as it felt like a natural reading space, and don’t mind the confusion as the chair and book were designed in the context of being in a home rather than as an exhibition piece. 

There was some static from the speaker, but I also noticed that participants may have expected a much faster response from the book when the music changed, as many orchestral pieces had a natural slow build up, some participants flipped through the pages to experience the music change faster or couldn’t hear the musical piece.

While the book audio was designed to be for a single reader than can listen while reading rather than flipping through the pages, in hindsight, I’d probably revise the audio to begin likely in the middle of each musical piece when in an exhibition display so that participants could understand the concept faster.

Some helpful feedback I got on how to possibly improve the piece and learn more about invisible interfaces was reading Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things by David L. Rose. Other feedback was also possibly exploring using a Maxuino which has more audio capabilities and support with Ableton live in case I wanted more control with my audio files and audio quality compared to using the MP3 shield.



Arduino Library vs1053 for SdFat. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2019, from https://mpflaga.github.io/Arduino_Library-vs1053_for_SdFat/.

Hoffman, M. (2018, April 19). A Note to the Classically Insecure. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/opinion/classical-music-insecurity.html?rref=collection/sectioncollection/opinion&action=click&contentCollection=opinion®ion&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=4&pgtype=sectionfront.

Inkbotdesign. (2019, August 13). Zero UI: The End Of Screen-based Interfaces And What It Means For Businesses. Retrieved from https://inkbotdesign.com/zero-ui/.

Kwon, R. O. (2016, November 24). Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami review – in conversation with Seiji Ozawa. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/24/absolutely-on-music-haruki-murakami-review-seiji-ozawa. 

LDN, S. L. (2019, May 25). Embracing Digital Detox and Slow Tech. Retrieved from https://www.slowlivingldn.com/lifestyle/slow-tech-digital-detox/. 

Murakami, H., & Ozawa, S. (2017). Absolutely on music conversations with Seiji Ozawa. London: Vintage. 

Shi, Y. (2015, February 7). Book Remote. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1WrbADjfmM&feature=emb_title. 

Tench, B. (2019, February 11). Some Reflections on Slow Technology. Retrieved November 29, 2019, from https://www.becktench.com/blog/2019/2/11/some-reflections-on-slow-technology.

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