Umbrella + iPod = Rain Pod
These images show: (1) The graphic on the top of the umbrella, (2) The umbrella handle, (3) One of the two stereo speakers that are mounted on opposite ribs and on the underside of the umbrella--the speaker wires run inside the ribs and then down the umbrella shaft to the mini amp in the handle, and (4) The inside of the handle containing the iPod, mini amp, and AC charger. Of course, you only need to use the charger when the iPod battery runs low. Below is a detailed explanation of the sonified weather songs that come on the iPod. (See also the Weather Sonified link on the home page.) Making this thing took much longer than I care to admit. But the next one, if there is a next one, will go much faster. Contact me if you're interested. Maybe the next one could be a Sun Pod, as in Parasol + iPod = Sun Pod. Speaking of iPods, check out these iPod Clickwheel Earrings.

The description below was posted next to the Rain Pod at
the Design Commission Gallery in Seattle, Dec., 2007

The Rain Pod, Tom Dukich, 2007

Most umbrellas aren’t very complicated. But this one is. By sliding two switches on the handle, it plays “music” directly related to 1,800 days of Seattle weather, that’s about 5 years. Here’s how it was done.

Different weather parameters were mapped or associated with different notes on musical instruments. For example, daily high temperature was mapped to 49 piano keys ranging from C1 to C5. So the high temp of 103°is heard as the C5 note on the piano and the low temp of minus 4° is heard as the C1 note. Temperatures in between are played by notes between C1 and C5, the higher the temperature the higher the note. This is represented graphically on the surface of the umbrella in what looks a little like an old fashioned piano roll but is actually a plot of the notes in MIDI. Notes are played very rapidly, about 5 per second, so you hear a weeks worth of weather in a little over a second’s time.

Other weather parameters are also mapped to notes: daily barometric pressure, daily minutes of sunshine, and total daily precipitation. Again, a higher pitch means more of that particular parameter. You can also hear these but they are not represented graphically on the umbrella.

There are three different Seattle weather “tunes” built into the umbrella and also included on the accompanying CD. As described above, there’s the “Seattle Temperature Solo” played by the piano.

Then on “Sunshine and Rain”, you can hear the interplay between daily inches of precipitation (the drum) and daily minutes of sunshine (a vibraphone) over the 1800 days.

“Seattle Spokane Rain Duet” compares the total daily inches of precipitation in the two cities on the very same day over 1800 days, separated in stereo. Spokane rain is a trumpet and Seattle rain is the vibraphone. (Addendum: I live in Spokane where we get about half as much precipitation as Seattle. See the similar Spokane vs Seattle: Rain link on this site.)

Finally, on “Occasional Sun Breaks” I take a few liberties by omitting certain parameters and alternating with combinations of pressure (standup bass), rain (electric piano) and sunshine (vibraphone). This piece uses data over 1800 days of weather to mimic a single Seattle day of “occasional sun breaks”. It’s only on the CD.

It’s worth reiterating that none of the weather data were changed to make the pieces sound more musical. The mapping algorithm is the only thing that determined the pitch.

Consider listening to these weather tunes while taking a quiet walk in the rain. Hearing the sound of raindrops hitting the umbrella while at the same time listening to the rain tunes provides an interesting temporal contrast: you are hearing months of weather in a few seconds while at the same time hearing the rhythms produced by instantaneous weather, somewhat similar to an extreme version of a prolation canon. It’s a temporal experience I particularly liked and I hope you will to.

back to the home page