The Echo Garden is an interactive musical installation. We wanted to create a whimsical experience for the user that was both tactile and humorous. We were inspired by the wild carnivorous pitcher plant and thought that both its name (as a "pitch"er plant) and its unusual, rounded, instrument-like shape lent itself towards a musical interpretation.
The user approaches and squeezes the pitcher plant, which triggers a switch made with aluminum foil as a conductive material. The switch causes the plant's mouth to open and for recording to begin. The person then speaks (or sings) into the plant. The plant records the audio clip until the person has let go. The mouth closes and the plant repeats the audio sample back over a musical base track that is in continuous play. The audio clip itself is played in a loop that decays over time. The plant's lid flaps in time with each playback of the audio recording, so it appears to be speaking back in the user's own voice. The audio clip can be played back on either an electronic or reggae backing track – we have had good playtest results with both. The user is encouraged to record multiple clips, and multiple users can play at the same time.
The audio recording and playback mechanisms of the Echo Garden are controlled by Processing, the plant's lid movement (controlled by a servo motor) and three-color LED system are operated via an Arduino microcontroller. The pitcher plant itself was first sculpted in clay, then two molds were made with Dragon Skin silicone and Oomoo silicone, and then a final casting was made with PMC urethane rubber. When the separate elements were put together, we had created a surprisingly lifelike and cheeky character.